Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What a Week!

In the last week:
  • we baked more kinds of Christmas cookies than I can even remember;
  • we made it through a Christmas pageant dress rehearsal where more than 1/2 "the family" were home sick and then the actual pageant where, about half way through the service, just after my daughter did her "Gabriel" speech, a shepherd knocked an easel onto the head of the littlest angel who was singing "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem";
  • my church school classes raised more than $8000 for organizations working to prevent the spread of malaria, bring high school education to a part of Africa where less than 1 out of 10 children are currently given such an opportunity, and provide blankets and socks to the homeless poor of New York City;
  • we caroled at two nursing homes as well as to folks from the congregation who have a hard time getting out and around these days;
  • we had one of our cars break down from "old age" (135,000 miles) while the other is out of commission for the next several weeks with a broken rear axle and body damage after someone from the Greenburgh Nature Center ran their van into Kathy on her way to work this past Monday;
  • I finished grading students' projects and blogs and turned in my course grades for the semester;
  • we were able to spend a few hours talking with friends we only get to see once or twice a year;
  • our older kids decided that, as they waited for dinner after opening gifts, the best way to spend their Christmas together was in a poker game.
Between work and home, it's been a whirlwind of a week and I feel more than ready to settle down with a few books, videos, and games and just veg out for a day or two. But SuperMario Galaxy, Big Brain Academy, the rest of War and Peace, and The Nine will have to wait until I'm back in the US. If all goes well, tomorrow I'll be watching some episodes of the TV show Friday Night Lights (which lots of friends have recommended) and reading some paperbacks on a plane to Lisbon where Becca, Kathy and I will spend a few days following the advice of Jose Saramago as wel walk through the Alfama, visit Sintra and participate in one of Becca's favorite pasttimes --shopping--, hopefully improving our extremely minimal Portuguese along the way.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Approved

In the midst of being inundated by students' termpapers, projects, and blogs, I just got word that my own doctoral prospectus on "strengthening community using online means of connectivity" has been approved by the powers that be at Drew Theological --not that I was waiting on an approval to start either the research or the hands on part of the project, but it's still nice to know.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Only Some of My Theology

On his blog a colleague from Drew had done a quiz that's supposed to tell you what kind of theology you hold. I decided to take it. Some of the statements were hard to evaluate. I found part of a lot of the individual statements to be partly "very true" and partly dead wrong.

I'm happy enough with the emergent/postmodern result, though I'm not sure why the evangelical/Wesleyan came up as high as it did. It can't be because of the evangelical part. Perhaps it's because I really like Wesley's Quadrangle of Tradition, Reason, Scripture, and Experience and weigh that heavily in my answers? (Oh no? Does that make me a bad Presbyterian? :-)

The Catholicism no doubt came up because I affirmed the value of Mary and because I only disagreed (rather than strongly disagreed) with the pope and his role in the church.

And what's the difference between classical liberal and modern liberal?

Here are the results.

What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

You scored as Emergent/Postmodern

You are Emergent/Postmodern in your theology. You feel alienated from older forms of church, you don't think they connect to modern culture very well. No one knows the whole truth about God, and we have much to learn from each other, and so learning takes place in dialogue. Evangelism should take place in relationships rather than through crusades and altar-calls. People are interested in spirituality and want to ask questions, so the church should help them to do this.


Emergent/Postmodern


89%

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


71%

Classical Liberal


64%

Roman Catholic


61%

Modern Liberal


61%

Charismatic/Pentecostal


61%

Neo orthodox


57%

Reformed Evangelical


39%

Fundamentalist


7%


Saturday, December 15, 2007

My Daemon

I've got to get back to the sermon for tomorrow morning's service, but--for those of you who have seen or read The Golden Compass--
here's my daemon, Philotheus:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Christmas cookies





Tonight Kathy made the first batch of Christmas cut-out cookie dough-- and then Becca and her friend cut out and decorated all the larger cookies with tons of "spray on" icing. (About 3 dozen of the smaller ones wait to be decorated with real icing another evening so that we can take them to folks sleeping on the streets of New York City during our Christmas Eve Midnight Run.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Resquilleur

Last night, since Heroes is currently in a lull “between seasons”, I decide to sit down and read straight through Bernard Chenez’s Le Resquilleur du Louvre. It’s a relatively short novel—a little more than 100 pages—about a man who has lost several blue collar jobs in a row and finds himself homeless. Because he loves art and because he’s looking for “a shelter for the soul”, he decides to make his home in the Louvre. He makes his home in a room used to store workmen’s supplies, lining up some wooden cases and felt blankets to make a mattress and using bubble wrap as a comforter. As he gets to know the room a bit, he discovers a museum employee’s schedule and badge and begins to use the latter to travel around the museum, ostensibly doing work while in reality finding ways to acquire pocket change and see the works of art.

Not only does the book give an interesting view of the daily workings of the Louvre, but it also interweaves famous art –especially the paintings of Jean-Francois Millet and the Barbizon school (of which he –and I suspect the author—is particularly fond) with flashbacks in the life of and moods of the resquilleur. (Neither ‘squatter’ nor ‘gate-crasher’ seem a good translation of resquilleur, if it’s trying to capture this man’s personality and life in the museum).

