Saturday, January 30, 2010

Are We Gadgets?


Question: You argue the web isn’t living up to its initial promise. How has the internet transformed our lives for the worse?

Jaron Lanier: The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called "Web 2.0" designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. There are so many things wrong with this that it takes a whole book to summarize them. Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google, for instance) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. This is why newspapers are dying. It might sound like it is only a problem for creative people, like musicians or writers, but eventually it will be a problem for everyone. When robots can repair roads someday, will people have jobs programming those robots, or will the human programmers be so aggregated that they essentially work for free, like today’s recording musicians? Web 2.0 is a formula to kill the middle class and undo centuries of social progress.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

In Richmond at ESR... with Jane Austen and literature

Here I am at Earlham School of Religion and ...

I'm fascinated and somewhat amazed--though not entirely surprised--at the extent to which literary approaches and literary theory are currently permeating religious studies. Given the view of Bible as narrative and all of us as part of a larger story or discourse, this makes sense--but I didn't fully realize the impact until I got here. For me, this merging of literary approach, literature and religion is more than a touch of miracle, as it connects my passions ... leaving me in a state of near swooning euphoria--and I can, in a sense, pick up my graduate studies in English from the 1980s where they left off.

Every Tuesday, the school has a community lunch with a speaker. This week, I had the good fortune to hear Emily Townes, who teaches at Yale Divinity school. She was questioned about evil and suffering--two subjects she's written about--and she talked about the relationship between imagination and evil. I was thrilled. She discussed how cultures can create fictions that become so widely repeated they are accepted as facts--and that these fictions can obscure evil. She used as her example "Aunt Jemima" and "Mammy," cultural icons of the fat, jolly slave woman. There was no real Aunt Jemima--I knew this--(she first emerged as a former slave hired by owners of a pancake mix to make pancakes during the Chicago World's Fair in the 1890s and became wildly popular). Also, while female slaves cared for white children, the Mammy figure is another fiction. Townes pointed out that slaves were underfed (thin), and that none were truly happy with their lots. In fact, most "house slaves," contrary to our pictures of them, were likely to be the products of interracial "pairings". From what Townes said, I picture the real slaves as skinny, light-skinned, harried, overworked and unhappy rather than brilliantly brown or black, fat, cheerful, jolly and laughingly contented.

Of course--and while Townes did not say this I can imagine--cultural icons or stereotypes such as the cheery Aunt Jemima flipping buckwheat cakes in the kitchen or Mammy happily bustling around organizing the children speak to our deep desire to believe that the people who do the dirty work in our culture actually enjoy the task. And I imagine it's probable that some slaves would pretend to cheerfulness, as we all need to survive.

I also have been pursuing--of course--Jane Austen at ESR. I mentioned being a Jane Austen fan in my introduction of myself to my on-line Old Testament class and am thrilled to have fellow fans among my classmates. Naturally, Townes's talk of imagination and evil immediately made me think of Jane Austen--Austen was a woman who didn't gloss over the everyday horrors of middle-class life, the petty cruelties which she understood were worse for defenseless lower class people. Also, a book I am reading introduced me to a British Quaker author--her name evades me right now-- who wrote a children's book about Jane Austen in 1977.

I'm settled into my apartment in Richmond as I deliberately travelled light--and Roger, of course, is a wonderful moving companion.

Internet access has been a problem all week, hence my "silence." I am now--at last-- part of the Earlham College system, so I can access the Internet on my laptop, a huge boon. I still can't pick up the wireless system in my apartment, however, although I am right across the street from the campus--Roger says an enhancer of some sort might help. It isn't ALL terrible to be denied 24/7 Internet access however--it forces me to do other things. But it does impede blogging.

Otherwise, all is fine. I had to switch my schedule so now I will be in Richmond Tuesday afternoon through Friday morning. I will taking Old Testament, New Testament, Quaker History and Literature, and a class on Bonhoeffer.

I ran into a genuinely cheerful Clare Gamble, an Olney graduate and now student at Earlham College.

I hope everyone is well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Was Jesus Chill?

I asked Roger if he thought Jesus was chill and he said, yes, if the Son of the God comes to earth, that's inherently chill.

Ok. But Jesus didn't always act chill. For instance, in the garden of Gethsemane, he more or less fell apart and started crying and asking God to take the cup away. On the other hand, when it was time to face Pilate, Jesus was chill.

