Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Book I Wish I’d Read Three Years Ago

Back in 2005 I was spending a lot of time reading authors like Len Sweet and Rex Miller, trying to understand the changes I was seeing in the spiritual lives of both those I met in parishes and those I met in classrooms. I began to get a sense of postmodernism, the need for experiential worship and learning in congregations, and the ways in which the internet and other technologies of connectivity were changing our lives. But there still seemed to be something missing in the picture. Why were the changes in the 21st century so jarring compared to the major changes 100 or 200 years ago?

In the spring of 2007, I took a course on apocalypticism. I had a hard time getting a handle on the course, although we talked a lot about cataclysmic changes that occurred in history, focusing on world history, European history, and American history. I wasn’t exactly sure how it all added up, but most of the assigned books were enjoyable and the research paper for the course—looking at what the lynchpin events that shaped the congregation I was serving—was interesting to do.

In the time since I’d pieced together a blueprint for how the material I learned while doing my D.Min. and other research and experiences dealing with change were beginning to fit together. And then, last week, I ran across Phyllis Tickle’s The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why. What a book! How I wish it had been written and someone had given it to me back in 2005. It explains it all- the change (religious and secular) we’re undergoing in North America, the causes for it, how postmodernity fits in with what came before, and the way this “rummage sale” that we’re part of is similar to earlier transitions Christianity has undergone.

I’ve already been in touch with two of my professors at Drew to say “Assign it” and with my presbytery’s Vision MInistries to say “We have to read and talk about this.” But the book should be much more widely read than that. It needs to be discussed by not only clergy and scholars but by the average person (and not only the average religious person). It’s got important information for scientists and writers, business people and artists of all kinds. If I were choosing one non-fiction book that would be a ‘must read’ for 2009, The Great Emergence would be it.

Here’s Phyllis Tickle, explaining just a bit of what the book is about:

Watch it and then READ THE BOOK!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Serving Using a Social Network?

The BBC reported the following use of Facebook as part of a legal proceeding. If law has begun to use social networks as part of its litigation, can the other two wuperconservative institutions (education and religion) be far behind?

Legal papers served via Facebook

An Australian couple have been served with legal documents via the popular social networking site Facebook.

Mark McCormack, a lawyer in Canberra, persuaded a court to allow him to use the unusual method after other attempts to reach them failed.

The couple's home is being repossessed after they reportedly missed payments on a loan of over A$100,000 ($67,000; £44,000).

It is believed to be the first time Facebook has been used in this way.


Mr McCormack says he resorted to Facebook to trace the couple after unsuccessful attempts to contact them at their home address and via email, and they failed to attend a court appearance on 3 October.

He found the woman's page, and used details listed there such as her date of birth to argue in the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court that she was the person in question. Her partner was listed as one of her "friends".

In granting permission to use the social networking site, the judge stipulated that the papers be sent via a private email so that other people visiting the page could not read their contents.

"It's somewhat novel, however we do see it as a valid method of bringing the matter to the attention of a defendant," Mr McCormack said.

Text message

He said he thought courts would continue to use Facebook, as long as they were sure it was reasonably likely to come to the attention of those concerned.

In the past, the Australian courts have granted permission for people to be served with legally binding papers via email or even text message.

But this is the first time they have allowed the use of Facebook, says the BBC's Nick Bryant in Sydney.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Defining Moment

Over the past three months, I’ve spent what little reading time I could grab making my way through Jonathan Alter’s The Defining Moment. I began the book just as the presidential debates got underway and have just finished it as president-elect Obama announced his planned public works program as part of his solution to the present economic crisis and have found the overlaps between Alter’s book and the current events intriguing.

Alter’s book purports to be a report of Franklin Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office, but the book is much more (and much less) than that. It’s more of a reflection on the ways in which FDR reinvented the presidency as well as how and why he did so. Wile the book does go back to look briefly at Roosevelt’s upbringing, it spends most of its discussion on the deepening Depression with its focus beginning early 1933, when stock values had decreased, exports were at their lowest in decades, and unemployment was rapidly rising. Alter seems to focus on the ways in which Roosevelt used his acting abilities to communicate confidence to other politicians, journalists, and the public at large. He marshals his case that it was this acting ability that made FDR’s Fireside chats and other speeches work and also allowed him –by the end of 100 days—to have key programs for economic recovery set to go.

I particularly enjoyed the insights that Alter provided into how FDR and Eleanor together –intentionally and unintentionally- reshaped the role of the First Lady and why they did so. Alter also tells many of the standard Roosevelt stories from this period of time and delves into some of the more debatable issues (e.g. how much of various speeches were written by FDR himself and how much by several other members of his staff). Every once in a while, though, Alter’s comments got to me. At one point he said that, because FDR put Frances Perkins as a member of his cabinet and had sympathy for women’s rights, he might be considered “the first woman president.” You’ve got to be kidding me! Despite a few comments like these, the book was well-worth the time, giving me now only some new information on FDR’s first 100 days of presidency, but also new insight on current decisions being made by congress and the newly elected president.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Friday evenings we went to see Ha-Sodot. It’s a film set in Safed, Israel, which Avi Nesher has used to give it lots of shots of beautiful scenery for the background to the story. The story itself focuses on a midrasha where the young Orthodox students live and study Talmud. while in many cases also searching for prospective husbands. We meet several of the students attending and learn a bit—though only a bit—about each of their reasons for making a choice to attend—be it to learn more about a newly rediscovered religion, to avoid a marriage not desired, to find a prospective husband, or to—if it ever became possible—become a woman rabbi. The story gets more complicated as two of the young women—an unlikely pair to begin with—are sent to help an older woman from the town who has become critically ill. What starts off as help with grocery shopping and house cleaning quickly begins to interweave with spiritual help. Kabbalistic rituals (or pseudoKabbalistic rituals, since many are concocted specifically for the situation that has presented itself) and pratices begin to take over the lives of the three and lead them to a series of secrets (thus the title).