Chenez writes the novel in a stream of consciousness style that takes a little while to get into, but grows on you as you read. The one thing I found myself wishing as I read was that pictures of the actual parts of and works from the Louvre that Chenez has the resquilleur refer to were included with the story line. Some of the art—La Gioconda or Winged Victory, for example—and their locations in the Louvre are easy to recall, but even though I’ve been to the Louvre several times, the actual locations of some of the other work (including Millet) don’t stand out in my mind. Even a map of the Louvre or thumbnails of the art would help that.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Chemins de fer

I’m not quite sure yet what I think of Benoit Duteurtre’s Chemins de fer. The storyline of the novel is straightforward. A fiftyish woman, Florence, splits her time between Paris (where she runs a public relations company) and a small charming village in the mountainous part of the Vosges, most often spending weekdays in the city and weekends in the country. She is, that is, a rurbaine. (I’m not sure if there’s an English word that has the same meaning.) She loves her modern, exciting life in the city, but she also treasures her time chopping wood, listening to the radio, sitting in the pub, and living alone in the family home she visited as a child. Little by little, however, the modern begins to encroach in her “traditional” village, first with electric street lights and then with recycling bins. At the same time, the SNCF first lets the secondary rail line Florence rides between her homes deteriorate and then cuts back on the services as part of their “modern improvements.” As these changes happen, Florence’s journal entries (the format for most of the novel) express not only her upset at the intrusive changes and then zeal for keeping things the way they were while also capturing how the locals look forward to what they see as the beginning of progress and perhaps even increased tourist business.

Duteurtre’s writing can at times be very beautiful, especially when he is describing some of the rural scenes. He also does a good job capturing some of the tension of Florence’s choice to live between these two worlds, one in which she happily accepts and benefits from (and ultimately even advocates for) technological progress and one in which she detests the way in which she sees them ruining the authenticity of her country home.

Because of that, Duteurtre had me with him almost until the end of the book. Almost. When he switched back to the third person narrator (a device he’d used at the very beginning of the book) to give us the last dreamlike scene, he lost me. I’m sure he meant for the ending to play out on several levels but it just didn’t work for me. I put down the book very disappointed in its conclusion. What I haven’t yet decided is whether or not those last eight pages are such a disappointment that I wouldn’t recommend the book to others or whether the well-done descriptive scenes (and the generally enjoyable storyline that raises an issue we must all struggle with on one level or another) outweigh it.

Book or Apple or Trek or...

Scott Johnson has made this very cool poster featuring more than 50 different geek personalities. I've gone through it and find myself somewhere among several of the personalities.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Stuff


Everybody should see the video that Annie Leonard made on what happens with the stuff we make and use. You can see it (or even download it) at storyofstuff.com. It's a bit long, but it's worth sticking it out!

True IDIC

I’ve really enjoyed reading Geoffrey Thorne's Sword of Damocles, the fourth book in the Titan series that I picked up at Barnes and Noble last Sunday afternoon and read whenever I could find a few minutes in between work and meetings. While I’ve lost most of my fascination with STOS and STNG because of all the combat storylines, Titan captures the parts of those series that drew me to them—the going out to explore strange new worlds and meeting people from new civilizations.


All the details of the series emphasize that. For example, the USS Titan is not a Constitution-class starship, but a Luna- class, meaning it’s a long range explorer designed not for combat for a long-term multi-purposed mission into unknown space. And the crew is by far the most biologically diverse and culturally varied Starfleet crew I’ve run across. To begin with, of the 350 folks aboard the ship, less than 15% are humans. True, many of the other 85% are humanoids of one kind or another—Bajoran, Cardassian, Efrosian, Vulcan—but not all are. The Chief Medical Officer is a Pahkwa-thanh (a more than 7 foot tall reptilian species), there are Caitians (golden-eyed, orange maned, bipeds) in security, Engineering has a Horta (a silicon based lifeform that, when it appeared for the first time on STOS looked like a cross between a pizza and a shag rug), and a Pak’shree (a large arthropodal being) serves in Operations. And if the crew is wondrously diverse, the array of beings encountered on the various expeditions that Titan goes on in the four books are stunningly more so!

The downside of the book is that Titan is under the command of Will Riker, who I’ve always found obnoxious, and so there are lots of scenes between him and Deanna Troi. But other familiar characters that I like more—Tuvok from Voyager for example—are also part of the crew. And the fact that the storylines have all been built around diplomacy and the expansion of knowledge rather than combat make it more than worthwhile to put up with a little bit of Riker to enjoy the peaceful but exciting explorations being described in the novels.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Preventing Another Leonardo

Recently I was pointed in the direction of a blog post at 'Wandering Ink' that should be mandatory reading for anyone who teaches in any setting-- not just schools and colleges but also religious organizations, businesses, etc. You'll find it here. Not only is the post itself worth reading, but so is the comment thread following it that discusses whether Web 2.0 will provide some of the needed changes that would address the issues Kris raises. And after you read the article, look at the entire blog, which is a 15-year-old's. It's fascinating.