Jesus had many moments when he stayed chill with people, such as when the Syrophoenician woman was insistent about having her daughter healed. He was chill about healing the Roman centurion's daughter. Chill about feeding the 5,000. Totally chill about saving the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery.

Preaching "love your enemies" is about as chill as it gets. I would call that the ultimate chill statement.

On the hand, he lost it with the Pharisees, and his final week was frenzied--hence the term "the passion." Driving the money lenders from the Temple doesn't seem too chill to me. But David might have slaughtered them all--so perhaps the whip was a chill gesture after all.

What do you think? Was Jesus chill? Roger says that since being chill is the highest of all human achievements, Jesus was a priori chill. But, of course, the other question is, dare I ask, how important is chill?

Leaving for Earlham

Roger and I leave tomorrow for Richmond, Indiana. I will start ESR classes next week.

I have gotten sick with a cold--I am feeling somewhat better but the timing is not good.

I hope to pick up on some "better" blogging as I feel in better health.

Take care everybody.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vision and Darkness, from Oswald Chambers

"..An horror of great darkness fell upon him" Genesis 15:12

"Whenever God gives a vision to a saint, He puts him as it were, in the shadow of his hand, and the saint's duty is to be still and listen. There is a darkness which comes from excess of light, and then is the time to listen. Genesis 16 is a good illustration of listening to good advice when it is dark, instead of waiting for God to send the light. When God gives a vision and darkness follows, wait. God will make you in accordance with the vision He has given you if you will wait His time. Never try and help God fulfill his word. Abraham went through 13 years of silence, but in those years his self-sufficiency was destroyed; there was no possibility left of relying on common-sense ways. Those years of silence were a time of discipline, not displeasure. Never pump up joy and confidence, but stay upon God. (Isaiah 50:10-11)

Have I any confidence in the flesh? Or have I got beyond all confidence in myself and in men and women of God; in books and prayers and ecstaties; and is my confidence placed in God himself, not his blessings? 'I am the almighty God'--El Shaddai, the Father-Mother God. The one thing for which we are all being disciplined it to know that God is real.
" O. Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.

The "be still and listen" seems very Quakerly, as do images of darkness and light. But this passage dwells on finding God in the darkness. Do we Quakers rely too much on the "light?" What about "listening to good advice when it is dark, instead of waiting for God to send you the light?" What does this mean to you?

January Days

Roger and I had a pleasant anniversary in Athen, Ohio, home of the University of Ohio, on Sunday. The town and the campus are very pretty--I hadn't realized the college dates back to 1804. More to the point, this Jane Austen fanatic had the chance to read Kathryn Sutherland's introduction to the Penguin edition of Mansfield Park while (or whilst) in Athens.

Sophie is back at Muskingum College. After some concern, as she started the semester last week short two classes and with no education classes, despite being an education major, I had lunch with her yesterday and found she had managed, by working with Joy in the registrar's office, to get into Education 112, which she needed, and into a history of film class to round out her schedule. (And I just managed to write one of the longest sentences ever!) I am happy with the outcome, and pleased that the school was able to work with her.

The boys had a "snow day" at Olney recently--the school never has an actual school-off snow day, as the students live on campus--but every so often the school declares an afternoon of sledding and snow activities. On the academic side, both Will and Nick are taking a class in Religion and Philosophy and working their way through some of the thought of figures such as Aristotle and Kant, not to mention the Utilitarians--a fairly heavy and welcome dose of thinking for tenth graders.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Bible written earlier than thought

Have you seen this? (I first saw it on Jesus Creed):

Here's the text of the story:

