Saturday, December 31, 2005

Too Much Internet

The Berenstain Bears (whose creator, Stan, married to co-creator Jan, died just this past year) have a book called "Too Much Birthday." It details the events of Sister Bear's thorough indulgence on a day devoted to her... which lands her with a tummy ache and a desire to go to bed.

I am having a similar reaction to time online. Too many yahoo groups, too many forums, too much made of little ideas and too little made of the big ones.

So I'll be handling business and watching college football until Monday night.

Hope you have a wonderful New Year's Eve (drive smart) and see you in 2006.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Sharpen Your Pencils

It's nearly the first of the year which means serious writers are busy planning how to improve their writing disciplines to crank out new and better words. Here is a list of essentials for developing a writing lifestyle:



I question your sincerity in this task of becoming a writer without these essentials. Let the Apple people know I sent you. I get a commission... I have an iBook G4 but I tell you, the new iMac G5 is pretty damned tempting for this year's writing adventure, if you ask me. So if you prefer the G5 to the iBook, I give you permission, just this once.


Still a fan of Writing with Power (by my guru Peter Elbow)
The Pocket Muse (by Monica Wood) This book is full of great "read and go" writing prompts
Writing Alone and with Others (by Pat Schneider) She'll make you want to start a writing group in the inner city, promise!

Do stuff this year, such as (following examples work for me - your mileage may vary):
Meet someone you know from the Internet
Go to a foreign country
Learn a foreign language (Yes, you have time. Languages such as ASL - sign language - and Greek with a totally different alphabet work great!)
Spend quality time with a person under 10
Hang out with someone over 60
Go to several concerts by your favorite rock stars (or jazz musicians, or orchestras...)
Paint one room a bright color (we have lime green and mango in our house)
Become a regular at an art museum
Go skiing in winter
Have better sex
Light candles and pray or meditate or make strong wishes

Ah, now it gets hard. This is the "and write every day or else" pep talk right? Nope!

Falkner says to read everything! Hemingway and comics, ad copy and editorials, screenplays and magazines, billboards and emails, short stories and non-fiction, poetry and E. M. Forster, classics and trash. Find a muse - one author whose writing wakes you up and leaves you a better person. Find someone to hate - whose style drives you crazy and makes you rant.

Write when you have something to say—don't wait. Write it right then, on a napkin, in the bathroom on Time magazine, next to the balance in your checkbook. Get it down when you're thinking it.

Find out what you have to say by reading lots of blogs, online e-groups, and forums, and then contribute. The Internet is the best place for figuring out what you have to say and whether or not anyone cares about hearing it. Write until they care. Figure out why they don't.

Write at least once a week when you have nothing to say—face down the blank page or screen and fill it with nonsense, crap or wingdings. I don't care, but learn how to write without fear. Print at least one of these and save it as a reminder that you can kill the beast.

Pick one high stress writing venue and go for it. (Get published, write a paper for college or grad school, write for an audience that is larger than your immediate circle - in a blog, or on behalf of a group or a letter to the editor.) Challenge yourself to write so that you must get it right - perfect punctuation, opening hook, great use of language and so on. Then risk sending it off to be read.

Take breaks from writing. That's right. Sometimes an entire day of no words is just the ticket to more words. Get in a bathtub and soak, take a walk with your neighbor's dog if you don't have one, go on a silent retreat, take a plane to another city and talk to no one. Be quiet and let life wash over you. Wait for the words to come. They will.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Snatches of conversations

Teen in South America for Christmas:

"My Spanish sucks. I mean, I don't know how to say "crush" or "dating." How can you carry on a decent conversation without vocabulary?"

Walgreen's cashier after she was asked what it meant that the "homemade cookie" for sale had a sticker that said: "Sell by 12/07." (Remember, today is the 27th of December)

"Oh, that's not the day's date. It's the year."

Okay, so they are saying it has to be sold before two more years go by?


Uh, I'll see you then!

Seven year old niece on the phone last night right after "hello":

"Hi Auntie Julie! Guess what I got?"


"A skateboard. And a stomp rocket." (Author's note: said rocket of the stomp was the gift our family sent.)

That's great!

"Did you know it can go over the clouds? My daddy stomped it and it flew over one cloud and came out on the other side!"

Ah. Who needs a thank you note?

Of gifts and gifts

My sixteen year old daughter gave up receiving "under the tree gifts" from us so that she could donate her Christmas money to Pediatric AIDS in Africa.

