Monday, August 30, 2010

Cats and Caring

A few weeks ago my daughter brought home a stray kitten, which we dubbed Junior Cat, as he is a miniature version of our current cat, a gray tabby.

I was dismayed at this acquisition: With everyone in the family very busy, we can barely manage one cat. I was clutching my head over two cats.

However, since Barnesville is overpopulated with stray cats, I resigned myself to devising some sort of outdoor shelter for this cat when winter came, getting it neutered and feeding it forever after.

A happier ending came when our new Olney Spanish teacher, Hannah, saw the kitten and has adopted it! I am delighted. The kitten is very sweet and loves people, and needs a real home.

The lesson I draw from this is that responsibility--and hospitality--can be temporary and beneficial to all parties.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


The semester is ready to begin at Earlham School of Religion and I am again welcoming the combination of the intellectual, creative and spiritual that the school offers as I prepare for classes in Bible and Christian history, writing and spiritual formation. I have never attended a school quite like this and find the synergy exciting and energizing.

I have stumbled across the Dutch thinker Mieke Bal, who I vaguely remembered as an art history critic who wrote an essay I once read about Vermeer and the navel. She's also a specialist in narratology and has written a book about women in the Bible called Lethal Love. The book is old, dating to the late 1980s, I believe, but I am playing catch-up. Bal is "out there"--and I don't agree with her reading of the Adam and Eve story-- but it is precisely her challenge to everyday thinking that I find stimulating and provocative.

A quote from her chapter in Lethal Love on Eve speaks to my heart (and, as I realize she theorizes about "quotation," I recognize that I am re-contextualizing her):

The alternative readings I will propose should not be considered as yet another, superior interpretation that overthrows all the others. My goal is rather to show, by the sheer possibility of a different reading, that "dominance" is, although present and in many ways obnoxious, not unproblematically established. It is the challenge rather than the winning that interests me. For it is not the sexist interpretation of the Bible as such that bothers me. It is the possibility of dominance itself, the attractiveness of coherence and authority in culture, that I see as the source, rather than the consequence, of sexism.

What do you think? I love the idea of a space of equality and integrity, for the play of ideas without a "winner;" I fear the "too neat" package (why I am ever railing against formulations such as "religions are different paths up the same mountain"); I also fear (as do Bal, and Derrida, whom she is reacting to) a mindless chaos, an anything-goes individualism, a Tea partyism gone off the deep end.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


A lovely--and apt--poem about repentance by Jon Karsemeyer. Unfortunately, I can't seem to hold his spacing ...

Birthday Cake/Chocolate Chips

Repentance means turning
from denial and error. If
you've tried it you know
it's a really really good idea.
If you never made a mistake
you may not know. Some
actually, too many!
believe that they could
not be mistaken.
I've tried that too.
... Sorry

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Telling the Story

Having just finished a two-week intensive at Earlham School of Religion in "Writing the Story"--in which I wrote a short story--I have been thinking about the importance of story. Of course, "everyone" for the past decade or so has been focused on narrative, because narratives contain nuance, irony, particularity and layers of meaning that can't be captured when one reduces their ideas to axioms, propositions or laws.

In our class, we read an anthology called Faith Stories, edited by C. Michael Curtis, which contained, with a few exceptions, a rich array of short fiction.

I wonder why it is that in this particular cultural moment we are so focused on the story. I'm delighted about it, because story cuts across political and religious divides. It's not left wing or right wing and is embraced by both religious conservatives and religious liberals. It seems to me a way we could, possibly, cross divides and possibly start coming together again as a culture. And it seems a safe way to examine our flaws.

I am interested, however, in why the story now?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Women's Work?

I wanted to highlight what Hystery wrote on another blog:

I see how access to money and gender are so often linked. In natural disasters, women are more likely to die because they are more likely to stay behind or be slowed down in their attempts to save children, elders, and the disabled. Even today, women often find themselves in this caregiver role. Those women (and men) who are in this role become like Martha in the kitchen while Mary and the disciples spend time with Jesus.

Like Martha, she may feel separated from the spiritual work of the meeting by her own and other Friends' conscious and unconscious expectations of her role as a woman as caregiver, cleaner, cooker, and fusser over others' physical well-being. These issues become more complex when we add social class. A poor woman cannot afford to bring her loved ones with her nor can she afford to leave them at home. I see how access to money and gender are so often linked.

My personality is rather more of the "Mary" rather than the "Martha" variety so I noted the difference in how I was treated when I became a mother. I noted that my husband, although he is actually more willing than I am, was rarely expected to look after children or leave a discussion to engage in cleaning up or setting tables, or whatnot. Suddenly I was "Martha" and I didn't like it at all. I can recall my mother's reaction to that biblical story. "If Jesus and the disciples got up and helped Martha with the meal, then they all could have talked together!" lol

Friends could use a little CR.

I too often felt--especially when I had young children--that I was expected to fill the Martha role. I remember once being at meeting for business--held at night--where the babysitter did not show up. Of thirteen of us, two had children. Only one of the 11 who did not have children would help with childcare. While I knew that my children where nobody else's responsibility, I still can't get over that only one person would offer to help. As I have gotten older, I have continued to notice that women do take on more of the hospitality and nurturing roles in meetings I've been part of. I would especially like to see men take on more of the nurturing roles.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Quakers and the War Disconnect

On July 4, our family went to an Independence Day party at a lovely home on a lake. Part of the evening entertainment was a fireworks display.