Scientists have discovered the earliest known Hebrew writing - an inscription dating from the 10th century B.C., during the period of King David's reign.
The breakthrough could mean that portions of the Bible were written centuries earlier than previously thought. (The Bible's Old Testament is thought to have been first written down in an ancient form of Hebrew.)
Until now, many scholars have held that the Hebrew Bible originated in the 6th century B.C., because Hebrew writing was thought to stretch back no further. But the newly deciphered Hebrew text is about four centuries older, scientists announced this month.
"It indicates that the Kingdom of Israel already existed in the 10th century BCE and that at least some of the biblical texts were written hundreds of years before the dates presented in current research," said Gershon Galil, a professor of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel, who deciphered the ancient text.
BCE stands for "before common era," and is equivalent to B.C., or before Christ.
The writing was discovered more than a year ago on a pottery shard dug up during excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa, near Israel's Elah valley. The excavations were carried out by archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. At first, scientists could not tell if the writing was Hebrew or some other local language.
Finally, Galil was able to decipher the text. He identified words particular to the Hebrew language and content specific to Hebrew culture to prove that the writing was, in fact, Hebrew.
"It uses verbs that were characteristic of Hebrew, such as asah ('did') and avad ('worked'), which were rarely used in other regional languages," Galil said. "Particular words that appear in the text, such as almanah ('widow') are specific to Hebrew and are written differently in other local languages."
The ancient text is written in ink on a trapezoid-shaped piece of pottery about 6 inches by 6.5 inches (15 cm by 16.5 cm). It appears to be a social statement about how people should treat slaves, widows and orphans. In English, it reads (by numbered line):
1' you shall not do [it], but worship the [Lord].
2' Judge the sla[ve] and the wid[ow] / Judge the orph[an]
3' [and] the stranger. [Pl]ead for the infant / plead for the po[or and]
4' the widow. Rehabilitate [the poor] at the hands of the king.
5' Protect the po[or and] the slave / [supp]ort the stranger.
The content, which has some missing letters, is similar to some Biblical scriptures, such as Isaiah 1:17, Psalms 72:3, and Exodus 23:3, but does not appear to be copied from any Biblical text.

What do you think? I'm not a Bible scholar but I'm aware that much has been made of the Bible as written post-Babylonian captivity and thus as viewing Israel's history through the prism of that event. Obviously, parts of the OT were written post- captivity. But here we have an apparently pre-captivity fragment. Does anyone who knows more about this want to weigh in?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

On Memory

The New York Times ran a story a few weeks ago (Christmas Day, to be exact) about Eleanor, a town in West Virginia begun during the Depression as a New Deal resettlement community:,%20West%20Virgina&st=cse

The story of the town is told largely through the eyes of a girl, Marlene Crockett Carr--now an old woman--who moved there in 1935 at age 4.

The article's author, Dan Beery, describes the town as follows: "Over the years, these New Deal towns have been praised as a sound response to paralyzing poverty and criticized as flawed, communism-tinted social experiments. But in this hard time, as half-built subdivisions stand as ghostly testaments to economic failure, a place like Eleanor reflects a government action that worked, and works."

He writes that "Ms. Carr says she fears that Eleanor’s history is being pushed aside, that someday people will not know why the main street is called Roosevelt Boulevard, or even why the town is called Eleanor."

The story brought up the memory of how much all four of my grandparents, all immigrants, revered Franklin Roosevelt. To quote Woody Allen, they not only loved him, they lurved him. One set of grandparents--I don't know which--even had a framed portrait of him, a photograph tinted with rosy cheeks and enhanced blue eyes.

My grandparents had all died by 1980, so I don't know if they would have joined the Reagan Revolution. I remember them, in the 70s, scratching their heads over some of the reforms that seemed more handout than hand up. However, I find myself pondering the way in which the New Deal is often dismissed these days, when the memories handed down to me tell a completely different story.

In Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, the heroine Fanny Price, who unites a quiet facade with a sensitive, emotionally intense nature, says the following::"If any one faculty of our nature may be called more wonderful than the rest, I do think it is memory. There seems something more speakingly incomprehensible in the powers, the failures, the inequalities of memory, than in any other of our intelligences. The memory is sometimes so retentive, so serviceable, so obedient; at others, so bewildered and so weak; and at others again, so tyrannic, so beyond control! We are, to be sure, a miracle every way; but our powers of recollecting and of forgetting do seem peculiarly past finding out." Chap. 22 or Vol 2, ch 4

Mansfield Park is, on one level, a book about memory. During the course of the novel, characters remember events differently than how they occurred and we see Fanny fighing to retain memories she knows to be true in face of people, including ultimately herself, who have a vested interest in restructuring them according to a script. Fanny, significantly, owns a reproduction of one of Turner's sketches of Tintern Abbey, a ruin memorialized in a poem by Wordsworth--a poem about memory.

The Bible is about capturing the memory of "normal" events, but more so of events so elusive, so unusual, so fragile that it would be easy to dismiss them as fairy stories--or to forget them. It records the world of dreams and of God breaking through the permeable barriers of space and time into physical reality. People found it important to preserve and pass on these memories so that the powers and principalities of the world couldn't say they never happened. Or that if the powers did deny them--which they did and still do--there's an institutional memory with which to challenges the systems that pressure us to accept "reality" and nothing more.