"Mom, I can't think of anything I need. Can you give my money to those who really do need it?"

Can't think of anything she needs? What sixteen year old girl says that!?

So we did make that donation for her.

And then, last week, I stumbled upon a skirt she had wanted but was never able to purchase for herself. I decided that we could give back to her. So I bought it, wrapped it, saved it to the end of the morning of gifts.

When she opened the little box holding the donation receipt, she smiled. I could tell that the morning of Christmas, her generosity became a real sacrifice. She sat in the middle of iPod insanity - all manner of accessories to go with old and new iPods for the boys, CDs, iTunes gift cards and more. She gave that up for Christmas.

After nearly all the gifts were opened, I brought out the box that held her skirt. She tore off the paper, dug through the styrofoam peanuts and burst into tears. So unexpected, so exactly what she wanted. She threw her arms around me saying, "Thank you, thank you so much. I really wanted this skirt." All that pent up emotion of sacrifice released on this very small gift. One skirt in relief against Apple-mania.

That's one of those moments I'll never forget. That small gift meant more to her when she had given something of value away.

Later that night she told me that a little conversation we had, had sparked the idea. I have a professor who met Bono when Bono traveled through the midwest a couple years ago. On that trip, Bono met with local leaders to drum up support for the campaign to end AIDS in Africa. My professor is one of the big wigs who works internationally on those very kinds of issues. In sharing about his meeting with Bono, my professor said that while he admired Bono's efforts and breadth of knowledge in this field, he didn't think Bono could have much impact on every day Americans. Sure, Bono could get them to sign petitions, but would we middle class Americans sustain our attention on an issue so important, yet so remote from us? Can fans be turned to activists?

My daughter, hearing that conversation, said she realized right then that she was one who was moved by Bono's commitment yet had done nothing herself. She wanted to prove my professor wrong. So she decided to give up Christmas.

I admire her. I want to be like her. What a gift she was to me on Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Some thoughts about Christmas

Tonight we visited our old church: the Vineyard. We like to go on Christmas Eve because they have a tradition we enjoy. They ask the church members to give out boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts to all the workers who stay up all night on Christmas Eve. We go to fire houses, police stations, fast food restaurants, hospitals and more.

We have gone to the fire house in the past but this time were assigned to a United Dairy Farmers - UDF - (sort of like a 7 Eleven crossed with Thrifty ice cream, for you west coast readers). We entered the little store with full hands and "Merry Christmases" only to find out that the company doesn't allow gifts of food to be given to its workers. We'd been assured that each place had been contacted by the church, but apparently this one slipped through the cracks. No matter. We hustled over to the "Waffle House" where the waitress gratefully accepted the overly sweet confections on behalf of her staff.

It's a nice tradition. I like that we are other centered on Christmas Eve. However, I prefer the trip to the fire house. There's something so earnest about fire fighters.

It was odd being at our old church facility. The worship leaders led some carols with a couple of guitars. We lit the little white candles with doilies around them. My nine year old daughter sure loves that! The huge auditorium holding 2000 people lit up as well and soft light suffused the massive theater style arena. (Not unlike the cell phone tribute at the U2 concert, come to think of it, but on a smaller scale.)

I got a special kick out of the way the moment the candles were lit, muffled cries and screams could be heard beneath the chorus of Silent Night. Dozens of toddlers were being carted out of the room as their parents wrestled them away from candles they would not be permitted to hold! Oh the torture of seeing the light yet not being old enough to possess it. [g]

The pastor talked about how one little light can ignite the whole world. It's a trite idea (one we've heard all our lives), but I liked it tonight. I liked it better than the carols, the prayers, the reminders to look for "divine appointments to share the love of Jesus."

There's something about light when winter is just getting started, that light can do good in the dark, that we can be a tiny bit of help in a complex world - this idea comforts me.

What about the star in that Bethlemehm sky that led the wise men to Jesus (such a sharp image)? It points to more than the story of Christmas, but rather suggests that a little bit of light can guide us in the dark; we are groping, hoping to find something worth the journey by the end, moved by the power of hope that comes from seeing a baby and imagining that this one will make a difference this time...

"Our hopes and fears through all the years are met in thee tonight" could be sung about every baby... don't we all feel that way when we hold our own children as newborn babes?

The squawking toddlers reminded me of how overly neat and symbolic the original Christmas story really is. Somewhere between the idealized version of Jesus's birth in Matthew and Luke and the reality that was Jesus's birth is something even more important than facts or myths. The Christmas story is a story of hope.

