Thursday, March 31, 2005

Peter (my guru) Elbow: On Writing

Writers are more apt to understand writing as giving: "Here. Take it. Enjoy it. Thank me. (Pay me, if possible.) But I'm not interested right now in evaluation or criticism." English teachers, on the other hand, usually can't think of anything to do with a set of words except to formulate criticism of one sort or another—high criticism for works of student writing. I suspect this is why English teachers so seldom write." (Writing with Power 21)

One of the things I love about blogs is the generosity of the bloggers. It's such a joy to read writing that is given as a gift. Even "bad" writing has this sense of expansive sharing that just bouys my spirits when I read it. Where else can you find such an eager outpouring of self into the marketplace of ideas than on the Internet? I feel rich all the way down to the corners of my soul when I scroll through blogs and read posts to email lists and forums.

Thank God that we've recovered the joy of writing—stolen it back from the red pens and English teachers of our pasts.

In the last three months, I've done more writing than I have in years. I run two daily blogs, I've completed my second book, I've written seven papers for grad school and completed one research length paper for the Society of Biblical Literature. I can't even begin to quantify how many posts I've made all over the Internet.

The thing of it is that my writing is more joyful now than it's ever been. I have found the perfect balance for me—places to express myself in writing that aren't being scrutinized for publication but also aren't merely hidden in a private journal.

Here's to the brave writer in all of us.

And by the way, thanks for reading my writing. Tell me where you are and I'll return the compliment by reading yours. :)

Slap me—it's sunny!

It was 81 degrees today and so beautiful that someone in my Black Theology class actually had the nerve to assert that it felt like California. Yes, indeedy, it did.

I walked onto Xavier's campus before dusk and witnessed a virtual explosion of testosterone in white tee-shirts—frisbees, footballs, baseballs, soccer balls (you get the idea... all kinds of balls) going in every which way direction. This campus isn't that big. So I had to dodge said balls just to stake out a table in the sunshine for dozing (why study?). Dudes were everywhere and all were in shorts.

Girls were showing their midrifs (blinding white, here in the midwest, and a bit on the fleshy side too, I might add). I'm always a bit alarmed by skin after months of winter coats, and it appears the boys were too.

"Oh you show off!" said one midrif baring female as she jumped for the frisbee.

"Ah I knew you could stretch for it." (I'm sure he did... and Score! The top scooched up for a moment revealing all that ghostly white flesh, quivering over her low cut pants.)

So I sat down to re-read my paper (on how Eve and I are like soul mates separated at birth) that I am submitting to the EGLSBL (alphabet soup for a Bible conference where I present a paper, like I said) and basked in music blaring from a boom box ("Dust in the Wind" by Kansas), found places to expand my paper and enjoyed being around skin-baring co-eds until seven o'clock when the sun set and class began.

It was almost as good as going to the beach... I said almost.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Vertigo—They've begun!

Read about it.

They ended with "Yahweh" and "40." Yes, this will be like 52 weeks x 4 years of church. Still my beating heart....

May 9, 2005 Chicago—five weeks and counting...

Monday, March 28, 2005

Catharsis: I hate...

I hate water seeping through the basement floors so that I have to bail it multiple times a day when it rains.
I hate it that the dog won't pee outside at night in the rain.
I hate it that I'm the one who is neurotic about said dog and so I actually get up at 4 a.m., chase him downstairs and then stand in the rain tossing him off the deck so that he will go under the deck and PEE (which took four tries last night).
I hate that I have yet to eradicate the smell of pee in my living room and art room, my favorite lime green room in the house where my theology, art and Laura Ingalls Wilder books are all housed.
I hate that the week we have off from school, it is raining.
I hate the rain.
I hate that I hate the rain since I used to love, love, love it.
I hate the fact that spirituality is so nebulous and that faith is riddled with superstition.
I hate that when you call something in the faith 'superstitious' people get their backs up and try to prove to you that what they believe isn't superstitious.
I hate that Christianity is so hard to figure out, yet has a hold over me at the same time.
I hate that attempts to reconstruct Christianity are met with resistance and complexity that makes the ideas non-transferable.
I hate that holidays like Easter and Christmas are supposed to be meaningful only to those of the "born-again" literal variety of faith so that if a person celebrates them without that version of the story, that person is seen as a hypocrite, or worse, 'not saved'.
I hate being the impotent mother of teens with angst.
I hate regrets.
I hate it that I can't apologize to someone whose life I deeply hurt and who never wants to hear from me again.
I hate being cyber stalked. (You know who you are.)
I hate shopping.
I hate untimely death.
I hate not having a best friend in town.
I hate being so far from the ocean.
I hate caring so much about stuff.