The dialogues throughout the film switch back and forth between Hebrew and French. My French was up to what was being said, but I was appalled to find that my Hebrew has gotten so weak that I could only pick up the most simple exchanges without looking at the subtitles. And, because lots of the scenes are dialogue-laden, keeping up with the subtitles while watching some of the complicated visuals is asking a lot of American audiences.

While I found some of the scenes with Fanny Ardant, who plays the ill, older woman, weak, the movie as a whole was well-done and raised interesting issues and questions. How would, for example, women these days adapt the Kabbalah to their modern lives? How would well-educated modern Orthodox teens respond to personal relationships between women and between Jews and non-Jews? And, though I’m sure it wasn’t true for any of the other people in the movie theater that evening, the question that was most interesting was how many of these midrasha exist in modern Israel that are pushing for and training young women to be ordained as Rabbis?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Simpsons take on ‘Mapple’

While I'm not a huge Simpson fan, the parts of this episode at the beginning and the end that deal with Apple and its fans are wonderful!

The Simpsons take on ‘Mapple’

Just click on the link above to enjoy it!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Blurring of the Virtual and Non-virtual

I was amazed by yesterday's news (full story here) that there's now a case in the Japanese courts where a woman who was served with a divorce in a virtual world ended up killing her online husband and is now being brought up on computer hacking charges for doing so.

I've been arguing for years that making distinctions between "real world" and "virtual world" personas doesn't make much sense-- that it's all just different aspects of the real world. Virtual communities are one kind of real world community, virtual communications are one kind of real world communications, and virtual personas are one kind of real world personas-- all with real world implications and consequences. Now hopefully we're beginning to see the legal system catch up with and put some teeth into the idea that virtual worlds are indeed part of the world. The behaviors in them need to be taken as seriously as the behaviors in any other part of our world. I'll be very interested in seeing the opinion that is written if this case actually makes it to formal charges and through the court system!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sign the Petition

I was only able to watch little bits of the 2008 Women's Conference that Maria Shriver put together--you can see a lot of it here -- but Bono's appeal toward the end of the day once again moved me. Here's what he said:

I hope that after watching it, folks will sign the ONE petition that's being sent to Senators Obama and McCain. It can be found here.

Friday, October 10, 2008


Home is the most beautiful, touching book I have read in many years. In it, it is 1956 and Jack Boughton is returning home to Iowa after 20 years to live with his dying father, Rev. Robert Boughton, and his sister Glory. The story covers much of the same time period as Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s earlier book that won the Pulitzer, and has an overlap of characters. I’d read Gilead and thought it was okay—a few good lines for sermons—but it didn’t move me in the way that this reshaped, refocused prodigal son story did. Perhaps it’s that the voice of Glory (who, even though the book is written in a third person voice, is really the narrator) works better with Robinson’s simple yet deeply layered writing that the narrative voice of Rev. John Ames (who narrates Gilead). Perhaps it’s the way in which the two ministers again and again got caught up in the theological issues around the questions that Jack asked but were completely unable to hear the earnest painful intent behind the questions. Maybe it’s that Jack could even hope that the town of Gilead might offer the possibility of a real home for his interracial family. It could be the way in which the prodigal son story is retold—but not quite—in a much more complicated way. Or perhaps it’s that the anguish and compassion interwoven into the lives of the Boughton family spoke more strongly to me than the lives of the Ames’ household, often leaving me with a lump in my throat or tears in my eyes. Or, more likely, it’s all of these in the eccentric way that Robinson weaves the varying storylines together into a narrative that seems so strange and yet so familiar.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


It may be October but our flowers are looking better than ever (thanks to Kathy's continual watering of the hanging baskets)!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Go Cornel!

Last night's appearance of Cornel West on the Colbert Report had me roaring with laughter. Cornel looks much older then when I saw him a year or two ago, but he's still got his quick wit and verbal ability to run circles around someone while at the same time making an important point.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Reimagining Church

What a disappointment! I got up early this morning to read Frank Viola’s Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity. Len Sweet had raved about it on one of his recent Napkin Scribble podcasts and, based on that, I’d hoped there would be some material I could use in the theology section of my dissertation. I would have done better to continue sleeping.