Each of us dares to hope in the face of odds that tell us nothing will change. Jesus's birth says to us: why not this generation? Why not this time?

Rather than camping at the feet of a religious myth attempting to verify it through historical research, it seems that we can establish (or reject) the fact and miss the message. Whatever you think of Jesus, the message of Christmas speaks to anyone who wants to hear it. Peace through hope, for all of us... why not this time? Why not this generation? Why not these children in our arms?

Why not dare to believe as Jesus did in his time that we can join in the reign of God to bring hope and peace to everyone?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Two Blog Entries Worth Reading

I happened upon two blog entries (from my little blogroll in the sidebar) that have exceptional blog value.

The first addresses itself to the Target Merry Christmas scandal (or not!). I love the questions asked by Grateful Bear at the end.

Where Would Jesus Shop?

The second is my first brush with how the Winter Solstice might be celebrated. By the end of this post, I wanted to join up! Such a delightful winter celebration!

Shimmer Glimpse's Winter Solstice


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Time Persons of the Year: Bono, Bill and Melinda Gates

That peripatetic guy - Bono - joined the Gateses as Times's Persons of the Year. He has gotten a heck of a lot done in his short 45 years.

Read about it here.

What struck me about Bono's life is that he has navigated some political and theological waters without whipping up an opposition. Who can be opposed to Bono? What follow are a few lessons I think we can glean from his example.

Keep the main thing, the main thing.
Bono has done this in two ways. He has continued to be a rock star. He never "gave up" music in service of doing a greater good. He used his muscial prowess to do good.

Additionally, when working to relieve African debt or getting medicines to AIDS victims, he stuck to those issues. He is interested in Africa and that's where his myriad creative energies are going.

He cares more about his project than being cool.
Some rock stars and actors have made it clear that they need to relate to their ilk in congress in order to achieve whatever goals they have. Bono doesn't care about his cool or what others believe. He has successfully engaged people from every side of every aisle - political, theological, geo-political... his gift is in understanding his audience and then singing his song in their language. He doesn't compromise his message or alter it. He simply finds out how the person he wants to act would best understand his message. And it's working.

He uses language to his advantage.
Bono is the master of the soundbite. He squeezes more insight and meaning into a few words that he then repeats for a year at a time, than most politicians can milk out of an hour long speech.

He keeps his mouth shut when he needs to.
It is difficult to pin Bono down on his Christian beliefs, his politics or his opinions on popular culture. This has to be either by intuition or design. A guy who can fly into Wheaton and speak to the student body during chapel about Africa and AIDS after having been written up in Rolling Stone for lap dances and passing out drunk in a bathroom because of a red wine allergy is a genius!

It's never too late to do something.
I like that as a forty-something myself, Bono reminds me that I can still do things that matter. It's not too late to do what I can in my world.

Bono has made eradicating poverty cool.
Wow! He is walking on 21st century water with that one.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I've learned from Bono is that my faith is nothing if it isn't interested in the well-being of others. My theology might be an interesting topic for online discussions, but it is largely irrelevant if it doesn't act.

Thanks Bono. We believe.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Narnia: Disturbing Magic

We returned from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" a little over two hours ago. What a beautifully executed film.

The opening sequence is worth the whole movie. I can't recall a single film that shows us the terror of being on the ground under a bombing raid while trying to protect one's children. This opening device is the only part of the movie that truly moved me, and I think it is in part because it was unexpected and so well done. I really appreciated that effort.

The rest of the story is well-known in the circles I run in. No surprises.

What was surprising is how my understanding of the story and the gospel has changed in the last several years. I couldn't believe how dichotomistic Lewis is in his narrative. There is good. There is evil. The good is all good. The evil is all evil. Good must win and will. The good that must win will do so by killing, destroying, wiping out all evil. No forgiveness. No opportunity to change. End of story.

For my postmodern soul, this kind of eschatalogical conflict left me anxious. Is this even a possible way to view war any more in this world? What does this kind of narrative do to our imaginations? Do we frame our current conflicts in such a zero sum game?

When terrorists attack us, they represent themselves, yet are embedded in countries of people who are not out to harm us. Is it right to fight wars where those who are not evil are victims and can't be so easily sorted out from the "bad guys"?