Monday, December 3, 2007

When the Stockings were first hung....


Although we still have to shop next Sunday for the alternative gifts we’re giving to some folks, at this point Kathy and I have about 90% of our other Christmas gifts bought and wrapped. As I look around at the packages covered with pictures of birds, Santas, ornaments, trees, and lots an lots of snowmen, I wonder about the disconnect between what’s on the wrapping paper and the Christmas story. It’s not that I’ve got religious objections to Santa Claus or Christmas trees or any of the other things some of the most conservative of Christians shun. In fact, I enjoy almost all of the secular as well as the religious parts of the holiday season. But I still wonder why Christmas wrapping paper doesn’t have religious themes on it. I’ve looked in the stores as we’ve shopped and I’ve looked online and—while every once in a while there’s paper with the word ‘Noel’ on it or, even less frequently, an angel or a star-- I just can’t find any with a manger scene, shepherds, or magi.


What I remember about wrapping Christmas gifts is that it was largely a tradition that began in the Victorian era, sort of as a follow up to the beginning of Christmas cards in the mid-19th century. Christmas cards were a way for everyone—not just those who were wealthy—to send a small gift (e.g. a card) to someone during the holiday season to show that you were thinking of them during the holiday season. Gift wrap soon followed for the rich to wrap their presents in, often coordinating the gift wrap with the Christmas card.


So here’s where I get puzzled. In stores there are—along with cards showing cartoon characters and Santa and dogs dressed up for Christmas—lots of cards with crèche scenes or a Madonna and child, many of which also have religious (if not too religious) messages inside. But there’s no equivalent in Christmas gift wrap. I’m really curious why—both historically and demographically—that is.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hiding Inside God

As we move toward Advent this Sunday, here's a wonderful poem by Rumi:


Before these possessions you love
slip away, say what Mary said
when she was surprised by Gabriel.

I'll hide inside God.

Naked in her room
she saw a form of beauty
that could give her new life.

Like the sun coming up,
or a rose as it opens,
she leaped, as her habit was,
out of herself into the presence.

There was fire in the channel of her breath.
Light and majesty came.

I am smoke from the fire
and proof of its existence,
more than any external form.


(The poem is Colin Barks’ translation. The painting is by Henry Tanner.)





Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Phantom

Last Wednesday, Kathy and I took Becca and a friend to the Westchester Broadway Dinner Theater to see Kopit & Yeston’s Phantom. The food there is always mediocre at best—my filet of sole was so hard that I couldn’t even cut through a lot of it—but I’ve never seen this version of Phantom (rather than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera) performed anywhere else. Kopit & Yeston’s rendition of Leroux’ Phantom story—written just before Webber wrote his—is a touching version, humanizing the phantom, Eric, and providing interesting background connections with the Opera itself and the people who work in it. On top of that, the scores and lyrics are much better than Webber’s. I love, for example, the way in which the William Blake poem is put to music and used to capture some insights into who Eric truly is.

I’d last seen this play performed more than 10 years ago, also at the Westchester Broadway Dinner Theater. The set—a strong point in WBDT productions—was basically the same as it had been then. Sandy Rosenberg played La Carlotta in an entirely different, but equally humorous, way than Meg Bussert did back in the 90s. Richard White’s earlier version of Eric was much stronger than that of Aaron Ramey, who tends to ham up his death by flopping around on the stage. Still, if you ignore the bad food that comes with it, I’d choose this performance over Webber’s stage production or film any day!

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Last of...


This weekend we used up the very last of the fruits and vegetables we'd grown in our garden this summer and stored in the freezer. We made a green-red pepper jelly that's very hot and, at times, also sweet. It's much too spicy for me, but Kathy seems to be enjoying it on crackers or toast as long as there's lots of cream cheese with it to cut some of the heat. And the red and green pepper pieces in the jelly make it look very Christmasy.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bright Eyes at Radio City

Last evening we took Becca and a friend to Radio City Music Hall for the Bright Eyes concert (the last stop on his 2007 Cassadaga tour). The covers for Bright Eyes were the Felice Brothers and then Thurston Moore. The Felice Brothers came on about 8:15 and played several of their countryish Americana songs. I’d never heard of the group before, but apparently they are mainly three brothers (along with friend Christmas) who grew up in the Catskills and began playing together. What was surprising in their music was the instrument that brother James Felice played—the accordion. I don’t think of that as being an instrument in a modern country/rock band, but it was and it worked well with the music being performed.

When they finished (around 9) there was a break and then Thurston Moore and his band came on to play. Moore is about my age and used to play with Sonic Youth before setting out with his own band. I’d heard a song or two of his from his mid-90’s Psychic Heart album and had never much liked its loud, abrastic rock music (Kathy’s description of it was acid rock), but things I’d read online had said he’d moved toward more folksy, more acoustic sounding performances. Well, if he has, we saw very little of it last night. I couldn’t wait for him to get off the stage.