The intention of Viola’s book – to show how the institutional church and denominationalism has moved away from the organic approach to faith that Jesus and his early followers took and how we need to regain much of what’s been lost—was a good one. Viola’s analysis of first century Christianity—much of which I got the impression was a paraphrase of an earlier book he wrote with George Barna – seems fairly accurate and is clear. But, although Viola presents himself as having moved outside of any institutional trappings, his work is steeped in conservative evangelicalism. Pastors are always ‘he’, two chapters are devoted to issues of congregational and denominational ‘covering’, and Viola clearly privileges first century Christianity as normative for all later centuries. If the Bible doesn’t know of it, then it shouldn’t be is Viola’s implication in chapter after chapter. I have great respect for first century Christianity and believes that there are things to be learned by reexamining premodern approaches to faith but I also realize that we live surrounded by a different, postmodern worldview and so have to respond to God’s call in ways that differ from those of early Christians.

Should Christians move beyond denominationalism and modern institutionalism? Probably we should and actually, if statistics are accurate, we’re already beginning to do so. Are there practices from preConstantinian Christianity that we should reexamine and rebuild into our lives? Of course there are. But we need to do so in new, creative ways, ways that folks like Shane Claiborne seem to know much more about than Frank Viola ever will

From Spin to Axis

For the last two months, I’ve been working my way through Spin, Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo Award winning book, and its sequel, Axis. Both are great reads. The first, focusing on earth after it’s been surrounded by a barrier and the stars go out, also delves into how people react to major changes in life that seem outside of their control and the relationship of earth and time in our lives.

Axis takes up where Spin leaves off, introducing us to Equatoria, which can be reached through the Arch portal that Tyler Dupree (the narrator of Spin) and Diane Lawton go through toward the end of Spin. Except for one character from Spin who appears briefly in Axis, we’re introduced to a whole new cast of characters who are making their own guesses about who/what the hypotheticals are (if they exist at all) and how to respond to them. At times Axis reads like a good thriller, at times it’s a love story, and at times it’s a fantasy-- and almost all the way through it’s also a compelling, nuanced study in human psychology.

I’m not sure when Vortex, the last book in the trilogy, is due out, but I’ll be looking forward to it. And luckily, in the meanwhile, there’s Brisingr, the last volume in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy, to read!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Eliasson's Waterfalls

Late yesterday afternoon we headed down to the South Street Seaport to take a boat tour of Olafur Eliasson's "Waterfalls", the four tinker-toy type scaffolding structures that stand on the East River --at the Brooklyn Bridge and Pier 35 (near the Manhattan Bridge), between Piers 4 and 5 (near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade), and near the Governors Island ferry station. Each has a cascade of water pouring down somewhere between 90 and 120 feet from the top of the scaffolding.

Part of what I wondered about as I went to see the structures was whether or not we'd be able to experience them as art. Becca and Kathy had briefly seen Christo's "The Gates" in Central Park a few years ago and we were all still trying to fit that into any kind of artistic understanding, so my expectations weren't high. When it came to "Waterfalls", however, I'd read that what Eliasson was trying to do was to create an experimental setup that would engage us with water in new ways, making water explicit rather than letting us take it for granted. Since I love being anywhere on, in, or near water, I thought it would be easier to engage my senses in this exhibit.

It didn't happen though. The noise of the water falling just blended in with the noise of the traffic on the roads and the waterways. And the structures that pumped the water up to their heights just looked like much of the other scaffolding and building projects elsewhere in the city. The only one of the four falls that engaged me at all was the one under the Brooklyn bridge. As we got closer to it, we could see folks standing up on the walkway in the bridge trying to look down at the waterfalls. The scaffolding there seemed to become part of the bridge's design and to complement and complicate the bridge's structure.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fall Equinox Friday

Over at RevGalBlogPals, Songbird wrote: “It's that time of year, at least north of the equator. The windows are still open, but the darned furnace comes on early in the morning. My husband went out for a walk after an early supper and came home in full darkness. And yes, where we live, leaves are beginning to turn. As this vivid season begins, tell us five favorite things about fall:”

1) A fragrance: In my neighborhood at this time of the year, some folks (including us) are still grilling, while others have begun to use their fireplaces. The combined smell of wood burning and food grilling—not quite the same as food cooked over a campfire—reminds me of fall.

2) A color: the blazing scarlet red of Japanese maples at this time of year.

3) An item of clothing: It’d be a toss up between a fleecy and my fingerless gloves, that I just got out this morning.

4) An activity: sitting on the front porch watching it grow dark, listening to the kids hanging out on the street and the noise from the football game down the block, and greeting people who go by.

5) A special day: One of the wonderful things about fall is that there are no ‘special’ days. The school and church years have already started, none of the kids have birthdays yet, and there are no major holidays. Once in a while—if there’s no major soccer tournament or church gathering planned—there’s just a simple, quiet, ordinary autumn weekend. How I love those!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Rage Against the Machine

I've had little patience watching the Republican National Convention despite the ways in which Sarah Palin has made the Republican ticket more interesting (not more appealing or well-trained,mind you, just more interesting). But here's a clip from a musical group for whom I do have respect singing a cappella outside the convention on September 2nd:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Virtual Worlds

Thisi s a great short introduction to all the virtuals worlds out there in the metaverse:

Digital Terms

As part of my dissertation research, I’ve been spending several days reading stuff about different generations and their usage of computers and the internet. I’ve found books such as with good analysis of the computer usage of Millenials—such as Palfrey and Gasser’s Born Digital- and I’ve carefully analyzed the 2005 Pew Report on “the Internet and American Life”—but I’m still searching for more detailed distinctions in computer usage than just the terms ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants.’ What terms, for example, exist to distinguish a digital immigrant whose only use of online connectivity is to access email from a digital immigrant who participates in online meetings, uses Skype for phone calls, and plays one or more MMORPG? I can’t find any. And who has studied the differences in the way that older members of the Builder generation differ in their response to the computer from younger Builders, and older Boomers from younger Boomers? There’s got to be research out there somewhere on this stuff, but I just can’t seem to locate it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Peter Quince

I'm running a little behind in postings. Here's the first part of the early August performance at Purchase College of Midsummer Night's Dream in which Becca played Peter Quince:

Monday, August 25, 2008


We're just back from a few days at the Cape. When we first got to the Cape we shopped at the Hyannis Mall to make Becca happy.