I hate nostalgia and home videos and photographs and idealism and war and missions and the fact that some people worry about the state of my soul.

I love my family... especially Jon.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

My Kingdom for an Egg

Every year our family dyes eggs together and we use the little clear crayon supplied by Paas to write clever quotations making use of the "egg" motif as creatively as we can.

Image hosted by

Image hosted by
Here's Jacob intently dying his egg

This year's eggs have the following terrific quotes:

Two eggs, both alike in dignity.

My egg! My egg! My kingdom for an egg.

Some eggs can't make it on their own. (U2)

It's been a hard egg's night. (Beatles)

Movie line
E-G-G egg ("You've Got Mail")

Egg puns

Five star egg

Two eggs don't make a right but three eggs make an omlette.

The last egg standing.

Egg-stra, egg-stra

Perennial favorite:
"Hey dude, where's my egg?"

Friday, March 25, 2005

It finally caught up with me

Last night, Caitch (Jon's name for Caitrin when he isn't calling her "Caitronic" or "Caitron the neutron bomb") spent the evening paging through the family photo albums (of which there are a paltry four) that are the result of being roped into Creative Memories parties with women in long skirts who submit to their husbands (there was a time...). Said albums are all on the lowest shelf of our bookcase (underneath poetry books, Sister Wendy videos, and my E.M. Forster collection). I tried to hide them from view by situating the rocking chair in front of that shelf (to prevent the dog from peeing on them in the middle of the night... like he did my Shakespeare and art books in the other room... where's that arsenic again? Here, puppy, puppy, puppy...)

The dog is still muddled (my master plan is working) but Caitrin, the youngest child of five (to whom photo albums mean the world) is like a heat-seeking missile for all things nostalgia. She locked on the cache and made the tragic discovery that she is hardly in any of the photos. Oh yes, her tossled head of curly brown hair appears toward the back end of the most recent album, but all the other pages were filled with California life, a life she doesn't remember.

We moved to Ohio when she was only two. When we stayed for eight weeks in an apartment building and then moved to our new house, she thought our references to California must mean those airless, humid, drug-dealing apartments up the street. She dubbed them "The California Apartments" and to this day, when we drive by, someone calls out "Hey, it's the California apartments."

Well, now that she's a big eight, the truth is out—California turns out to be heaven short of the cherubim, filled with sunshine and smiles, outdoor picnics in winter and extended family at all celebrations. Who switched up the domiciles? What the heck are we doing here, in the country of God and guns and very little family?

She cried on my shoulder. I almost cried on hers.

How was I to know that I'd spend the best years of my adult youth working on photo albums for kids who couldn't care less while the youngest has nothing to page through for the necessary development of an intact ego and self-image?

Think I'll post two deposits to the therapy fund this week. We don't pay for college. As good Californians, we offer a full treatment plan for adult children who had less than four pages of photos in the family albums. I think she'll be cashing in.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Emily Dickinson

Faith is a fine invention
For gentlemen who see;
But microscopes are prudent
In an emergency!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

My Messiahs

I've found what I'm looking for...

The Boss's induction of U2 into the Hall of Fame was everything a great speech ought to be—funny, endearing, articulate, descriptive, long and genuinely affectionate. Bruce reminded us that both he and Bono share an embarassingly naked Messiah complex... which is precisely why we heart them.

Bruuuuuuce's speech

The following photos show how cute these two rockers really are:

I heard Bruce has a new CD coming out! Could the year get any better?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Woo-hoo times four!!!

We're ALL going to U2 in Cleveland.
Doing our part for corporate musicians everywhere.....

