Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Interfaith Life

It's October. October means that my world history classes are studying the Roman Empire, which means that, as the month reaches its end, we are studying the beginnings of the Christian religion.

My ninth grade students are (a few) conservative and (most) Orthodox Jews, with little knowledge of Christianity and little experience in interacting with Christians. Probably the single most important thing that I do in my life these days is to act as one of their few liasons to the Christian religion, and one of even fewer who will attempt to respond to all their questions about Christianity. No rancor. No agenda. Each year at this time, after I have supplied some of the historical and doctrinal basics, I allot a day or two to "ask Ms. C. anything you want about Christianity." The students are vibrant, energetic, curious. They are full of good will, sweetness, and skepticism. I usually tell them that, after a few days with me, they will know more about Christianity than most Christians do.

It's exhausting.

Among today's and last Friday's questions:

Are Christians monotheistic or polytheistic? Do you worship the Virgin Mary? How could she have been a Virgin? Do you believe the Jews killed Jesus? Does Mel Gibson hate Jews? Why do you have Christmas trees? Why do you put them in your house? How was the New Testament canon decided upon? What do Easter bunnies and eggs have to do with anything? Why would Christians believe that Jews have to do something (return to Israel) so that the Christian religion could be fulfilled? Why would early Christians hate Jews who thought that Christians should follow Jewish law? Were there gospels in which Jesus was more man than god? How could God be his own son? God IMPREGNATED Mary? Did Jesus have a regular father? Well, what did he do? Why was the Christan Bible written in Greek and not Latin? How was the Vatican formed? Are Presbyterians Christian? What is a bishop? Who decided that Jesus was the son of God? Who saw Jesus after the resurrection? If Jesus didn't intend to start a new religion, how did that happen? Do YOU believe that Jesus was the son of God?

Coming tomorrow (I know this from experience): What is Halloween? What are saints? Why do you carve pumpkins? Why did you adapt so many pagan holidays? What is the difference between Catholics and Protestants? What do you think about the pope? Do you like the new pope? What is that thing about white smoke? What do Presbyterians believe that other Christians don't? Do YOU think Jews are wrong? Do YOU believe in the Resurrection?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

This 'n That

Well, finally. Blogger has deigned to upload a photograph. It's been so dreary here for the past few days that I have been trying to add solace to my blog and life with this rose from the Willamette University (Oregon) garden.

Power outage for eight hours last night due to winds of 64 mph, or so the power company recording self-righteously stated. Seriously, I am grateful to the folks who worked all night to get it back on -- even if our lights and tv did all come on at about midnight, just as we had finally settled under a huge pile of comforters in anticipation of waking to a very, very cold house. I was also enjoying the reading-by-candlelight experience.

Anyone who asked for the link to my other blog and has not received it -- I know who you are but not how to find you. I need real email addresses! You can use the email address found in my profile. I was about to give up on that blog which no one reads, but just exactly one second before the power went out yesterday, I figured out how to enlarge the images. So I am temporarily happy once again.

In the process of fooling around with the other blog, I found a whole backlog of photos that reminded me of other entries and other times. I might suddenly dump some of them in here.

The election is almost over, right? America at its worst when we should be at our best. If I see one single more snippet about the supposed evils of gay marriage, I am going to sign my name in blood to a committment to never, ever, ever again even listen to a Republican candidate on any topic whatsoever. I will still read David Brooks, whom I adore, but that will be as far as I go.

We had the MOST AMAZING sunrise this morning, which of course I saw due to the time change, and now the brightest sun -- remember sun? -- is streaming down across what few yellow leaves are left after the, yes, we know, 64 mph, winds yesterday. And Greig's Peer Gynt Suite just blared out of the clock radio, which is under the impression that it is now 5:30 am or something. I need to get outta here.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I cannot figure out what to do about the house.