In Provincetown we went to the Race Point Beach,ate lobster at Clem and Ursie's,shopped, and visited the Bearded Lady to see what was wrong with Becca's ear cartilage.

We saw the new Woody Allen movie and spent part of two afternoons swimming at Hathaway's Pond, one of my favorite swimming spots in all the world. It's got beautiful surroundings, a clear sandy bottom in the part of the pond near the beach, and is usually uncrowded since most folks who don't live in the Barnstable area or don't scuba dive seem unaware of it.
And our last night there, after lobster rolls at Seafood Sam's, Becca and Kathy competed with each other in minigolf (and I competed with myself).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


About a month ago, the man next door moved back to Australia and Macy came to live with us. Here are the first few pictures we've taken of her:

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Summer Reading

Over the last few weeks, as I’ve sat waiting for Becca to come out of various activities or been at airports waiting for planes to take off, I’ve finally had the chance to get a lot of “summer reading” done.

I’ve made through all four of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy. I really enjoyed the new world developed in Uglies and elaborated upon in Pretties a lot. By the time I got to Specials however, I’d sort of lost interest with what would happen to Tally Youngblood and her friend Shay since that volume didn’t seem to contain any more creative developments about the world in which they were living. Extras was exactly the opposite. The idea the fourth volume took on was a very creative one, but I just couldn’t get into it because none of the lead characters (all different from those in the first three books of the trilogy) really interested me. I’m glad, though, that I stayed with Extras to the end since the last part of it was the best.

I finally got the time to read Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels, a novel that does a superb job of capturing the personalities involved in the decisions at the Battle of Gettysburg and gives a much less textbooky feeling to the issues that drove the Civil War. I also read Rise to Revolution, the book about the beginnings of the Revolutionary War written by his son, Jeff Shaara. Of the two, I think I preferred the latter, though not because it was better written, but because I enjoy the time of Adams and Franklin with its international issues more than that of Buford, Longstreet, and Lee with their more narrow national focus.

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad was a delightful change of pace! I loved the way she developed the story around the hanging of the twelve maids, played with the symbolisms throughout the Odyssey and brought several of the characters who were mere placeholders in Homer to life in her book. If I ever teach the Odyssey again, I think I’ll use it as a supplemental reading.


We spent the weekend in Minneapolis with Kristen, Kathy’s niece, and Heidi—and of course with Chewy, Gromit, Shmadios, and Taice,their dogs and cats. For a long while now Kathy has wanted to go out to visit them, so I'm glad we could do it.

Saturday we did a driving tour of both Minneapolis and St. Paul’s, went to the Walker Art Center and Sculpture Garden,

and stopped nearby for the mini-golf course designed by artists. We had some of the best falafel I’d ever had at the Holy Land (even better than a lot of what I’d had in Jerusalem!), snuck in a little gardening, and ate with Heidi and Kristen’s friends M.B. and Alex at another good restaurant whose name escapes me. Sunday, Kathy got a chance to play several hands of canasta with Kristen while Heidi and I went to a workshop on communicating with animals. Then, after a little partner canasta and some brief time riding on motorbikes--

I still haven’t gotten the hang of making a left turn without speeding the bike up, but I enjoyed riding more than Kathy did-- and a great meal at home, we ended the evening by competing on the Wii. I now know that I can’t hoola hoop for my life!

I really enjoyed Minneapolis' greenness (so much parkland and so many bodies of water) alongside what seemed like most of the benefits of a large city--theater, progressive ideas, and good food. And I hope that Kathy found it a nice blend of seeing a new place and family time.

Monday, July 28, 2008

King and Country

So much of my latter life was shaped by the civil rights and antiwar movements of the 60s. From the time I was a very young child, my mother held up John Kennedy as a hero and even when I was a toddler, I can remember being taken in a stroller to civil rights marches. In 8th grade—after the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, and Robert Kennedy and the arrest of the Berrigans in Catonsville – I began to be aware of a call to be a minister, though the call seemed to have less to do with church committee meetings and more to do with the kind of social justice work that I associated with religious folks who wanted to make God’s kingdom a reality in the world. It’s because of that focus to my sense of call that I chose Union Seminary (NYC) as my place to train for ministry.

And then, after years of waiting for a family to catch up and be comfortable with my call, I finally went into parish ministry at a congregation known for its social justice emphasis. And yet, despite the work on issues of homelessness, prison reform, lgbt issues, and peace, somehow I kept feeling the gnawing feeling that we’ve begun to lose the passion that drove the rights issues of the 60s. When I was at Maryknoll in June, a lot of the Bible readings were connected in discussion with the words of King, Day, Gandhi, and Berrigan. It made me want to go back to the roots of my call. And so I’ve spent most of the month of July reading recommended books about King and Kennedy.