There was another long, long break and a little after 10, Colin Oberst and his Bright Eyes band finally appeared. I only know a few of Bright Eyes songs, but from what I can tell most of the ones performed in last night’s show were from his new album. Oberst is clearly talented—playing guitar (acoustic and electric) and piano as well as singing—but I’m not really sure I like most of his music. I was more taken with his trumpet player, Nate Walcott, whose music was a beautiful addition to several of Bright Eyes (and the Felice Brothers) songs. At 11 pm, Bright Eyes left the stage and the audience began cheering—half heartedly, it seemed to me, because they were busy looking at the pictures they’d snapped during the show—and at about 11:15 Bright Eyes came back on for what I assumed would be a song or two encore.

Instead the group performed until about midnight, doing some of their better known songs-- “Lover I Don’t Have to Love”, for example, was their first encore song—and then inviting the earlier bands back to perform with them on various songs. This addition to the show—in which Oberst also talked a bit—was much better than the show itself. Bright Eyes and the Felice Brothers did Neil Young’s “Walk On” as part of it and all three bands got together to perform Tom Petty’s “Walls” as a final number.

What amazed me most about the evening wasn’t Bright Eyes (or for that matter either of the other bands) but the audience. Throughout the show, most of the audience (90 % of whom I’d guess were in their teens and 20s) spent huge amounts of their time taking pictures and making videos with their digital cameras and cell phones. In many of these pictures the bands were so small that I’ve no idea what they would possibly do with them afterwards. Rather than losing themselves in the music, singing with it, or moving with the melody, what most of the folks around me seemed to be doing was concentrating on what they were seeing through their electronic equipment. To me, it was a whole new way of attending a concert, one I’m not quite sure yet what to make of.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Church in the World


I recently finished reading Brian McLaren’s new book Everything Must Change. In it McLaren seems to be taking the next step in his emerging church work, moving from an emphasis on those who will be in the church to what the church should be doing. He calls on the church to refocus the metanarrative of Jesus in a way that moves from an individualistic, “me and my soul on its way to heaven” approach to a more societal “me and my community involved in building the kingdom of God on earth” approach. This basic story would then move from being a place where we don’t focus on ourselves as imperfect and the world around us as something bad to be afraid of, but on ourselves as hopeful, creative changing people of God who live in a benevolent world that provides for our basic needs if we’ll let it.

McLaren critiques the theocapitalist worldview that the modern church has taken, emphasizing its four laws:

1)progress through rapid growth;

2) security through possession and consumption;

3) salvation through competition alone; and

4) freedom to prosper through unaccountable corporations.

Then McLaren contrasts those laws with Jesus’ gospel:

1) the law of good deeds for common good, where the aim is not to build up capital but to emphasize care for people, especially the poor;

2) the law of satisfaction through gratitude and sharing. In this section McLaren shows how, beginning with the primeval narratives in Genesis, evil and consumption are closely linked. (Adam and Eve, says McLaren, get in trouble for wanting and then consuming the fruit. Abel and Cain get into a class war based on kinds of consumption. Etc.) Gratitude in contrast, becomes an act of defiance, celebrating not what we want to consume but what we have and are content with.

3) the law of salvation through seeking justice; and

4) the law of freedom to prosper by building better communities.

Toward the end of the book he also does a nice refocusing of the New Jerusalem away from a “the world is bad, we’ve got to end it and start over” apocalypse toward a more transformative eschatology.

I didn’t find much that was new in McLaren’s book, though I agree wholeheartedly with much of his argument. What I did find, as I read, however, was a yearning for the presence of congregations that were consistently speaking to the overconsumption crisis. Especially during this church stewardship season, they seem so rare, that I find myself wondering what would happen if congregations put even half the energy that they put into raising funds for their budgets into doing similar work on combating overconsumption.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

One Down, One Up

On Friday evening I went to see the movie Lions for Lambs, the film Robert Redford directed which stars (along with Redford) Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. Reviews I’d read had agreed that it was heavy on a liberal view of the war against terrorism, but had given ranged in evaluations from it’s being “a well-made movie” asking “many important questions” to it’s being a “preachy, immobile” film. What I was hoping for in the film was that it would begin to examine the issues with a depth beyond the two party Republican-Democrat, hawk-dove position – either something more along the lines of a “Wag the Dog” type film or a new way to approach the current political situation.

What Lions for Lambs turned out to be was more of a series of talking heads –Cruise (a young conservative) lecturing Streep, Redford (playing a college professor) lecturing a student—with some scenes showing an attack on Afghanistan interspersed, all in an attempt to deliver a tired, liberal message that has already been presented too many times. The acting wasn’t great. Cruise didn’t even stand the way those who have graduated from West Point do, much less present any depth to his conservative position. And when Redford asked the student he was lecturing in his office why the young man had stopped attending class and why he wasn’t more actively involved in the political science discussions and in volunteering, I kept wanting to answer for him “because you’re a rambling, boring old fool who has no connection with the realities of today’s world and so why would I waste my energy on you or what you’re suggesting I do!” Each time Redford took a breath and began a new part of the (one-sided) conversation, I had all I could do to hold myself in my chair rather than, on behalf of the student, walking out of the lecture and the theater.