We do not, thankfully, live in any kind of a mansion. We live in a large, older (1917) center-hall colonial home. We would like to live in a much smaller, bungalow-type space, but the expenses of moving are too much to contemplate, and so we don't. This is it.

I'm trying to remember why we bought this house. We had a perfectly acceptable three-bedroom, immediately post-World War II colonial on a larger lot on a side street, five houses down from a wonderful elementary school, and we got some kind of idea that we wanted to move to the country. About 100 house tours later, each of them reminding us of the driving time that would be sucked from our days by such a move, we actually relocated to the other side of our suburb, the side on the border of the city.

The location is fabulous. A twenty-minute drive from downtown, where we have both worked at various times. A thirty-minute drive, parking included, to the airport. A ten-minute walk to two different shopping neighborhoods, with restaurants, bookstores, funky shops (City Buddha, anyone?), and interesting people. A couple of walks to a 300-acre arboretum disguised as a cemetery, or a pair of lakes inhabited by all the local birds and visited by all the transients. A few minutes drive to the Montessori schools our childen attended, one for preschool and another through eighth grade.

The personality of our little city is incomparable. Everyone reads. Politics tend to be liberal (but not invariably so, as our squabble over domestic partner health insurance demonstrated ~ the insurance remains a mandate, but only after a court fight). Religious practice is evident everywhere ~ all kinds of religious practice. The schools are a constant source of controversy, the public schools with all the attendant issues of inner-ring suburb diversity vying with Catholic, Lutheran, fundamentalist Christian, Jewish, charter, Montessori, and Waldorf schools for the dwindling number of students.

Our house represented a fantasy at one time, some of which we actually lived out. Mahogany and oak woodwork, glass-doored cupboards in the dining room and library, fireplaces in the libray and living room, a small sunroom (standard-issue here) off the kitchen, front and back stairs, and a huge kitchen that at one time emerged out of a combination of much smaller kitchen, breakfast nook, porch and pantry. The tiny bedrooms, closets and bathrooms (none of which are fully functional) that mark aging colonials. A place where a family of five could spread itself out: where Legos once splattered across the floor, where children's books tumbled from every available surface, and where fantasy dramas with neighbor children played out up and down three floors, under bunkbeds, into the back yard, and over the fence.

But more than two decades have passed. The children are gone. And so are the parakeets, the guinea pig, the cats, the big dog. The wallpaper is dreary, the paint on the woodwork exhausted. Various plumbing and plastering jobs await the ever-elusive contractors, the ones who probably make far more money out of this city than any lawyer or doctor and are, therefore, probably on the golf course at Hilton Head at the moment.

What are we supposed to do with this place????? It felt like a home when we had young children, simply by virtue of their presence. Now it feels like a mausoleum. A couple of rooms sport fresh coats of bright paint -- the kitchen, where we do most of our eating and talking, and a tiny space upstairs that I have just turned yellow in an effort to cheer myself up. But other than that? We have our computer spaces, and we read in bed, and the dog has commandeered the living room couch. The library stores books and the living room stores the television.

I know that what we really need to do is re-think our lives. They no longer center on children, and they haven't in a long time. Our work lives don't impinge into our home life -- well, the work itself does, but we don't socialize with our colleagues. But we have a wonderful circle of friends, many of whom will fill the house on Christmas Day with laughter and music and without regard to its dilapidated state. And we have an increasing number of involvements outside our home, most of which would offer us opportunities to host events and occasions, if only we started to think that way. I guess some kind of conscious assessment and plan is in order. Maybe even a timetable.

I have never had any interest in home decorating. Oh, I like to look at magazine pictures and imagine myself as a person interested in home decorating. But the actual activities involved -- things like looking at wallpaper and fabric designs and thinking about style? I'd rather scrape my fingernails across a blackboard. So this may require a major personality transformation. But I'm thinking that a couple of years of life invested into the appearance and comfort of our home may pay off in a new way of interacting with friends and family.