The former publisher of International Design magazine, a publication with a long history, recently wrote about how the entrepreneurs who bought the pub a few years ago had no interest in the organization's institutional memory, firing people willy-nilly, which meant losing much of the publication's value. There's something wrong in imposing amnesia on an organization, just as it would be wrong to wipe individuals' memories to reprogram with a blank slate. In the end, the magazine itself folded--or was folded.

Something soul shrivelling--and false-- exists in presenting "now" as the only truth. George Orwell gets to heart of this in 1984.

Thus we record our thoughts because it is important to preserve --to freeze--memories that are valuable and elusive. If they are, as Fanny Price says, weak, bewildering and beyond our control, they are for that reason the stuff of the Kingdom of Heaven.

I started this, not knowing where I was going with it (the beauty of blogging!), so I'll end with a question:

Are there elusive memories you would like to preserve? What ARE the memories that are important?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Year of Living Republicanly

I was thinking of doing a blog called The Year of Living Republicanly, as everybody seems to be doing a "Year of Living" series ... And, OK, I was pretty serious, as I felt and feel out-of-touch in a grassroots way with my Republican brothers and sisters. If I listen only to one group, I begin to become the thing I dislike. For example., I remember how stunned I was when one of my Republican friends told me in 1996 that the only reason I voted for Clinton was that I was brainwashed by people with hidden agendas. Whattttt? I sputtered---NO, that's YOU... you voted for Bob Dole because you've been brainwashed by people with hidden agendas! Oh--I get it. BOTH sides say that. "My" side is a mirror of "their" side.

OK. Point taken.

I thought a good way to avoid groupthink (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and liberal fundamentalist partisanship would be to commit to reading and interacting in a serious way with conservatives. I started researching and then thought: I can't do this. And it wasn't the Republicans. Instead, it's the overall political and economic situation in this country right now that's, let's say, a "downer" ... and while disengagement isn't the answer, merely worrying isn't the answer either.

When I think about the U.S. situation today, I look at history, and wonder: How can having a few very, very wealthy people and many people becoming poorer and angrier by the day, not end badly? I think Weimar Republic, French aristocracy circa 1787, Russian aristocracy circa 1903, English aristocracy circa 1635 .... not good. The short-term positives I hang onto are a: I'm no doubt being an alarmist, b. even if crisis hit, countries with a democratic --or at least stable--tradition tend to come out right on the other side. c. California so far seems to be an example of people trying to use the political process to drive reform.

But--before I drop this topic of politics-- in the spirt of non-partisanship, I quote from Michael Lind in Salon. Lind has a point of view--that Americans have a right as citizens to "freedom from want" or "economic citizenship." This organizing point of view transcends allegiance to any one party. (His full piece is at

Here's what he writes:

"While George W. Bush pushed for partial privatization of Social Security, he failed because of massive public opposition. But Bush and the Republican majority in Congress succeeded in enacting the Social Security drug benefit, a flawed but genuine expansion of economic citizenship. Clinton is the only president to have successfully supported the destruction of a New Deal entitlement, while Bush presided over the greatest expansion of the Rooseveltian entitlement system since Lyndon Johnson passed Medicare."

Do you have an organizing principle or point of view that transcends party politics? Where does faith work into this for you?

Banned Quaker words and practices

The list so far:




Passivity/apathy disguised as spirituality
Trivializing words and terms, such as discernment
Watering down or using meaningless concepts
Quoting the poet Hafiz

Would it make a difference if we used the active voice and concrete words and avoided trendoid jargon? How much does language count?

Monday, January 11, 2010

Avatar and Star Trek

Have you seen the movie Avatar?

Beautiful special effects and all the women, as a friend pointed out, are strong characters. Cameron understands powerful women and almost always--maybe always--does a good job portraying them.

But the film is thin, thin, thin in terms of story. Noble savages living at one with nature and the nature goddesses on an alien planet are saved from a rapacious military-industrial-complex Earth invasion by a strong, good white man. I was reminded of 1985's time travel movie, Back to the Future, in which WASPy white Michael J. Fox "gives" rock 'n' roll to a black band ... and as I watched the swaying aliens praying to the goddesses, I thought: 1930s Tarzan movies.