My almost 16-year-old twins helped unwrap the hundreds of fireworks, but when they were asked to light them with a blowtorch, I thought this was much too dangerous, as did the one twin who shook his head at me vigorously to say no. Luckily, the boys were able to back out graciously.

My twins likely would have come to no harm, but my mother's heart was nevertheless still having palpitations when another, older male began lighting firework wicks with the blowtorch. Much of my thinking involved comparisons between the laws in freewheeling Ohio and safety-obsessed Maryland. You can't have these kinds of fireworks in Maryland! What are they thinking in Ohio? And people in Maryland have to wear helmets on their motorcycles! In Ohio, you see people all the time on motorcycles with nothing protecting their heads but bandanas! It's harder for a teenager to get a driver's license in Maryland than in Ohio! And what about car seat laws! (I actually know nothing about them in Ohio, but in my mind's eye they're much more stringent in Maryland.)

Ohio is a wonderful state, but I was filled with the jitters just thinking about my almost 16 year-olds in conjunction with a blowtorch.

The realization struck me that in two years, when they turn 18, they could legally enlist in the army and be put in danger so acute that lighting fireworks with a blowtorch would seem like the child's play it isn't to me. I felt overcome with fear. I had to sit down on the lovely lawn sloping to the lake, where the fireworks were bursting overhead in arrays of stars and colors.

I think I was seeing stars. How can we live with this cultural disconnect, I wondered? How can we have so many laws to protect our children in minute ways and then, the minute they turn 18, be "OK" with sending them into horribly dangerous war zones halfway around the world? My sons, because they aren't quite 16, can't use a lawnmower in their summer jobs with the state, because it's not safe, but in two years and two months could be sent to Iraq (of course, we are supposed to be out of Iraq in a month) or Afghanistan, where they could be blown up at any moment? Could be allowed to wield machine guns and rocket launchers? Not to mention the fact that they would be killing other humans. How do we tolerate this?

In Maryland, new public playground swings have to be suspended from T's, so the children can't trip over the inverted V's that used to form swingset supports. Children are in booster seats in cars until age 8 now, I believe. Let your seven and ten month old child come home from school unattended for 10 minutes and you can be arrested for child neglect. A 17-year-old in Maryland can't drive a car past a curfew. I support these laws but how do we square this almost choking, compulsive concern with safeguarding our children with our total willingness, after age 18, to throw them into the worst kinds of danger?

How, as Quakers, are we not protesting the wars more than we are?

When I lived in Maryland, and we went to Baltimore or Washington and we had occasion to drive through the poorer parts of those cities, I would often notice children playing on playing on basketball courts amid broken glass or young children squatting in trash-filled gutters by the sidewalks in front of their houses. There was nowhere else to play. On hot summer days, when the doors to the old Baltimore rowhouses in the slum neighborhoods were opened (I know we don't use the word slum anymore, but I'm using it deliberately) I would see into houses with holes punched through the walls, rat-gnawed doors, missing railings up the stairs, dangling cords, sofas losing their stuffings ... taking a gander, I would imagine these "homes" would not pass standard safety inspections. I would also imagine that the children I saw milling around the streets lived in these houses ... and we middle-class people, who are so worried about every hair on the head of our own darlings, seem to tolerate this. I understand too that the military recruiters come to the poorer neighborhoods.

I struggle with the draft. The last thing I want is a draft, not with children of 19 and almost 16. Yet were there a draft, would we be in these wars? Would we allow our middle-class darlings to go? I think not. I know that were a draft to begin, ending the wars would be a front and center concern in my life. Now .. oh well, it's not really my problem because "my" children--at least in my illusions--are "safe." Of course, I'm "against" the wars in theory, though let me hasten to say, like everyone else, I support our troops. But do I do anything to support them, by say, working to end the wars in any urgent way? No.

To have two classes of children: those whose every hair is micro-protected with compulsive care and those who, from earliest youth, must take their chances, violates my understanding of Christianity. Didn't Jesus say that everyone who followed him was his brother, sister, mother, father, child? Aren't "those" children "my" children? Quakerism is a second layer, reinforcing the radical overthrow of hierarchy inherent in ancient Christianity. Where, I wonder, is our equality testimony? How do we live with these contradictions? And I ask that question of myself more than anyone else because I am first in line for apathy.

What should we do?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Peace, peace

"God promises peace peace (literal translation of the Hebrew) to those whose minds are stayed on him, as they trust in him (Isaiah 26:3). And a peace from him that passes our understanding, as we entrust ourselves to him in prayer and thanksgiving (Philippians 4:6-7).

Peace in scripture fundamentally has to do with the well being of all creation occurring through the new creation in Jesus. It begins in this old creation, groaning as it is impacted by the fall. Beginning in and through us in Jesus. But in this already/not yet present, this peace will ebb and flow, it will come and go. But the deeper and truer we give ourselves to God by faith through Jesus, the richer this experience of peace as in well being, and inward tranquility, will become."

The above is from my cyber-friend Ted Gossard's blog at I love the idea of peace in Isaiah actually being "peace peace," a doubling or deepening of the concept of peace, not just a superficial peace, but that deep peace which permeates the soul. I also agree strongly with Ted that peace in scripture has to do with well-being of all creation ...