And surely those children will return someday, with another generation of tiny blondes holding their hands?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Overheard in Elevator

"I've been working on my stepdaughter's wedding."

"Oh, that's fabulous. I didn't know she was getting married. When's the big day?"

"May of 2008."

"Wow, that's a long time away. Why such a long wait?"

"Well, that's when the groom gets out of jail."


"Your family always has such interesting stories. Do you send out one of those annual Christmas letter updates?"

Sunday, October 22, 2006

81 Years of Wisdom

My grandmother, now 100 years old, told me a few years ago that people used to ask her when her sons were young how she could stand to have them so far away, off at school in New England.

"Pffft," she said. "As long as I know they're happy and doing well, what difference does the distance make?"

And so I present: her 19-year-old great-granddaughter (on top) and friends, at a pumpkin patch in Oregon, some 2500 miles away. I have to admit that email probably makes the distance a lot easier to bear. But my grandmother is right: the happiness on those beautiful faces is the important thing.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

New Blog? Maybe?

I'm trying something new, something elsewhere, something moderately private: a space to muse about my call to ministry and where it leads.

I am so technologically inept that it may fizzle out rather quickly.

But if you'd like the link, let me know.

(I'm still going to post here. But not about that topic.)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Classroom Moment

I teach in an orthodox Jewish high school.

A couple of days ago I was presenting next-week-end's assignment to my ninth grade Honors World History class. A pair of readings in Buddhism and Christianity. I checked to make sure they had covered Buddhism in seventh grade (the answer: more or less) and then addressed the issue of reading the texts of other faiths. They were alternately huffy at the implication that they might be troubled by an assignment to digest the beliefs of others and relieved to learn that they weren't expected to understand it all on their own.

"Ms. C," asked one of the girls, "is your religion like, really meaningful to you? I mean, are you, like, totally into your religion?"

"Yes," I responded.

"That's so cool," she said. "That's the most important thing of all."

Monday, October 16, 2006

Friday, October 13, 2006

Out West!

We're in Oregon! Last night I curled up on a hotel bed with the Lovely Daughter and her roommate and we all watched Grey's Anatomy together -- my idea of a perfect evening. They have regular classes today so we're off to the coast, though probably further south than pictured above.

And yesterday afternoon we got to meet the delightful
Lisa and Matt and inaugurate our tip with a visit to their Old Town Cafe in Scappoose -- how cool is that?! We spent a wonderful couple of hours together chatting over Lisa's black bean soup and veggie quesadillas -- and it felt like we had been friends forever.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Iona Revisited

This coming Sunday at church we are celebrating our Iona pilgrimmage with an Iona-centered service and Iona music in the morning and a program in the evening complete with Iona food and a ceilidh. I, sad to say, won't be there because, not sad to say, we're leaving tomorrow for Oregon to visit the Lovely Daughter, but I did write a contribution
for the evening Powerpoint:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil...

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I reached Iona as I was concluding a year-long journey through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises and just following a week of intensely interior spirituality in France. It was a challenge for me to plunge into a place of equally intense community. I often retreated to one of the many places of refuge scattered across the island ~ wandering across the rocky beach with the oystercatchers in the early morning hours, sitting among the stony ruins of the nunnery to journal on sunny afternoons, trudging down the dirt roads late at night as the sheep shuffled around and the corncrakes issued their rusty calls. Iona is a good place to be in community,
but it is also a good place to walk in solitude with God.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Monday, October 09, 2006

Autumn Evening

Talking Past Each Other

When I arrived at the emergency room at about 3:00 am on Sunday, I was pretty sick and almost completely incoherent. The triage nurse called me right over and starting asking questions. Her voice sounded really, really loud, but as if it were coming from the far end of a long tunnel. It was all I could do to respond via "yes" and "no," hoping for some semblance of accuracy.

Now that I have some recall of my mini-sojourn in the ER, I am dumbfounded by how little we understand of each other. Even when the questions and answers seem utterly direct, we may neither of us have any idea what the other is thinking or trying to communicate.