Luckily, as I left the movie theater, I kept in mind that on Saturday afternoon I would be going down to Manhattan’s Second Stage Theater to see Peter and Jerry, a play in which Edward Albee pairs two of his one acters—Homelife, a piece written in 2001, with Albee’s first real play The Zoo Story (perhaps my all-time favorite Albee work, though much more recently written The Goat is a close runner up), written in 1958. Albee and his caustic wit would surely cure me of the blasé feeling I carried away from Lions for Lambs.

Homelife in many ways seemed to me a toned down version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with a husband (Peter) and wife (Ann) politely exploring how their lives spent in an Upper West Side bourgeois setting have been civilized, predictable, complacent, and—when push comes to shove- much less than satisfactory, at least for the wife. Ann explains to her husband that he is "gentle, and thoughtful, and honest, and good -- oh, that awful word!” and that she yearns once in a while to experience the chaotic, animal madness she hopes still survives somewhere inside this bland, nice man she’s been with for years. Albee means for Homelife to explain and deepen the character of the “vegetable” Peter who is fairly silent through most of The Zoo Story. While I’ve never felt the need for such an explanation—leaving that to the details Albee provided in the Zoo Story such as the pipe and Peter’s job publishing texts had always seemed enough for me—it makes what was a subtext of the older play much more explicit.

Does it work? It does, though Homelife is much weaker than the strong writing in The Zoo Story. And, though Bill Pullman (who I thoroughly enjoyed back in 2002 as the lead in The Goat, playing Peter in both acts) and Joanna Day (Ann) are both excellent actors, Dallas Roberts as Jerry takes the day. At one point during the beginning of his story-telling of “Jerry and the Dog”, the cell phone of someone in the audience went off and Roberts stopped, keeping up the energy of his semi-psychotic, prowling character while glaring toward the sound until the ringing stopped. Because of Roberts’ powerful acting and the much more highly charged interactions in The Zoo Story, Act 2 of Peter and Jerry is what makes the performance memorable and worthwhile!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Summer in the Catskills













In between meetings this morning, I spent my time enjoying the new exhibit of oil paintings in the Donald Gallery at my church. Entitled "Summer in the Catskills", it's a collection of landscapes done by local artist June Sidman, including the two above entitled "summer field" and "Phoenicia". The opening for Sidman will be this coming Sunday with her paintings staying up in the Gallery through mid-January. I'm looking forward to having a chance to live with them for the entire holiday season!

Shift Happens

This is a great video. I wish all those who are attending high school or college or who work in higher ed could see it!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

unChristian


A comment from a classmate last week reminded me of a book I got earlier in the month, began to read, and then put aside when I got pressed for time. In the last few days I’ve gone back to it and finished reading it. It’s called unchristian and is written by David Kinnaman, the president of the evangelical research group The Barna Institute. The book writes up the findings of a fairly extensive research project done with Mosaics (born between 1984 and 2002) and Busters (born between 1965-1983) examining their views of Christianity.

The results of the study weren’t very surprising to me but are a real indictment of 20th and 21st century Christianity, both evangelical and progressive. Teens and young adults (in or outside the church) are critical of contemporary Christianity for its being (from the greatest perception down) antihomosexual, judgmental, and hypocritical. Christianity--or better, Christians and their congregations-- are insensitive to others, boring, and out of touch with reality. And these opinions are not coming from teens and 20s who have never experienced what Christianity is offering. More than four out of every five have gone to church at some time in their life, though few would say they have ever experienced God through the church. (I wonder if that figure would really be very different among those who are older. I somehow doubt it.)

So what do we do about the message we’re conveying (and the lives we’re living that don’t reflect the teachings of Jesus)? While Kinnaman offers several suggestions – learning to love those who are not members of the “insiders” club, being genuine and transparent, demonstrating loving relationships both in and outside the church, making faith connect with a changing world-- to me a line in the conclusion becomes the clearest and most poignant solution: “It comes down to this: we must become Christlike again.”

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Trial of Socrates in Second Life

This past week, my Intro to Philosophy classes spent their time together conducting modern day trials of Socrates, bringing him up on more contemporary charges like treason and seditious conspiracy rather than impiety and corrupting the youth. Each time we do such a trial, my classes—even those that seem weak during the rest of the semester—really shine. Students who are playing the witnesses seem to have really internalized their characters—their lives and their interactions with both Socrates and Athenian society as whole. The lawyers have clearly combed the Platonic dialogues (which we use in place of depositions) and other literature and events of the day (as well as later scholarship) to prepare their arguments. The students who choose to be jurors are harder to engage, though the individual jury opinions they write up work better in doing this than the group jury opinion I used to have them do.

This year, for the first time, my online Intro class also did a trial of Socrates together by creating avatars and conducting the trial in Second Life. I’d been lucky enough to have a classroom space and trial furniture donated to me by another college—Buena Vista University—that had an island (such generosity on their part). The students learned—to various degrees of competency- to get around in Second Life. Lawyers and many of their witnesses met “in world” several times before the day of the trial for trial preparation.