The book about King I read was the new edition of Vincent Harding’s Martin Luther Kin: The Inconvenient Hero which I chose because it’s focus was to move us away from seeing Martin as the sweet civil rights leader who made the nice integration “I Have a Dream” speech in ’63 and toward the Martin that had learned a more radical, widening agenda of non-violence and rights for all God’s children, the King who in April of 1967 made the powerful Riverside Church speech that almost no one refers to in any January MLK celebration, the King who stood true to his call to ministry even as friends stepped away from what they saw as his distraction from work on issues of race. Harding’s pieces—almost all written in the 80s and 90s, are strong, but it was the King quotes that stood out for me in the book.

Jim Douglass’ JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Mattered took a very different focus. Looking at the period in Kennedy’s life from the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 to his death in November 1963, Douglass focuses on the ways in which Kennedy’s thinking had moved away from Cold War imperialistic thinking toward unofficial, peaceful negotiations with folks like Khruschev and Castro. While Douglass’ organization is at times difficult—he circles back over material frequently in his writing—his argument that shows how JFK became more and more of a threat to the U.S. military-industrial complex, large business, and the FBI and how they responded comes through clearly. Oswald’s connections with Jack Ruby as well as how he was set up over a period of months to be the “patsy” for the assassination is also covered. I found the book slow-going but well worth my time. Americans would do well to wake up and learn how US power has responded over and over in this country to those who—like Kennedy or King—are threats to what King called the three evils of militarism, racism, and materialism.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Invention of Everything Else

Throughout the summer, whether at Maryknoll, sitting watching the laughing gulls at Chincoteague, or waiting at the train station for Becca, I’ve spent small snatches of time on Samantha Hunt’s The Invention of Everything Else. Today I finished it and I’m not sure whether I loved it or am indifferent to it. That’s because the book is so uneven.

The dazzling and creative descriptions of life in New York City in 1943 that make up the background of much of the book were well-done, drawing the reader into what life at that time much have been like. And I found Nikola Tesla, who for most of the book, is an old man holed up in the Hotel New Yorker with his pigeons, fascinating. I really enjoyed both Hunt’s imaginings of what his inner thoughts were along with the flashbacks to his being exploited by Thomas Edison or beaten out of the Nobel Prize by Marchese Marconi, hanging out with Mark Twain, or sitting in the park with his pigeons.

But what I didn’t care much about was the other main character, Louisa Dewell, who is a 24-year-old main working at the hotel. I kept waiting to get interested in her life—in her relationship with her father and crazy uncle who wants to travel through time, in her romantic interests, in her pigeons, or even in her relationship with Tesla. It never happened. (And I’d expected the opposite, since reviews I read had said that Hunt was much better at describing the thoughts and feelings of the 24-year-old than the 86-year-old.)

So I'll have to ruminate some more on whether or not the book was worth my time. Right now I'm just not sure.

Friday Five: What You Absolutely, Positively, Can't Leave Home Without

Rev Gal's Friday Five this week asks: what are the five things you simply must have when you are away from home? And why?

It depends where we're going. Assuming -- as will be the case next week when we fly into Minneapolis to visit relatives--we'll be spending most of the trip at places with electricity:
1. My iPod-- I use it to listen to music and audiobooks, have a traveling photo album, and keep my calendar and address book with me;
2. Our Kindle-- Until we recently got this, the answer would have been a small backpack filled with books, but no longer;
3. My cell phone--Though there are lots of times when I would be happy to leave it behind, it does function as a way for my kids (and congregation) to get me in an emergency--plus if it needs to it can function in place of my camera;
4. The toiletry case with all the expected things --toothbrush, paste, floss, Advil, etc.
5. A Diet Pepsi or two-- in case we're traveling in a Coke inundated zone (though if we're traveling to a place with electricity that's in another country, I'd gladly swap the Diet Pepsi for an adapter so I'd be able to use devices 1-3 above.)

Take away the electricity and put me on a hiking trail and only the toiletry case would remain:
1. The toiletry case-- this time with bug spray, bandages, neosporin, and moleskin added;
2. A paperback book or two;
3. Two heavy plastic quart jugs of water;
4. White cotton socks;
5. A ultralight hiking towel to hang from my pack.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight

On Saturday I went to see The Dark Knight. I went hesitantly because, while I’d heard the great reviews about Heath Ledger as the Joker, I’ve shied away from DC-based action films in recent years. Ultimately, while I thought the movie was way too long, it was otherwise a great action film (so, so much better than Wanted, which we’d seen several weeks before). Not only was Ledger wonderful, but I also enjoyed the way that the Harvey Dent/Two-Face character was woven into the story. (I knew I recognized Dent’s name from the comics, but –despite the lucky coin being tossed around several times before in the film, it wasn’t until his face actually was burned that I realized it was because he was Two-Face.) Despite all this, can I say I loved The Dark Knight? I can’t.

The reason I didn’t love it once again became clear to me when I was leaving the theater and a friend with whom I’d seen the film said something along the lines of “Now that’s what I want to do… become the Dark Knight of (an organization we both belong to). Or even better, how about we both do that…” I just said “I don’t have any desire to be a knight of any kind” and let it go but it’s that knightly kind of feeling that the film stirs up in people that makes me less than love it.