I recall only my own thoughts, of course. Now I wonder what hers were.

After she asked my husband whether I was always that pale (Uh, no), the following interaction took place:

Nurse: Do you feel safe at home?

Me: Safe at home? (Safe at home? They're going to send me home? I just got here. I guess they can tell by looking at me that I'm not going to die. Well, if I get any sicker, home is only five minutes away. I can always come back. Except for the fact that standing up and walking and sitting are all problems at the moment.)

Nurse: Yes, do you feel safe at home?

Me: Yes.

(Oh. I get it. That's a DV* question. She doesn't think I'm well enough to go home. She wants to know if my husband hits me. I was supposed to understand that. I'm about to collapse here and I'm supposed to understand DV code. ) (*DV = domestic violence. The question has finally sunk in only because I used to practice family law.)

Nurse: Do you have an advance directive?

Me: (She does think I'm going to die. She can tell by looking at me that e coli has invaded my body and is about to finish me off.)


(How embarrassing. I still haven't filled out the forms. But no Terry Schiavo. Please. Don't do anything stupid. I cannot get any words out. Surely my husband will remember. No Terry Schiavo.)

Nurse: Do you have any religious needs? Any denominational concerns?

Me: (Do I have any religious needs? Well, I am trying to decide whether I am called to go to seminary and whether I can manage it. I am working through a whole theological thing in my head, pretty much all the time. I'm a Presbyterian who was a Methodist who once wanted to be a Catholic. Do I have any religious needs? Or denominational concerns? Religious needs and denominational concerns are ALL I have.)


(Oh. She wants to know if I want to see a chaplain, because I am dying of an e coli infection, and whether I want her to call one of my pastors. Is that what she wants? Whatever. I can't figure out anything that's going on. I guess I will just try and aim for consistency.)


Sunday, October 08, 2006


I am supposedly enroute to a three-day visit for prospective students at Windy City Seminary, with the added bonus of time with Eldest Son.

In reality I am just back from several hours in the ER and headed to bed. It takes a lot to get me to participate in any kind of medical interaction. I must have been incredibly sick to make a brief foray out of the bathroom at 3:00 am to tell the husband that we needed to go to the ER. I hardly remember a thing that happened afterward so, yeah, I was (am) sick. And very disaapointed.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Children Want Serious

My reactions to the movie Jesus Camp were not entirely negative. It provides a lot of food for thought and, for those of us unhappy with the equation of Christianity and American nationalism, disturbed by the denigration of faiths and even Christian churches that differ from our own, and horrified by the blatant and unthinking manipulation of small children, Jesus Camp still asks us to move beyond our initial response (Put that away from me!) and contemplate the underlying truth of the movie: children want serious.

I was seven when my mother and brother were killed in an automobile accident. Given the twin realities that adult competence in a situation like that is almost entirely lost to grief and that adult professionals in the 19050s were (I have this on excellent authority) convinced that children did not "really" experience grief themselves, there was no one to help me through serious. Did I experience trauma? Did I wonder how people vanish? Did I wonder if there was, perchance, a god anywhere around? Yes, I had serious, foundational questions to address, even at seven.

On a lighter note, I got my first camera for my ninth birthday. A little Kodak Brownie. I adored it. It's probably obvious from my blog that, while I am not a trained, technologically adept, or skilled photographer (compliments to the contrary notwithstanding, I have enough knowledge to know where work is needed), I do love the entire image-creating process. I love seeing. I love looking. I love color. And most if all, I love light. And I love trying to transfer what I see in my mind and heart to the concrete medium of paper (or computer screen). I'm not a person who can "do" much of anything -- things like cooking, or carpentry, or sewing, or plastering. Photography is the one thing I can sort of "do." Imagine if someone has taken that seriously when I was nine.