The scene that upset me the most in the movie: Aslan standing by while Peter had to kill the wolf. My goodness! Peter was commanded to kill by the God figure without any intervention or help - yet the expression on his face was one of absolute repulsion (as it should be!) at the prospect of doing so. I did not like that at all! What about justice or punishment that doesn't include immediate execution at the hands of a boy!? Is that even how they did it in WWII? Did Nazi officers get shot point blank by the good guys while their compatriots stood by?

If the "deeper" magic is that the betrayer can be redeemed if one who is pure takes his place in judgment, then why wouldn't Aslan have done so on behalf of the wolf or on behalf of the evil, enslaved creatures working for the White Witch? In fact, isn't that the message most Christians equate with Christianity - that Jesus can to redeem the whole world? Yet in Lewis's world, the evil creatures are not to be redeemed at all. They are to be destroyed. Aslan dies only for one, not for everyone.

And all on Aslan's side are frozen by the White Witch, not killed, while those that the "good guys" kill are truly dead.

The underpinings of religion married to empire couldn't have been clearer. And the idea that we become more honorable through the murder of those we oppose ran as a theme throughout the story.

I no longer see Christianity in these terms. Perhaps it worked when Hitler was taking over Europe. But today? Do we honestly believe the route to a peaceful world is slaughtering our enemies? Hmmm. That sounds a bit like the Nazi vision of justice, doesn't it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

U2 Set List

Main Set:
City of Blinding Lights
Vertigo - She Loves You
I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For - In a Little While
Beautiful Day
Original of the Species - Norwegian Wood
Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own
Love and Peace or Else
Sunday Bloody Sunday - Rock the Casbah
Bullet the Blue Sky
Miss Sarajevo
Where the Streets Have No Name
One - Help

Until the End of the World
Mysterious Ways
With or Without You
Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of
Instant Karma

Monday, December 12, 2005

U2 Photos...

The first two are the correct distance from our seats. The third one is cropped for a closer view. It looks incredible on my desktop. I can see Bono's face!

The rest are all of us being goofy in our seats and finally me showing off my new T-shirt.

Did she really go to see U2 AGAIN?

She did!!!!!

Jon and I took Jacob and Johannah to Cleveland this past Saturday night to see U2 at the end of the third leg of their world-crushing tour. It's the event we've looked forward to all year, except that I didn't have to look forward to it in March like they did since I had May in Chicago to look forward to, U2 slut that I am. :)

In any event, it snowed as in storm on Thursday which made me a tad nervous about the drive Sat. But the gods love Bono and apparently they like me too and we had an uneventful drive up to Cleveland. What a nice city! I don't say that lightly and I really mean it.

We stayed at "a scary" Embassy Suites (how Jon described it). Weirdly we parked in a parking garage that made you take an elevator down to the street level, exit through a maze, out the front of a building and back into the building through a door next door. Then you take the elevator to floor five to find the reception. Yes, it was that weird.

There was supposed to be a jcauzzi (on the blink) and a manager's reception of snacks and free drinks. No one, I mean NO ONE, knew what the snacks were yet they work there every day.

"Snacks, ma'am. I mean the chef could put out anything."

"Yes, I know. But like, what has he put out in the past? I mean, you must have seen some of those platters at some point."

"Oh you know, snacks and stuff. Just like snack food. You know, snacks."

I gave up.

And apparently they were dead right. Drinks were flowing to the point of middle-aged embarassment (my kids were witness to what parents of teens do when their teens aren't around - they get smashed, bombed, totally drunk and idiotic). Then snacks emerged—Chex Mix. That's right. No wonder no one could describe it. Pathetic.

No matter. We were going to hear U2... after that embarassing elevator ride with six drunk forty-somethings where a guy entered the elevator and said to his cohorts: "Hey, this is a place called Vertigo!" and then put his nose in between where the doors closed. Got peels of laughter from the blondes in tight t-shirts and then one of the big guys yelled "Hola!" and they all fell apart laughing again. Adults are idiots.

We took a taxi to the Gund auditorium. "Institute" opened for U2. They sucked. Sorry. Someone has to say it. My teens did, so I feel justified.

I bought a t-shirt. Woo-hoo!

I won't bore you with the "Excuse me, but I think you're in my seats" story where I had to yell over the bad band to get the woman's attention and yet she accused me of being rude after she wouldn't even check her tickets.... or the drunk guy that crossed in front of us twenty times to pee and buy beer throughout the concert (okay, not 20, but you get the hyperbolic idea).

We did sit in front of the most clean cut cute seniors in high school boys ever. Johannah managed to charm them up one side and down the other. :) They loved U2 - I tried to get their IMs to arrange marriages.