For, just as I lamented when folks loved the most recent Harry Potter film, knights are virtuous examples of people who are superheroes, vanquishing evil by fighting the good fight, all to restore the status quo. Knights divide the world dualistically into good and bad, winners and losers, right and wrong, just as Batman and Harvey Dent did in the film, aiming to lock up all the evil criminals and throw away the key. And knights are more (and therefore less) than human—always on guard against evil, always living true to principle and absolute truth, always focusing on slaying whoever/whatever the dragon of the day may be and always keeping one’s self heroic and separate.

I’m not at all interested in that. I don’t see the world in those terms and no longer aspire in the least to be or become a knight in any cause or group (though I have to admit that in my teens I did). None of those who are heroes to me are knights, though society again and again tries to clean them up and make them such. Instead I’m interested in those who are more interested in struggling along with the people—good and bad—because they realize that we’re all a mixture of the two--, those who aim not to contain evil but to bring everyone together into a better future, those who put people above principles, and those who remain very, very human throughout it all.

I want to remember and follow in the way of the humanity of Gandhi, who despite poorly treating his wife and neglecting the education of his kids, still managed to think through and help put satyagraha into practice as a way to approach imperialisms of all kinds. I respect and hope to learn in my life from Martin Luther King Jr. who was no knight, but a flawed and wounded hero who spent the last years of his life not just dreaming a sentimental dream of integration, but searching, stumbling, experimenting and groping his way toward his wondrous Riverside Church speech and a life committed to working against materialism, racism, and militarism
and the very flawed but courageous non-knight John Kennedy who never really worked for a knightly Camelot, but almost brought us to nuclear war before turning and taking steps to move away from US imperialism and toward the end of the Cold War. (Just think of his speech at American University if you want to see the human Kennedy giving up knightly thinking and wresting with what it would mean to turn toward peace.)

Knightly thinking labels people and forces flawed but good people like Harvey Dent to become Two Faces when they can’t quite live up to their own principles and the principles they foist on others. I want to follow in the way of the least knightly person I know, Jesus of Nazareth, who cared deeply about those around him but refused a knightly role when Satan offered it; who in his humanity struggled with and fell short of God’s radical principles of hospitality and inclusion of all, needing to be reminded of God’s ever-available love by the least likely of his day, a marginalized poor Canaanite woman; who never seems to have used a knightly image in any of his parables, instead speaking about gardens and plants and birds and people who are a mixture of good and bad in his stories.

So go see the Dark Knight if you’re in the mood for a good action film. But as you do so remember how how much of a danger there is in seeing the world from a knightly viewpoint or taking on the martyr role that Batman assumes at the end of the film. After all, if we could just eliminate knightly thinking, there'd be more than enough work for all of us flawed two-faced humans to do together to move in the direction of God’s reign of love and peace!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Exploring a New Bar

Perhaps the Wall Street Journal was right yesterday when it reported that “Virtual worlds may look like toys for the geekiest of geeks, but they have quietly slipped into the mainstream.”

Until today I’d made a point as Ishah Tripsa (the Second Life identity I use when I teach) to keep myself connected to philosophical and religious developments and places, virtual educational conferences held in world, and the like. Today, however, I finally broke down and let my first world legal life spill over into Ishah Tripsa’s by joining the SL Bar Association. Located in Second Life’s Justice Center (that's me standing in front of the building), the SL Bar Association has begun offering interesting continuing education discussion on topics related to virtual worlds—for example, how to enforce trademarks and intellectual property rights in world, internet fraud—and has even managed to convince the California Bar Association to give continuing legal credit for attending them. (Would that the New York Bar Association would do the same! While I do the bulk of my required CLE online these days, it’d be great to be able to do it in world.)

Since legal institutions seem to be one of the most conservative types of organizations (along with religious institutions and educational ones), I just couldn’t resist supporting a bar association that was taking a leap and dealing seriously enough with virtual worlds that it doesn't just talk about them but to move in and engage in them.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

For the Birds

Off and on for the past several years, Kathy and I have been talking about taking five or six months to drive some of the side roads of America so that we can see what’s unique to each area—sort of a more modern William Least Heat Moon trip. When we drove last week to Chincoteague, we did part of the drive in Maryland on those “blue highways” just to see what it would be like. Boy, was I disappointed. What did we see? Lots of WaWa gas stations, Hardys, and Dunkin Donuts, alternating with fields of corn, strawberries, and melons. It felt like just one long stream of commercials and incitements to buy all along the way.

When we got to Chincoteague itself, luckily there was relief. Despite the focus on increasing revenue from tourism to balance out the loss of revenue from fishing, Chincoteague still retains a lot of its own quirky personality. There are only two fast food places—a Subways and a McDonald’s—both on the main street leading to Assateague Island and the beaches. And while there are lots of other restaurants —three ice cream parlors (we alternated between the Creamery and Mr. Whippy’s), several sub places, some bad restaurants on piers, and Bill’s (which generally had great food breakfast, lunch, and dinner) – and stores (including lots of “treasure chest” and beach supplies options), the town retains its uniqueness in lots of little ways. We, along with the rest of the traffic, stopped at least three times, for example, to let a family of ducks and ducklings wander slowly across the road. Folks on bikes of all kinds rode along just about every road we drove or walked. And, since we were there in July, there was also the Fireman’s Carnival going on each weekend, which we could hear and see the lights from in the distance each evening from our balcony.