When I was thirteen or so, I wanted to become a Catholic. My nonreligious father had sent me off to a Catholic boarding school (yes, pretty much Hayley Mills in many ways) the year before, which meant that I was surrounded by nuns and spent an awful lot of time in religion classes and church. I loved that, too. I knew without a doubt that God was. Is. Everywhere. And Catholicism was my milieu. My father said, "No way." Not out of any prejudice toward Catholicism, but out out a firmly held belief that children should not be indoctrinated into religious belief. None of us had been baptized or confirmed in our own Methodist church, the one he never attended; he thought those decisions should be left for adulthood. But the reality is that children do perceive the transcendant at an early age, often in a more immediate way than adults do. And taking those perceptions and experiences and questions seriously, and providing a framework in a which a child can address them, struggle with them, and appropriate them for herself, does not equate to indoctrination. It equates to serious. It equates to respect for the individual and her growth.

When I was in tenth grade, I was off to a Protestant religious school. A truly excellent school. It had been founded by 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody to educate future missionaries, but Mr. Moody was not one to limit the meaning of the word "education." One of the stories about him is that while he was preaching his opposition to Mr. Darwin, he was simultaneously raising the funds needed to supply the Northfield girls with the best-equipped science labs possible. And yes, my three years there meant three more years of religion classes and daily church. On the first day of our tenth grade Old Testament class, our teacher tossed college texts on our desks and said, "We will be starting with something called the documentary hypothesis." Our preachers were the best that Vietnam-era New England had to offer. Think William Sloan Coffin. People were taking us very seriously indeed.

So yes, Pastor Becky is onto something. "Kids" as she insists upon calling them 100% of the time, want serious. The typical church youth-group round of pizza parties and discussions about peer pressure doesn't cut it. The kids at her Jesus Camp don't respond with tears and shaking and astonishingly well-articulated parroting of their parents just because they're so terribly young and fragile. They respond that way because they want serious. They want to be taken seriously and they want to participate in the most meaningful adventure of life, the adventure of drawing close to God. We would do well to take note.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Is It the Full Moon, or Jesus Camp?

I just got back from seeing the Jesus Camp movie with a friend. Our conversation en route to the parking lot:

Really scary.

Really scary.

We've raised our children to be peacemakers.

We've raised them to appreciate other peoples.

We've raised them to think for themselves.

Those children are so beautiful. What will happen when they realize how badly they've been betrayed?

And by adults who clearly love and care for them.

What's with the worship of the George Bush figure thing?

How did we get to the point where Democrats have become pagans?

How could you turn your children over to adults like that before they have reached the age of reason in any way, shape or form?

Do you remember being that age? How emotional you were? How easily you could be swayed?

How much you wanted to please the adults in your lives?

That young man, saying that when he meets people who aren't Christian, he feels "icky"....

They want to bring on Armageddon.

We got into the car, shivering from the cold, and looked at each other.

Let's go home and lock our doors and try to feel safe again.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

October 5th Yet Again

I wrote this a couple of years ago in my previous blog. I was thinking pretty much the same things today. I don't have any way of knowing, but I like to believe that my mother would have laughed with me about blue jeans and cried with me over our kitty ~ that she would have appreciated how life careens from silliness to sorrow in the blink of an eye.


My mother died on a day exactly like this. A day in early October in which the sky was a limitless blue and the trees hinted at sublime changes to come. A wholly ordinary day in which she started a load of laundry, packed her three children into the car, tooted her horn as she passed my grandmother's house, turned left at the bottom of the hill, glanced behind her, crossed the middle of the road, and ran headlong into the car coming over the hill toward her.

My mother was young when she died. Twenty-eight. I was seven and I barely had a chance to know her, but the same is true of everyone else, including, most likely, herself.

I know, of course, that I grew up without a mother. And I know, in a way, what that is like -- but in something of an indirect way, although I am the one who lived it. When you experience a direct hit at such a young age, it becomes part of the fabric of your life. Too young for reflection and analysis, incapable of the evaluative process that is second nature to a well-educated adult, you simply absorb searing pain into the heart of your being and carry it with you ever afterward, without particularly noticing it.