And then we did the trial. It was slower than when we do it F2F. Because most of the students don’t have mics, we had to do the “speaking” by typing rather than voice and most of the lawyers didn’t seem comfortable doing “cut and paste” typing for the questions they’d previously prepared, but typed things out all over again. And about 45 minutes into it, because of glitches in its new update, Second Life decided to do a “rolling reboot”, which meant that all of us had to either sign off for a few minutes or move to another island and then teleport back to our trial room. But despite that, the trial went well and gave the class a chance to interact in new creative ways. Several members of the class actually created their avatars to look like the witnesses they were going to be during the trial (a Second Life bonus that we’ve never successfully pulled off well in F2F classes). And students also had a chance to argue their case in front of more than just other Mercy College students, since several of the Buena Vista students and faculty participated as jurors, and faculty from institutions as far away as University of North Dakota who belong to ISTE (the International Society for Technology in Education) and came to observe the way in which we did the trial.

Here are a few pictures from various parts of the trial:

The trial setup


Prosecution's opening remarks


Defense Attorney examining Crito

Anytus on the witness stand

Defense attorney examining I.F. Stone


Socrates on the witness stand

The jury

I'll be asking students to fill out a more detailed report of the pluses and minuses of doing a trial this way in an online class but from the comments I've received already they seem to have both enjoyed and learned from it.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Cheryl Wheeler

We went to see Cheryl Wheeler perform last night at the Towne Crier, up in Pawling. Although I think Wheeler's name is most often recognized by people because of her song "Addicted" which Dan Seals sang and made into a hit, her songs that touch me most are those that paint portraits of individuals-- songs like Alice, which captures the feelings of a widow living in Minnesota whose kids want her to retire but who keeps working because "the more I travel the more I want to see." Sunday night's show was great! Not only did Wheeler do a lot of her sometimes funny, sometimes irreverent, sometimes poignant songs-- as well as the wonderful Gandhi/Buddha that we hope to use at our wedding-- but the satirical commentary and touching stories that she put in between them both added to the music and alone would have been worth attending the show. I think she may be my favorite contemporary folksinger!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A War of Gifts

It's been about two years since there's been anything new to read in the Ender Wiggens science fiction saga. But last week Tor books finally came out with Orson Scott Card's short novel A War of Gifts, which not not only deals with new members of the battle school squad that Ender is in, but also introduces the theme of how and when it's appropriate to practice religious observances from a religious tradition not shared by everybody. The story line is pretty straightforward A boy raised in a very conservative form of Christianity is, though a conscientious objector/pacifist, forced to atttend battle school and, while there, gets upset about the fact that (against school rules) several of the other members of his squad are exchanging Santa Claus presents during the month of December. I got the book as soon as it came out and read through it in two brief settings, thoroughly enjoying the way in which Card dealt in sensitive, nuanced ways with issues of religious fundamentalism and religious tolerance.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Jezebel

I've just finished listening to a wonderful discussion from Tom Ashbrook's On Point radio show. It was called "Defending Jezebel"and it focused on how Jezebel's story is really one of tolerance (represented by Jezebel) in a fundamentalist world (represented by Elijah, who is zealous and willing to kill over and over to protect God's reign in the land). Despite the ramblings of a few of the call-in guests, there was a discussion on the wonderful reanalysis of a character that's often pictured only as a model of sexual harlotry (even though nowhere in the Bible is she ever presented as sexually promiscuous)! I've ordered Leslie Hazleton's new biography on Jezebel and can't wait to read it when it comes. In the meanwhile, anyone interested can hear the discussion here.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Convocation on Worship, Part 1

Last evening I attended the first of a two-part Convocation on Worship South Church had that was led by Janet Walton, the creative liturgist/theologian/worship planner from Union Theological Seminary. I’d gotten to know Janet a little back in the 70’s and 80’s. I was down at UTS/Columbia doing the first year of my doctorate when Janet was finishing up the last year of hers. Once she finished she began as staff at Union, transforming worship in wondrous ways by adding more creative use of space, more female voices, more interconnection of body and spirit. More recently, she’s invited performance artists, musicians, and visual artists in to bring their unique voices and contributions into worship exploration and dialogue.

Because of this, I was so psyched for last night’s meeting, thinking that Janet would begin to dialogue with us about new ways to imagine the interweaving of worship, justice, art, and everyday life, ways that might engage the 20 and 30 year olds that seem to be to be so absent from our congregation these days. Instead what we got was South Church patting itself on the back for how well it was doing when, at Joe’s invitation (perhaps at Janet's previous suggestion to him?), those attending spent almost all of the hour and 30 minutes we were to be with Janet telling her what they loved about South Church.

We only heard from Janet in the last 6 minutes of the time, giving her just enough time to ask us a few provocative questions. For example, she asked: South Church is well-known for its social justice ministries, one of the reasons Janet said she was willing to come spend time with us. So, we both care about embodied justice and the journey and exploration is everything (as Joe had said earlier in the Session) then why wasn’t she hearing more about how worship reflected upon and prepared people for this kind of work during the week? And if we say (as Joe again said in another comment earlier) that we want to be anti-imperialist, then why was all the worship leadership done by only a few people and always up in the chancel area? They’re both good questions, questions that have bothered me for a long while that I think we’ll have to answer if we’re ever going to make a successful transition to a congregation alive in the 21st century. I walked away from the gathering disappointed that we hadn’t put our time with Janet to better use by diving into such questions and exploring their ramifications for the ways in which we worship. I'm hoping maybe Part 2 in December will be better, since it'd be impossible to use Janet's time with us in a less productive way than we did last night.

