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)!

Plato's Cave in Second Life

At this point, about 3/5s of my online philosophy class have created avatars and ventured forth into Second Life. So far folks in the class seem to be very intrigued by it. In the meanwhile, I've been scouting around for some interesting SL experiences for them. Among those that now look like exciting options is the possibility of partnering with a freshman computer science class from Buena Vista University (Iowa) that's exploring cyberspace to create Plato's cave in SL and then explore the meaning of that section from the Republic. Now if Mercy can only get SL up and running in the labs so that the other students in my class (who have computers running Vista or have poor graphics cards) can get on, we'll be all set.

Monday, September 10, 2007

New Days, New Ways

I've just finished the first week of a new semester of teaching both F2F and online classes. I've spent a lot of the time "out of the classroom" helping individual students get set structurally for the courses they're taking-- showing them how to make blogs of their own, walking them through the process of creating avatars in Second Life, helping them access podcasts, etc. As I've been doing it, I've been thinking of how different this is from the days when I first started teaching. Then the prep was stuff like "buy three textbooks that are in the bookstore" and "when you write a paper for me, type it double spaced so I have a place to comment".
I've become aware that, not only was the updating of ways to do assignments and dialogue with each other needed, but so are the examples I use in order to connect the course material with everyday life. In one of my Intro to Philosophy classes this week, for example, I was trying to explain the ancient Greek world in which Socrates' thought should be placed. I referred to Homer's Odyssey. Not one of my students had heard of it, much less read it. I explained it contained, among other things, Greek mythology. I asked what Greek myths they knew. Only one student had ever read a Greek myth. So I moved on to movies to try to illustrate my point, asking if anyone had ever seen "Clash of the Titans." No one had. I was feeling pretty frustrated, since what should have been a small point in building a worldview was taking so long for the class to connect with. Then it dawned on me to ask "Has anyone ever seen the Disney movie Hercules?" About half the class had. "Anyone ever play one of the Age of Mythology"videogames?" A few more hands went up.

So that's where I start this semester, needing to rethink not only the process of how students learn but also the examples that will connect with what they already know. Heraclitus is clearly right-- it's all change these days.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Photo Reality

I spent Sunday evening up in the Catskills at an “arts party”, a two-part event that began with physical theater and dance performances and then, after a short break, had a Q & A with photographers whose “Interactive Landscape” show opened that night (and will be in the gallery until October 14th).

The most interesting part of the evening for me was the Q & A discussion with four of the photographers whose pieces are part of the gallery show that opened that evening. (You can see several of the photos from the show here.) Several audience members wanted to discuss the difference between what a photographer who was clearly exhibiting work as fine arts rather than as photojournalism owed/didn’t owe viewers in terms of realism. People said that they had different responses to Mathew Porter’s strong piece “Crash” after Porter explained how he had created the piece in his gallery by combining a previous nature photograph with a miniature car hung from a string. And there was a clear response to the fact that in both Amy Stein’s works displayed, the animals in the photos turned out to have been stuffed rather than alive. The discussion moved in the direction of a “Wag the Dog” type situation and raised the issue of whether we expect (and/or have the right to expect) something different in terms of a photograph’s presenting things “as they are” than we do in a painting. The more I thought about it, the more I realized photos (unless they are obviously changed to be surreal) feel “closer to reality” than a painting does. And that remains the case even though I can rationally ask what, in a postmodern world, does reality even mean in such a context?