A little girl takes life as it comes. An adult, not so much. If you are seven and your mother vanishes from the face of the earth, then you have learned that that is what happens. Beautiful, loving, needed, and beloved people die senselessly. That is what happens. If you are an adult, you resist the crises of your life with everything that you've got, but children have no adult illusions of control.

If you are a young child when your mother dies, you keep putting one foot in front of another, while surreptiously becoming a keen observer of adult behavior -- all the adults in your life having gone temporarily or, perhaps, permanently insane. But you don't rail against the gods. What happens, happens. The determination to move mountains comes later, when you have children of your own.

What I wonder now is, who was that young woman? My mother missed so much. She did not share in our school days, hear about our first jobs, witness our first romances, or sit proudly at our graduations. She never got to talk over our college and career choices, caution us about marriage, or babysit our children. She didn't get to go back to college or embark upon the career that would surely have been hers for the taking. She didn't even get to go back and sing in the church choir when her children were old enough to be left on Sunday mornings. She never got to hear the Beatles or Joni Mitchell. She never got further than Massachusetts or Florida.

I have a picture of the four of us, my mother and her children, taken in the Florida cottage in which we we lived that last spring. She holds the baby in her lap, and embraces my other young brother with her free arm. I sit at the far end of the couch, turning the pages of a book. What would she have said to that girl at the end of the couch, already making her move toward independence, already finding the world in a book? Who might we have become together?

Most of us want big things. I want to hike long trails, spend a week at Chartres, kayak in the Mediterranean. But if you told me that I were going to die tomorrow, all I would want is one more clear October day with my children. I suppose she would have taken that as enough.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A Deeply Spiritual Post

Have you noticed that you can no longer open the internet or glance at a magazine rack without being bombarded by headlines touting






OK, here's what I think. (I realize no one cares, but that doesn't stop my thought process.) What I think is that jeans manufacturers are terrified. They are terrified that we will recognize that most of the new jeans silhouettes are so alarmingly unattractive on most women that we will simply stop purchasing them until the next improvement in fashion trends rolls around.

Rolls, you say? Ah, therein lies the dilemma. Most of us have them. The crisis over anorexic models has little applicability to the lives of most American women. (I realize that French women eat cheese to stay skinny, but they have obviously inherited DNA which differs from ours in some critical respect.)

We do not look good in tight jeans. No no no, we do not. There is no form of denim that adheres to a widened posterior in such a way as to render it several inches less expansive. There is no form of denim that slices thighs into waiflike remnants of themselves. Even Lorelai Gilmore looked just plain dreadful in her jeans last night.

We do not look good in lowrise jeans. That stuff around our middles? Nope, not meant to tumble out and over the waists of our jeans, especially from behind and especially when bare. It's MEANT to be securely squished and flattened behind discreetly full-coverage pants.

(I know whereof I speak. I had twins whose birthrate totaled 13-plus pounds. We in the Mothers-of-Multiples Profession call the remaining artifact Twin Skin. A challenge in camoflauge that I defy the U.S. Army to solve.)

We do not even look so good in boot-cut jeans. Come on, now. Get real. Tight jeans that flare out above the knee due to the -- ahem -- proportions of our thighs, and then flare out again below the knee due to the strategy of the designer? There is something appealing about this look? I don't THINK so.

My conclusion about the proliferation of jeans ads, and jeans ads disguised as editorial content, is simply this: the manufacturers and retail stores are laughing all the way to the bank over middle-aged women who have been deluded into thinking that our jeans make us look like our teenaged Lovely Daughters.

Me? I'm sticking with my basics, derived from cargoes and painter pants. I know they don't alter reality. But at least no one else has to look at it.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

World Communion Sunday

Bread from Around the World
Pitcher from Iona