Monday, October 29, 2007

It's All Because

Another blog I read on a fairly regular basis recently had the following YouTube video. With all the heated discussions recently around who was/was not appearing with Barak Obama, whether or not it matters that J.K. Rowling said Dumbledore was gay, as well as recent administrative changes in the Presbytery of Hudson River, the video struck me as both very funny and a sad but real commentary on our churches, our politics, and our society.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Plague


I’ve just finished rereading Albert Camus’ The Plague. This time through, as I read the latter part of the book I seemed to hear it echoed in Joni Mitchell’s newish song “If I Had a Heart”. I continue to be so moved by Tarrou’s lautobiographical speech in Part 4 and by the later reflection of Dr. Rieux – a quote that I’ve carried with me over all the years since my first reading as a teenager and has resonated each time I've reread the book-- that “…a loveless world is a dead world, and always there comes an hour when one is weary of prisons, of one’s work, and of devotion to duty, and all one craves for is a loved face, the warmth and wonder of a loving heart.”

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Global Adoption

Usually I read the articles in Mother Jones not because I’m captivated by them but because I feel I need the information they contain in order to balance out some of the facts I’m receiving from the mainline press. But this month, Elizabeth Larsen’s article “Did I Steal My Daughter?” spoke to both my head and my heart. I’d heard a lot of the particulars listed in it before—especially about adoptions from Haiti, but also from the ongoing coverage of celebrity adoptions--but none were presented in the balanced but personally touching way of this piece.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Darjeeling Limited

Late yesterday afternoon we went to see the film The Darjeeling Limited, a truly weird though entertaining film by director Wes Anderson. Before going, I had my doubts about whether I’d enjoy it since I’d really disliked Anderson’s earlier films The Royal Tenenbaums and The Life Aquatic. Darjeeling had a lot of the same actors playing in it that had been in the other Anderson films, including Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Angelical Huston. The theme even struck me as similar –one more attempt keep a melancholic tone while dealing humorously with and becoming free of one’s psychological and familial baggage. (In this film, the brothers do that literally toward the end of the film.) While I can’t say I loved TDL, I did enjoy it more than the earlier movies, partly because it seemed like Anderson had done a bit less navel-gazing in this piece—or maybe it’s just because I enjoyed seeing the Indian scenery enough that it balanced out a lot of the juvenile pepper-spray and poisonous snake jokes.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Mom

If she were still alive, today would be my mother's 85th birthday!

Cyrano

Saturday evening we went to see Kevin Kline in a preview of “Cyrano” which was based on Anthony Burgess’ translation of Rostand’s classic. The acting was great, the play (as, from my perspective, the original piece by Rostand) mediocre. I found myself waiting in the first act for the one good exchange coming-- between the Comte de Guiche and de Bergerac in which the Comte says that when you fight with windmills they may “swing round their huge arms and cast you down into the mire” and Cyrano adds “or up, among the stars!”

In the second act--mercifully shorter-- I waited for Cyrano’s wonderful lines toward the end:

“ What's that you say? Useless? Useless? But one does not fight merely to win! You have it wrong... One fights for far more than the mere hope of winning. Better, far better to know that the fight is totally irreparably, incorrigibly in vain!... Are you there too, Stupidity? You above all others perhaps were predestined to get me in the end. But no, I'll Fight on, fight on, fight..."

But before we could get to those lines, there were staging difficulties and the play actually stopped for a while so things could be fixed. Watching the tech guys out struggling with the large curtain that had gotten caught was the most interesting part of the evening! Other than that, not much stood out from the play (though in truth I was dead tired and that could have had an effect on how I felt about what I was seeing). Opening night is November 1st so I’ll be interested in hearing what the critics think then.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Classroom Taking Shape

The freshman computer science class from Buena Vista University (thank you Ken Schweller!) has been helping my Mercy class build our Second Life classroom space. Here are a couple of shots of what they've done so far.

The class setting is on top of a rocky mountain-- fairly appropriate for a course studying ancient Greek philosophy-- on the Buena Vista island. It's got a marble base and Greek columns surrounding it.

And right now, in the middle of it is the "modern trial" setting for when we do a modern day version of the trial of Socrates in early November. To my right in the picture is the witness stand, to the left of that is the judge's bench, and right in front of me you can see the prosecutor's table.