Sometimes your kids can't make it on their own...

And so, Jon and I have the fun of taking Johannah and Jacob to see U2 in Cleveland, December 10. Tickets were purchased with relatively little trauma to the family (and my sleep patterns).

We'll also take in the Rock 'n Roll Museum up there too. Should be just the mid-life pick-me-up Jon and I need (well, he doesn't need it since he's uber relevant and sexy besides... but I am always looking for ways to return to my petulant, edgy youth).

Kids are thrilled. How often do parents and teens find music they are equally crazy about? Leave it to Bono and the lads.


Friday, March 18, 2005


Image hosted by

On the way to lacrosse practice last night, Liam said, "When I retire, I'm going to have a freakin' lot of money. I'm going to use all my money to visit every single family member wherever they live. I'm going to use up all my money doing that. Then I'll just do the retirement kinds of things for awhile... until the next family member is born. And then I'll be sure to visit that family member right away, and keep doing that no matter how many more family members are born."

Every muscle in his face worked to get that point across. I got it.

We swung the car into an unmarked spot at the field. As I helped Liam strap on his pads, he launched into a little story about his last practice. His eyes lit up as big as saucers, the way they always did when he was three—swallowing his entire face. His mouth opened wide, getting all those words out and his obvious pride of achievement made him move his arms as he swayed back and forth. He got the ball after his coach challenged him to get it from in the middle of the pack. "It was freakin' awesome!"

Before he trotted off to run through the mud and swing his stick, he gave me a big hug. "It's so great having you as my mom."

But I knew the truth. It's great having him as my kid.

Image hosted by

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Romp in the woods and family update

We've finally got some sunshine, the air is clean and the temps are in the forties. Here's crossing fingers that we're beyond the snow.

(Keehner Park, West Chester. Photo taken by Dan Brunck)

I took the kids to the woods (see photo) this afternoon and we tromped through the mud. I slid off a rock into the mossy creek and drenched my New Balance tennie. Caitrin tripped over an exposed root and skidded over the slick path covering the palms of her hands and the knees of her pants in wet earth. And Rocky splashed and romped through the creek, up the ravine, across the scattered leaves and through the dead branches. What a day!

I've got to remember our little digital camera next time to get a photo.

The snow has meant a delay in spring. Liam's lacrosse has been cancelled more times than they've played or practiced. But tonight's practice should be gorgeous. Caitrin's ballet has ended and her soccer begins Thursday. Johannah's play (for which she is a crew member) is in the second week of a two week run. (It was fabulous! Brought back so many memories for me. They performed "Seussical the Musical" and it was like watching a professional show. Unbelievable!) Johannah pushed and pulled set pieces on and off stage. We glowed with pride and waved to her from the top of the seats. (She couldn't see us.)

Jacob had sax practice today and is working on "Color of the Wind." He's sounding so good.

Noah's Shakespeare play is coming along nicely. I saw a tiny part of a rehearsal. I'm amazed at what those CSF actors can do with high school students.

I've got a midterm tomorrow and papers due everywhere, in every direction—high school writing manual I'm trying to finish, a paper using the autobiographical critique methodology of Genesis 3:16 for the Society of Biblical Literature conference in April, and a research paper comparing Bonhoeffer's theology to black theology.

Jon's starting a new teaching position at Phoenix University, right nearby and good pay. He had a slam dunk interview. Starts tonight.

Feels like we're getting trickles of good things for the next few weeks. Sort of like the weather... the promise of things to come.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

The Interview Game

One of my blogging buddies Rick played the Interview Game on his blog a few weeks back. Being a notorious groupie, follow-the-crowd sort, I thought it would be fun to play too. Then black theology got in the way and I've been posting all this heavy material on marginalization, privilege and power, sounding like some bizarre-o-world version of right wing talk radio.

So though I'm a bit behind the curve, here I go anyway. (Thanks Rick for the questions!) Time for a little levity.

Interviewing Julie:

1) Homeschooling is one of your passions. What advice would you have to someone considering it as an alternative to public or private school?
Get to know a homeschooling family. Even though books can be persuasive and helpful (read, read, read), knowing a family who homeschools will give you a better feel for what the lifestyle is all about. And of course, there are a gazillion websites and forums.