I was also reminded of a Star Trek episode from 1968 in which Captain Kirk is hit on the head and loses his memory while on a planet populated by aliens who are very much like Native Americans (we find out later that a master race has seeded these simple natives throughout the galaxy; hence the similarities.) Anyway, the driven organization man-- Kirk --embraces the simple life and falls in love with the chief's daughter, Miramanee. The natives take him for a god when he uses mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to revive a young boy who has drowned. Because of his status, he's able to marry Miramanee. Well, things end badly, as you might imagine .. but what struck me was how much better this mediocre Star Trek episode was than Avatar.

The Star Trek episode was better because Kirk has an articulated inner struggle, and in this episode, as in others, he's embracing a gentler, happier, non-striving life, which he wants but would never seek while serving as captain of a starship. You believe in the anguish of his conflicting desires and root for him as he, temporarily, achieves his suppressed goal of domestic bliss. Even while he's suffering amnesia, Kirk is experiencing inner conflict, dreaming anxiously of the "great lodge in the stars" and feeling he should be there. In Avatar's hero, you have none of that. The hero seems entirely unconflicted about throwing his lot in with the nature-loving aliens. All through the movie, I kept saying to myself--perhaps the Quaker in me coming out--don't you see you are killing HUMANS? Wouldn't making that choice be a natural vehicle for some kind of questioning, anguish or self-doubt? Wouldn't you be at least a little torn between your own species and aliens? Wouldn't there be at least a little concern over being a Benedict Arnold?

Additionally, the Star Trek episode, with a few camera shots, shows us the jealousy and torment of the man who is displaced by Kirk in Miramanee's affections, setting up the conflict that will come to a head at the end of the episode. This man is a real character and you can't help but feel his pain, just as you can't help but have an uncomfortable sense that Captain Kirk is trodding roughshod into other people's lives. In Avatar, there's also a jealous displaced alien, but you don't feel his pain in any realized way. He's just another obstacle in our hero's path--a thing.

So what is the point of this? That it takes soul more than money to create art? Did you like Avatar?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Quakers get good press

Nicholas Kristof gave Quakers a shout-out in his Jan. 9 ope-ed piece on religion and women in the New York Times. I like that Kristof recognizes that religion does good in the world as well as bad:

"Yet paradoxically, the churches in Africa that have done the most to empower women have been conservative ones led by evangelicals and especially Pentecostals. In particular, Pentecostals encourage women to take leadership roles, and for many women this is the first time they have been trusted with authority and found their opinions respected. In rural Africa, Pentecostal churches are becoming a significant force to emancipate women.

That’s a glimmer of hope that reminds us that while religion is part of the problem, it can also be part of the solution. The Dalai Lama has taken that step and calls himself a feminist.

Another excellent precedent is slavery. Each of the Abrahamic faiths accepted slavery. Muhammad owned slaves, and St. Paul seems to have condoned slavery. Yet the pioneers of the abolitionist movement were Quakers and evangelicals like William Wilberforce. People of faith ultimately worked ferociously to overthrow an oppressive institution that churches had previously condoned.

Today, when religious institutions exclude women from their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior. The Elders are right that religious groups should stand up for a simple ethical principle: any person’s human rights should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as their genitals."

What do you think? Major faiths started out accepting slavery, then defending it ... then being the most vigorous forces in overthrowing it. And, in Quakerism we have, of all the amazing things, a pre-Enlightenment acceptance of female equality, based not on secularism but on revelation. I throw my lot in with a religion of love (for me, that's Jesus: love your enemy, Sermon on the Mount, Beatitudes, justice will prevail ...) as more powerful than anything else, even the hatred in its own ranks.

If on the balance organized religion is more solution than problem, how to show that? Do you think it's true?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Banned Quaker words 2010

Yesterday--I will admit I did do this, as I am in a confessional mode-- yes, I really did do this ... I contributed the word that is "fingernails on the chalkboard" to me to the New York Times ... I was contributor 257 or 258 ... meaning nobody will see my word. Therefore, I am putting it here.


I can't stand that word. I seem to hear it all the time. It may be supposed to be postmodern, hip, self-ironic, complimentary in the mode of "you be bad," etc. ... but I hear it as snide, superior, snarky ... don't like it. Anybody know where, when, why Eurotrash came into vogue? And maybe... hope springs eternal ... maybe it's already so yesterday ... but unfortunately, not in my life.

Wasn't "white trash" bad enough?