Directly below our classroom space is Plato's cave, a visual creation of the cave allegory that Socrates mentions in the Republic. The BVU students are using their computer skills to do a nice job of picking out what should be in that. That class and mine (which is reading the Republic this semester) will get together in SL to discuss the text itself, why it was reconstructed the way it was, anything else that should be added, the meaning of the allegory, and how it fits in with the rest of what Socrates/Plato taught. And then, in November, as a followup to that interaction, the BVU students will serve as the jury for my class' Socrates trial.
I think everyone on both campuses-- Ken, me, and each of our groups of students-- is excited about the possibilities that bringing the groups together in SL is providing.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Peach and Strawberry

Early Saturday morning was a nice break in a week that has been a fast blur of work and family obligations. For two and a half hours, my entire focus was taken up with stirring fruit, pectin and sugar (lots and lots of sugar) and then heating and jarring it for jelly. The end result—35 jars of peach-strawberry and strawberry jelly. Do I like jelly? Not very much, but I enjoyed learning the new skill and I love having something concrete to show for my work.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Favorite Poem

In early August, I discovered the following poem and fell in love with it. I've carried it with me into the fall, through the start of new school and church years, and it continues to seem "just right" as an approach to life!


Monet Refuses the Operation


Doctor, you say that there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don't see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being.
Fifty-four years before I could see
Rouen cathedral is built
of parallel shafts of sun,
and now you want to restore
my youthful errors: fixed
notions of top and bottom,
the illusion of three-dimensional space,
wisteria separate
from the bridge it covers.
What can I say to convince you
the Houses of Parliament dissolve
night after night to become
the fluid dream of the Thames?
I will not return to a universe
of objects that don't know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent. The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.
To paint the speed of light!
Our weighted shapes, these verticals,
burn to mix with air
and changes our bones, skin, clothes
to gases. Doctor,
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and how infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.
~ Lisel Mueller ~
(Sixty Years of American Poetry, The Academy of American Poets)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Her Way to Sainthood?

I’ve just finished Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light and feel as ambivalent to the book as I do to Mother Teresa herself. Based on everything I’d heard about the book—one reviewer even compared Come Be My Light to Merton’s Seven-Storey Mountain and Augustine’s Confessions-- I’d expected a collection of letters and diary entries of Mother Teresa showing her struggles starting the Missionaries of Charity and wresting with the dark nights of the soul the reviews said she endured. I’d hoped it would give me a different view of this woman so many consider a saint. Instead what I found in the book were short excerpts from her letters and journals surrounded by running commentary from the priest who is making the case for Mother Teresa’s canonization, all of which takes the tone of “even in her struggles with faith she was a saint.”

Although I wanted to put the book down over and over, I read it through to the end, hoping that somewhere along the way that I’d begin to feel some sympathy for this woman.
Instead what I found was a woman with a huge ego—even the quotation at the beginning of the book (a quotation much overused throughout the book) makes that clear when Mother Teresa writes “if I ever become a saint…” No matter how faithful we struggle to be, how many of us think so well of ourselves that we’d imagine becoming a saint? Throughout the book, it feels like Mother Teresa is posturing all the time, talking about how unworthy she is while really not believing it herself. Her concern seems to be, not that she has felt no faith or relationship with God for many years of her life, but that others might get a hold of her writing or learn of this lack on her part, becoming disillusioned with her. I’m not a big Christopher Hitchens fan at all, but an objective reading of Mother Teresa’s writing (if you ignore Kolodiejchuk’s attempt to couch all of the texts in “the lives of a faithful saint”) is found in Hitchens’ summary that Mother Teresa was “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud”.

Monday, September 17, 2007

San Gennaro Festival

I spent this past Saturday in New York City at the San Gennaro Festival. The festival is ostensibly around San Gennaro, a 3rd century martyr, whose feast is a big deal celebration in Naples, but his presence is only seen in the statue that you can stop by and see if you're so inclined.Immigrants from that region began to hold a similar celebration in New York back in 1926. This year, little Italy—especially Mott Street, Mulberry Street, and Grand Street—was packed with people, booths, and outdoor restaurant tables for the street fair. There were carnival games, a merry-go-round for little kids, and tons and tons of food. (What would an Italian celebration be without food!) There were booths piled high with zeppole, vendors breaking up large blocks of torrone, folks everywhere eating large sausage and pepper heroes, and lines for the gelato and pastries. At a restaurant on Grand Street, I had some of the best pizza blanca I’ve ever had. We sat at an outdoor table to eat and listened to a singer serenading us from across the street at Ferrara’s. After dinner we headed straight across the street for cannolis and napoleons, though I was surprised that Ferrara’s pastries weren’t quite as good as those I’d picked up earlier in the afternoon in one of the booths I’d passed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A New Way to Remodel Churches?

In my Second Life wanderings, as I've looked for assignments for my religion class, I ran across the church that I'd visited and written about back in June. (Here's that post.) You'd hardly recognize the place. Here's a new picture of me (or rather Ishah, my Mercy avatar) resting in the same congregation's space that I'd worshipped in back then.


There's almost nothing similiar. The floor cushions have been replaced by comfortable chairs, the room is arranged differently, the outside of the building has been remodeled, and the cross and pulpit are in entirely different places. I'm guessing that the pastor has been doing this as she's learned various things that make worship and congregational gatherings work better in the space. If only our first world congregations were as willing to find ways to change the space to make it more accessible and relevant (and of course, if only it could be changed as inexpensively as it can in SL)!