I like unschooling and Charlotte Mason sites best. Google those names and see what happens!

2) What is your favorite flavor M&M and why?
Favorite flavor? Um, chocolate. :) I think you might have meant color so my answer is... I don't have a favorite. I was pretty jolly when they came out with blue, though. It seemed like such a missing M&M. I DON'T like peanut M&Ms.

3) What is your favorite food that no one else you know likes?
Plain yogurt with mini chocolate chips. I love plain yogurt and the chocolate chips give it just the right amount of sweetness.

4) Who has been the biggest influence on your life as a Christian?
Without a doubt, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His Letters and Papers from Prison kept me from abandoning the faith all together.

Here's a quote of his that changed my life:

    “And we cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in this world “even if there were no God.” And this is just what we do recognize—before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage their lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we continually stand. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.

    “Here is the decisive difference between Christianity and all religions. Man’s religiosity makes him look in his distress to the power of God in the world: God is deus ex machina. The Bible directs man to God’s powerlessness and suffering; only the suffering God can help. To that extent we may say that the development towards the world’s coming of age outlined above, which has done away with a false conception of God, opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness.”

Wow. Can you imagine what it means to win space through powerlessness? My last several blogs are trying to think about how that would work in white churches. I am trying to think of how that works as a mother, too.

5) What's in your CD player right now? Are you playing it, and if not, why not?
Bruce Springsteen's "Greatest Hits" (only because my husband is borrowing U2's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.") Bruce Springsteen is still one of my heroes. He writes such powerful stories in so few words. Love his passionate voice. And his concerts are on par with U2's spiritual, powerful, deeply personal performances.

Got to see him in Cincinnati two years ago during "The Rising" tour.

Who can get over the lyrics in "Thunder Road"? My favorite section follows:

    You can hide `neath your covers
    And study your pain
    Make crosses from your lovers
    Throw roses in the rain
    Waste your summer praying in vain
    For a savior to rise from these streets
    Well now I'm no hero
    That's understood

    All the redemption I can offer, girl
    Is beneath this dirty hood
    With a chance to make it good somehow
    Hey what else can we do now
    Except roll down the window
    And let the wind blow back your hair
    Well the night's busting open
    These two lanes will take us anywhere
    We got one last chance to make it real
    To trade in these wings on some wheels
    Climb in back
    Heaven's waiting on down the tracks

Thanks Rick! That was fun.

Anyone else want to play? Read the following and I'll ask you a few questions.


The Official Rules of the Interview-Game
1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying "interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person's will be different.
3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions
6. I will answer reasonable follow up questions if you leave a comment.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Last Shall Be First

(And let's not forget) The First Shall Be Last

One of the nice things about the black church is that the black community can leave behind a week of living in the white man's world and come to the one institution owned by the black community: the church. At church, the individual becomes a leader of songs or a deacon or elder. The black woman is the best singer or teaches Sunday school. Everyone is called Brother or Sister. They move from being "last" and discover what it is to be "first."

Fair enough.

So then what is going on in white churches? This is how we read the same verse: "The last shall be first in their communities as long as we never have to notice that they are first, AND in our communities the first will remain first... in fact, let's train the first how to be more effective Firsts—leaders for Christ!"

We spend so much money on training programs that help us become effective leaders, we buy books and go to seminars designed to "equip" us to lead, we talk about identifying and raising up leaders. Lead, lead, lead. In fact, Jon and I used to joke about the overuse of the term "leader." It got to be nauseating. We went on a retreat for church "leaders" one time and 400 people were there! Do we just plaster the name leader on anyone who tithes to keep their egos fed and their sense of personhood secure?

The First Shall Become Leaders! That must be what Jesus said.

And for the few who feel a little guilty about tweaking Jesus' words beyond recognition, there is always that ironic appellation: the servant-leader (whatever that is). I suppose it means you can lead just like before but you get credit for being a servant by lowering your eyes and speaking quietly into the microphone from the front of the room.