This led me to think about Quaker jargon and overused platitudes, etc. we might want to ban for 2010. I have a few contenders (and don't get mad--I put these ideas out there mostly poking fun at myself as sometimes (usually?) the worst offender:)

OK--How about no references to or quotes from the poet Hafiz in 2010? And while we're at it, Gerard Manley Hopkins ... there really are OTHER poets out there! And not to be too radical ... but some female poets ... OK, nuff said.

Mindfulness. I kind of like the word... but it also gets under my skin ... why is it so much cooler if we do things mindfully rather than attentively or thoughtfully ...

Other ideas?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Public Transportation?

A few months ago, a thought crossed my mind and made my heart leap. Instead of driving back and forth every week from Barnesville to Richmond to attend ESR, I could take the bus! It would lower my carbon footprint, save wear and tear on my car, and better yet, offer me that all-important *multitasking* opportunity to get my reading done for my classes whilst in transit!

Well, no.

A multitude of web searches and phone calls revealed to me that you can get to Richmond anyway you want--as long as it's by car. There is no bus to Richmond. No train. No nothing.

Dreams die hard. The closest Greyhound stop to Richmond is Dayton, about 25(?) miles from that golden city on the plains. Maybe I could bus to Dayton... rent a car ... OK, this is getting too complicated ...maybe I could take the bus there and bike ... that's it ... that region is flat. I could do it. In the middle of winter? In the dark? In the cold? Yes, I could ... well, OK, maybe not.

I kept thinking I MUST have missed the key ... that there must be a way to get to Richmond without a car.

Dream on.

I understand Greyhound not stopping in Richmond. Why waste all that gas for a couple of people?

I may be able to car pool now and again and ... you never know what will happen. My whole life I've dreamed of living in a world laden with public transportation--buses, streetcars, trains, boats...maybe it has to do with early visits to relatives in New York City. Or dim memories of the very last streetcars in Baltimore. Or stories of relatives taking trains from the New York City to weekends in the Catskills. Or reading about Nancy Drew and her chums boarding the train to Phoenix. And let's not forget Huck Finn. (Why DO they let us read? It puts too many ideas into our heads.)

We're supposedly at or near peak oil now, meaning, as I understand it, "we" are producing worldwide as many barrels as we ever will. The supply will go down. The demand is already up, with the Chinese, for instance, buying more cars than we in the U.S. did last year. And we're still buying.

When gas prices truly go sky high, maybe it will pay for Greyhound to run the bus to Richmond. Or for the railroad "heritage trails" everywhere to be converted back to rail lines. As long as we can do this gracefully, I look forward to that time.

In the meantime, to paraphrase Joan Crawford in The Women: It's back to the perfume counter ... I mean for me. Any other ideas?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Vegetarianism and Legalism

I became a vegetarian during the Thanksgiving holidays and that has worked well so far, except that I realize that now I have a new "rule" to follow. Here is what happened.

While I was briefly home during Chistmas, Sophie, Roger and I went to eat at a favorite small, family-owned Thai-Japanese restaurant. Thai and Japanese foods are not readily available in Barnesville--though a Japanese restaurant is coming to St. Clairsville--so this outing was a treat.

I was on the brink of ordering Tum Ka (?), a soup I always eat there, when I realized: it contains shrimp! Oh no! I can't have shrimp. There were certainly vegetarian options on the menu. But I ordered the soup because it's what I always do. I decided that --for the evening--I was a vegaquarian, as a seafood-eating friend labels herself. Then I felt guilty. What am I doing? I can't bend the rules! What's the use of taking a stand if you abandon it as soon as it's inconvenient?

In my defense, I am in the stage of getting used to a new way of eating--and thus far, hadn't fallen off the wagon. My biggest problem are the meals I automatically order. Auto-pilot habits can be the hardest to change, because they allow you not to pay attention For instance, I was in the IKEA in Pittsburgh before Christmas, and I went to eat lunch, which means--absolute auto-pilot ... Swedish meatballs. I caught myself in time, and bought a cold and soggy vegetarian wrap ... but I could have as easily found myself eating ... meatballs. I wondered: could I become a vegaquarianSwedishmeatballian?

I now have a new insight into how a rule can create a monstrous tangle of legalisms. I started wondering if becoming a vegetarian was a good idea or if it was merely adding a new layer of guilt to my life.