But onto the concert....

Cleveland was ready. They were much more openly affectionate to U2 than Chicago had been. Bono was in total generosity form - open, happy (smiled a lot) and dancing. The crowd cheered constantly and with real spontaneity. Love that.

We had the "greatest hits" set and I'll try to find it online and post tomorrow. They opened with "City of Blinding Lights" and Jacob went wild. We were just elated.

Instead of taking it song by song, I thought I'd highlight my favorite of the night. Bono sang "Miss Sarajevo" (a favorite of mine anyway) which is recorded with Pavrotti singing this gorgeous opera in Italian in the middle of the song. On Saturday night, they played it during the "Declaration of Human Rights" section of the concert (which scrolls on the jumbotron) and Bono chose to sing Pavrotti's part. He stunned me. He sang it to perfection. I'm talking he hit every high note and held it for the full length with vibratto. It was spectacular. I had no idea he had it in him. I kept thinking of Bono's belief that his father left him his father's tenor voice when he died. Saturday night, I believed. The crowd cheered every note that Bono went higher. Gorgeous—brought tears to my eyes.

I heard "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" for the first time in concert which Bono ended with a clip of "In a Little While." "Original of the Species" was also superb with this clever use of the stage lights. They chased each other around the elipse... "Baby slow down, the end is not as fun as the start..."

I so enjoyed being up high after my near disaster of being crushed in the general assembly floor seats last time. I like being high. It was good to find that out.

I'll post the set list and more thoughts later. Jon took a bazillion digital photos that I want to post too, so stay tuned.

What a night! Magic, transported me.

(Oh and the next day we went to the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Museum. Sigh.)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Lose one, win one

You probably wouldn't guess that I watch football (I have confessed to a golf obsession with Tiger Woods...). But I do.

And yesterday, I held my breath as the Bruins met the Trojans. Finally, here in the east, we were deemed worthy of a game that featured only teams from the west.

But by the half, I wanted to avert my eyes.

By the end, let's just say I was a fan of the red and gold. What a team!

But today redeemed yesterday's bleak outcome. The Cincinnati Bengals (led by Carson Palmer - I know, a Trojan) have continued to astound the NFL with their come back season. 9 and 3. Not bad, boys. Not bad.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Imagination and Faith

Got to thinking about how theology works as I write my paper on Hinduism and Islam.

It occurred to me that much of theology (and science and economics and, and, and) relies on what I'd call "imagination." By this I don't mean "imaginary" as in "not real." Rather, I mean the ability to fire up images in one's mind that give life and breath to the ideas or insights or assertions made by any of these areas.

In the case of theology, the raw idea of heaven and hell for instance is not that powerful in the lives of those who don't vividly imagine those places as real. I am always amazed, for instance, that there are evangelical Christians who can sleep at night knowing that so many people are destined for an eternity of torment. It is because this is not the part of their theology that they have spent much time cultivating in their imaginations. They may be more imaginative with their ability to experience the love of God or "God's presence in prayer" or the wonder of Christian community.

As I thought about how we each make decisions about how we relate to our beliefs, it also occurred to me that even science depends on a vital imagination. For instance, my husband (who is a naturalist) has cultivated the imagination of how reality works - he sees the biological process in his head and he becomes amazed by the power of the genes, the way our brains control so much of what we experience, the power of our need to reproduce to motivate so many behaviors and so on.

Carl Sagan used to do something similar when he would awaken our imaginations to how he understood the cosmos.

It occurred to me that even capitalism depends on awakening the imagination - imagining what free markets can do, and how money can grow, and what benefits are derived.

It seems to me, then, that so much of theological interpretation depends on opening the imagination of the listener. Those who do it successfully gain followers who give support to those underlying ideas. And it also occurred to me that theology must be an exercise in re-imagining. That is, we receive the theology and the images it conjures from those before us, but we subject them to our modern or post-modern condition and re-imagine what they are to awaken insight or attachment or interest.

My question, then, is:

Why does it matter which "imagined" image gets the most votes? Iow, (without including science for a minute), does it matter whether one person is moved by the picture painted by the liberals versus the one painted by the patristic fathers or the one offered by the reformers? I agree that it matters if any one of these conjures up images that lead to oppression, violence or cruelty. But leaving those aside, assuming outcomes are equal as far as how we treat our neighbor, does it matter which theology we adopt, if one catalyzes the imagination in a way that another does not... and not everyone agrees?