Let's scrap all that.

What if we took a cue from the black churches? What if we put into practice the teaching that says, "The last shall be first and the first shall be last"?

How would the white church express being last on Sundays?

I have a few suggestions.

  • We begin by entering the church and losing our last names. We have no venues for the cult of personality. The worship team is situated behind the congregation and no one can see their faces or know their names. There are no leadership trainings. Instead, we hold confessions (not discussions) where the group grapples with namelessness and how to shed white privilege during the week when we must combat the temptation to live as the first instead of the last.

  • We go to the conferences put on by other groups, especially those groups that scare us or feel wholly other, and learn how to learn from someone who is vastly different in background and experience.

  • We stop sending missionaries other places. We invite them to come to us. We Protestants invite Catholic clergy to speak to us. We whites invite black inner city Christians to live in our homes and use our churches and our families for cross-cultural training so that they can go do the real ministry in the communities of their choice (isn't that what Campus Crusade for Christ does in reverse? Sends white kids to live in the inner city with blacks for "cross-cultural studies" and then launches those kids overseas...)

  • Maybe if we really got into being last, we'd stop writing books. We'd read some. We'd make a plan to read all the books that threaten our existence—the Communist Mainfesto, Black Theology, Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison, the history of feminism, writings by Native Americans, books by the "heretics" like Darwin, books by our critics like Carl Sagan, and any other material that makes us angry or uncomfortable or embarassed.

  • We could commit to memory the "counter time line"—the one that remembers important dates and names and places that remind us that the first shall be last... The Civil Rights Movement, the Abolition movement, the moments in history where we robbed the Native American of his land and heritage, Women's suffrage, McCarthyism, Central America in the early eighties.

I used to see this kind of thinking as pessimistic and typical left-leaning America-hating university professor drivel. I saw these kinds of emphases as denying the great things that are true about our country and history. I now see that we have a great country that is made up of more stories than the one I have memorized that affirms and supports my place in America's history.

What if, like James Cone says, salvation for one depends on salvation for all? Now you're feeling the flames under your feet a bit, aren't you?

Come on church. Do you have the courage to be last?

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Listen Christians

Listen Christians
I was hungry
and you formed a humanities club
and you discussed my hunger.
Thank you.

I was imprisoned
and you crept off quietly
to your chapel in thhe cellar
and prayed for my release.

I was naked
and in your mind
you debated the morality of my appearance.

I was sick
and you knelt and thanked God for your health.

I was homeless
and you preached to me
of the spiritual shelter of the love of God.

I was lonely
and you left me alone
to pray for me.
You seem so holy;
so close to God.
But I'm still very hungry
and lonely
and cold.

So where have your prayers gone?
What have they done?
What does it profit a man
to page through his book of prayers
when the rest of the world
is crying for his help?

(This poem was circulated at a poor people's rally in Alberquerque New Mexico and I found it in James Cone's book Speaking the Truth on page 113.)

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Where's my beach?

I miss the ocean.

I have a busy head. When I'm near the ocean, my mind is on pause.

In college, I could drive to the beach and escape everything—boys who flirted and didn't call, history books written for robots (certainly humans weren't the intended audience), parents who didn't live together any more, the pressure to be pretty and smart and rich.

I'd hop in my blue Mazda GLC with the windows down, sun pouring in through the windshield and Tom Petty singing in the background as I'd break the speed limit on PCH. I'd drive all the way from Santa Monica to Malibu (forty five minutes) just to buy yogurt and granola at the Health Food store.

My flip flops smacked the pavement as I padded across the highway. I'd perch on top of a boulder and peer out over the unremarkable beach. (If you haven't been to Malibu, let me spare you romantic illusions. The "real" Malibu beach is tiny and full of rocks. The strip of sand from shore to water is narrow. And it's dirty sand - the kind that feels like you've reversed the vaccuum cleaner and blown dust all over yourself.)

It didn't matter. I'd slowly suck the yogurt off my plastic spoon, gazing undistractedly at the water, the sky, the gulls.

And then I'd feel good again. Peaceful.

So what I want to know is: Where the hell is my beach in Ohio?