But I decided it was worthwhile to take a stand (such as it is) and that it's important to stay focused on the spirit of the rule. In other words, why am I doing this? Mostly, because I'm concerned about animal abuse. That's worthy ... even if I'm working my way up to getting rid of commercial milk and eggs ... which I can do, living near the Amish, but, again, it's not always ... convenient. I'm working on it. But without the "rule," there's no focus and no goal to work towards.

On the other hand, having been in the situation myself, I don't ever want people who are in circumstances in which vegetarianism is a luxury they can't afford to feel pressured about what they eat.

Bill Samuel posted on Facebook a copy of a pro-vegetarian statement that included a comment by Tolstoy positing a connection between eating animals --slaughterhouses--and war. Tolstoy argued that if we got rid of the one, we'd get rid of the other. Tolstoy could be completely over-the-top in so many ways, but as I started thinking about this, I saw a definite connection between how we today, in U.S. culture, are largely removed from both our wars and our meat production, leasing both out to a small class of people and then more or less "shutting out" both. So maybe there is more of a connection than we think. Do you think so? Or is this more "over the top" thinking?

What about legalisms? Does becoming a vegetarian, vegaquarian, a vegaquarianSwedishmeatballian or a vegan, create too many rules? How do we navigate this?

Monday, January 4, 2010

What are you Reading?

One of the joys of a holiday is the chance to read.

I've been reading some novels this holiday season:

In contemporary fiction:

The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Lovely Bones
The Financial Life of Poets


Tristram Shandy (Roger and I are reading this aloud in the car while traveling. We both read it in grad school, but that was long ago ...
The Scarlet Letter (Again, it's been a loooong time.)

The Jane Austen world:

I'm always reading Jane Austen's novels and as way of secondary sources:
Jill Heydt-Steveson's breakthrough book, Unbecoming Conjunctions
James Edward Austen-Leigh's Memoir of Jane Austen, written in 1870. I am leading a discussion of the Memoir every Wednesday on three lists: Austen-L, Janeites and WomenWritersThroughtheAges.
I also recently read my cyber-friend Diana Birchall's novel Mrs. Darcy' Dilemma, a light-hearted sequel to Pride and Prejudice.

General non-fiction:

Amish Grace (A little before the holidays, but close enough.)
Alice Seybold's memoir, Lucky.
Another book that I read six weeks to two months ago, but which is still weighing on my mind, is Middletown in Transition, a sociological study of Muncie, Indiana in the mid 1930s.

Have you read any good books lately? Any of the above books?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Stretching the Rubberband

We put a deposit on a small apartment in Richmond the Saturday after Christmas, so the last step in my attending Earlham School of Religion for the Spring term (so called) has fallen into place, except for buying furniture. As it happens we have a spare futon, a spare kitchen table and two space kitchen chairs, a spare wicker "armchair," some spare standing lamps ... and the place comes with a built-in bookcase, so what more do I need? And my friend Jane just received a pickup truck as a gift from her father ... everything has, as I mentioned, fallen into place.

I do love Barnesville, I love Stillwater meeting, I love the stillness and the lack of traffic here, the rolling hills and how easy day-to-day life is and how cordial people are. I like no longer measuring my life in stop lights. I like Olney Friends School. I really was having a problem with uprooting again, after having just moved to Barnesville, ( and what an upheaval that was) to now "up and" go 3 and half hours away. But then I realized I will still be in Barnesville four days a week. I'll be home most Sundays for Stillwater meeting; I will still meet Sophie once a week for lunch. I will be sleeping in my bed here five nights out of seven. I'm not uprooting. I'm simply stretching my rubber band. That's my new metaphor ... stretching the rubber band. I hope it doesn't snap.

I think this must be a species of leading, as I've felt, in a way, as if I've floated through all of this. Having said that, it's my will--my volition--that has done all the acting. I, not an angel, filled out the applications, wrote the essays, solicited the recommendations, mailed the forms, made the phone calls, registered for the classes and found the apartment, but all along it has felt oddly out of body, as if some force were propelling me. Pushing and pulling. It doesn't altogether make sense to me to do this, but I'm trying to flow with it. If it's not a leading, it's demonic possession ... but it doesn't feel that way.

But how would I know? (Anybody with a good exorcist up their sleeve?) Actually, I do think demonic possession would feel ... less peaceful, more anxious, more frenzied. But that's just from watching horror movies ... and, oh yeah, reading the Bible. So it's probably a leading. Time will tell.

As for me going to divinity school, I know God uses cracked vessels.

Any thoughts?