But the best part of Chincoteague and Assateague was the birds. Despite the piping plovers being flooded out this year, there were so many birds—bald eagles, snowy egrets, cattle egrets, and great egrets, geese and ducks of all kinds, red winged blackbirds, bobwhites, white ibises, osprey, cardinals, herring gulls, little blue herons, great blue herons (how prehistoric they look in flight!), tricolored herons, sandpipers, terns, and swans. They were everywhere— on the lawns of homes and over the water, out on the trails and by the docks. I loved being surrounded by them.

But my favorite of all was being on the deck off our room watching the laughing gulls fly over and around us every 30 seconds or so. I’ve always felt drawn to those black-capped gulls and used to joke that if there’s such a thing as transmigration, I probably was either a dolphin or a black-capped gull in an earlier life. I was awoken each morning by the sound of their laughing and then started each day sitting for a few hours out on the deck just enjoying the way in which those gulls road the currents. And it was those parts of the day that will stay as the best part of my time on Chincoteague.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Chincoteague Ponies

We spent the latter part of last week staying on Chincoteague Island, Virginia and, most days, traveling over to Assateague to see the various wildlife on the reserve. The big tourist lure to the area is supposed to be the wild ponies that live on Assateague. The first day we were in the area, we did a walk that included an observation deck where if you’re lucky (we were, but folks who got there 5 minutes before us or after us wouldn’t have been) you can watch some of the 150 ponies grazing the dune and marsh grasses. The second day we did the hour and a half tour that the Reserve offers and, while I thoroughly enjoyed it for other reasons, the highlight for most of the other dozen people with us was seeing the ponies. We then went past them two or three more times on our way to and from the beach. Maybe it would be different if I’d read Misty as a child, but to me the whole Chincoteague pony thing seems like a real crock. These days they’re owned by the Chincoteague firefighters, are treated by vets regularly, and even have microchips implanted under their skin so that it’s easy to keep track of them. That’s sure not my idea of wild ponies.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Writing in Washington

I spent last Monday and Tuesday in Washington DC staying in the Crystal Marriot writing the beginning of a draft of one of the chapters of my dissertation while Kathy attended a conference there for work. When we arrived, we thought we’d lucked out as far as a room. We were “moved up” to a suite, which gave me a separate living room with not just a desk but also a table on which to spread my papers and books out. Shortly afterwards, however, we learned that the wired internet in the room wasn’t working. A technician was sent up and spent more than two hours trying to rewire the connection to get the system to work, all without success. He ended up suggesting we change rooms. When we asked at the desk about such a possibility there was no other room available because of the various conferences going on. My only option for internet access would be to buy a daily subscription to a wireless connection that was only available in one part of the lobby—a true pain when trying to check information online as I wrote.

But we were tired and it was almost 9 pm so we headed off for dinner in the hotel. We each ordered a crab cake sandwich and chowder. The chowder was good and the sandwiches came, but mine had the wrong side so it had to be taken back. Kathy meanwhile began to eat hers and said it was delicious. Mine arrived and just as I bit into it, the restaurant manager came to say we had the wrong orders. We insisted that we didn’t –we’d ordered crab cake sandwiches and that’s what was in front of us-- but he said we did and took both our plates away. The waitress came to explain that we’d each gotten a half-order crab cake sandwich instead of a full order sandwich and that they’d give us a free dessert after the dinner to make it up for us. At this point we didn’t want dessert; all we wanted was the check. She left –we thought to get the check—and about 10 minutes later our sandwiches were brought out again. The manager again apologized and explained that these were the full order sandwiches we’d originally ordered. He left and we looked—and the sandwiches looked exactly the same. They were exactly the same size crab cakes and rolls that we’d had before except that now we were too tired to even eat them. It was like something from Candid Camera. From that point on, we didn’t eat in the hotel. Instead we mainly ate in the mall nearby—not great food, but at least once we got it we knew it no one would take it away.

Overall, the two days turned out okay. The next evening we went to Georgetown for a little while and then went to see the FDR Memorial, which is the one monument in DC that I really like. It wasn’t the most exciting time away but it was a great way to get at least a little of the work done.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Gospel Stories and Social Justice

I had a wonderful week last week up at Maryknoll Institute studying the gospel of Matthew and what it says about social justice issues. Ched Myers was the teacher, folksinger Charlie King kicked off each session with a social justice song or two, and the class was made up of people from around the world who are embodying the idea of radical hospitality and jubilee with their hearts, hands, and feet. Ched does a wonderful job of weaving together new insights gained by looking at analogies as the Greek text and the social dynamics of the 1st century are interwoven with texts, sociology, and economics of the 21st century! His teaching style is both engaging and empowering.

I did a similar workshop with Myers two years ago-- then on the gospel of Mark-- and it inspires me both to continue with various pieces of social justice work I'd just begun and also to begin the D.Min. degree at Drew. And the students then as the students this past week reminded me of how much more I could be doing that I'm not-- that I've got to find new and creative ways to make the economics of the biblical jubilee more of a reality in my life and in the world and to find a way to embody the gospel more and the choices that empire puts before us less.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Kendall Sculpture Gardens

Despite the heat and humidity, we spent part of Saturday over in Purchase at the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens. Even though there was a period in my life when I’d lived about 3 miles away from the Pepsico headquarters, I think the last time I’d been to see the gardens was when I was a senior in high school.

While I appreciated the Pomodoro, the Ernst, the Segal, and the Miro pieces more than in the past, the works that continued to grab me were those by French Cubist Henri Laurens and especially the lesser known British sculptor David Wynne.

His Girl with a Dolphin was my favorite of the garden’s pieces back then and it continues to be my favorite now.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Future of Religions

I spent today attending the first part of a two-day conference called "The Future of Religions/Religions of the Future" in Extropia's Central Nexus region of Second Life. It had a pretty good turnout with religious studies faculty from around the world attending.

The conference is divided into two parts. The speakers today focused on the way in which various world religions are/can be studied and experienced in Second Life. Speakers addressed the ways in which various religions are using online connectivity and how students of religion can gain greater experience of world religions through Second Life offerings. While the presentation for any kind of conference like this is slow (since they're using typing, not mics) there were new projects from several colleges that seem like they have possibilities for my comparative religion classes.

Tomorrow's part of the conference looks like it will cover religions of the future, online religion, transhumanist religion, etc. I'm not sure or not whether I'll stop by or not. The only presentation scheduled that interests me is one on how religion online can move past static websites and bulletin boards to virtual environments, but that talk is going to happen right in the middle of two meetings I've already scheduled at my office.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Tarot Tales

Over the past month or so, I’ve been reading two books that focus on Tarot cards—which I know almost nothing about—in various ways.

The first was Charles Williams’ The Greater Trumps, which is about as quirky as the other Williams’ books that I’ve read in the past. Williams seems to assume the traditional Hermetic principle “As above, so below; as below, so above” in his storyline, so that what happens in the material world and the spiritual world, which seem dualistically separate, are interwoven and parallel. In order to understand the book at all (I still don’t feel like I’ve understood it well), I’ve spent time learning a bit about the significance of each of the Tarot cards that appear as the plot of the book develops. The ways in which Tarot cards reflect Jungian archetypes particularly intrigued me. I’ve also reread each chapter at least twice, trying to pick out what Williams is doing with the Tarot cards and with the story of Christianity, which is also woven deeply into the plot. Williams’ use of the dance and of hands as metaphors throughout the novel is intriguing since those are both favorite images of mine. His description of prayer—especially a scene where Sybil is in contemplation—also stood out. Perhaps that’s because Joanna and Sybil are both marvelously constructed, strong characters that have made me think again and again about the meaning of mystery and love.

Italo Calvino’s The Castle of Crossed Destinies was the second book that had Tarot cards at its center. I’ve been working my way through Calvino’s writings little by little and it happened to be the next book in the pile so it was quite by chance that I began it as I was about half way through The Greater Trumps. Calvino uses the Tarot in an entirely different way, using the images on the face of the cards to tell the stories of the lives of people who are caught together staying at a castle or a tavern. The book as a whole is sort of a Canterbury Tales using Tarot cards in place of poetry. While the stories Calvino created were intriguing, the chapters I enjoyed best were those in which he retold well-known tales—of Faust, Hamlet, or King Lear for example—using only the images found on the Marseilles tarots.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

We spent most of Sunday giving Kathy's brother Don and his wife Sharon a sightseeing tour of New York City. Then since Sharon loves flowers and Don wanted to see boroughs other than the Bronx and Manhattan, we went to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. Though it was raining for a lot of the time we were there, several of the gardens were still very beautiful. What I liked best were the fields of bluebells, which you can see behind us in this picture.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Gifts of the Spirit

Today at RevGalBlogPals, Presbyterian Girl wrote: Anyway, it's Pentecost (You won't know it's Pentecost at South this Sunday. People have inappropriately loaded so many other things into the service that there's no time left for Pentecost.) and my very first Friday Five! Thinking about all the gifts of the spirit and what Peter said of the "last days"......

Have you or anyone you know

1. ...ever experienced a prophesy (vision or dream) that came true?

I’ve had two extremely vivid dreams in my life that continue to be guiding truths for me. Would I call either a prophesy? Nope.

2. ...dreamed of a stranger, then actually met them later?


3. ...seen a wonder in heaven? (including UFO's)

Seems to me that so much of the heavens are so awesome that I see wonders whenever I look up. But UFO’s- no—though I keep hoping to see the U.S.S. Enterprise appearing in the sky!

4. ...seen a "sign" on the earth?

Nope, no “signs” in the sense that you probably mean them, though plenty of signs that have come to function for me as “signs”.

5. ...experienced knowledge of another language without ever having studied it?

Some languages I’ve had to learn—Hebrew for example—have come to me almost immediately when I’ve begun to study them while others—like Greek or German—have been almost impossible for me to get my mind around. But I’ve never just started speaking or understanding another language out of the blue.

My grandmother, perhaps the wisest woman I've ever known, believed that all of these "gifts of the spirit" were possible and had stories about most of them, so I've always been open to experiencing them, but so far I haven't.