Monday, October 30, 2006

Every drop of blood drawn with the lash

I'm continuing my series that will look at the importance of black theology in our American Christian lives. Rebecca, you should know that this series will finally explain why I reference James Cone as though he is someone who ought to be listened to. :)

Today's column is a look at the history of slavery and how white Americans relate to that history.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Cincinnati's fall ended abruptly yesterday

Fortunately, Jacob took photographs on Wednesday, the last day in which we had both fall colors and sunshine together. Today we had the coldest blowing winds you can imagine... which coincided with Caitrin's last soccer match of the season! Go ::clatter teeth:: ::shiver, shiver:: team! Sunshine, yes, but no ability to keep warm. Last night's storms (which caused gushing leaks into our basement) dealt the knock out blow to all the trees in our neighborhood. Dead leaves everywhere.

So to remember all our fallen heroes, here are a few photos to enjoy. Click on the photo to enlarge it and see its rich color.

Our silver maple in the front yard

Jacob's angel in the leaves

Friday, October 27, 2006

Bon anniversaire, mon amour

Today's our 22nd year of marriage... and we're still happy.

Every year since 19 is a magical miracle to me. My parents split up at 19 years and I'm repeatedly astounded that I lived past that apocalypse in my own lifetime to see the beginning of the marital millenium where lion and lamb still sleep in the same bed.

We went to our favorite little French nook—an unlikely candidate for the best French cuisine this side of the Eiffel Tower given that "La Petite France" is located in a strip mall parking lot in the vanilla suburb of Evanston.

Still, this petit restaurant has superb cooking: the kind of champagne that makes the nose tingle but doesn't leave one too loopy, wine that tastes like $30 bucks a bottle not $3 buck Chuck from Trader Joe's, and the best creme brulee (which means that the ochre glaze layer cracks decisively when it encounters a spoon). Ahhhh.

The maitre d' came by to see if we were enjoying our steak au poivre, butternut squash potage and the most supple baguette you'd ever dream of letting melt in your mouth. This older gentleman (in his late 60s, I'd wager, with a twinkle in his eye) stopped his friendly banter when I mentioned that we were celebrating our 22nd anniversary. His mouth became serious and he asked for my ringed finger.

I lifted my hand. He took it in his.

Then with a voice so tender and mysteriously on key, he sang to my finger while holding my hand. He sang about love and today and yesterday and the wonder of still having your bride by your side and the power of a gold band to remind you of that day when she was beautiful and young and your hopes were big and alive, and yet for all that, today is more precious because of all the years gone by, and to cherish each one... He then looked at us and said in his most Jean Paul Sartre, existential voice: Yesterday is gone and tomorrow has still not come. All we have is today, together.

My eyes filled up and I tried in vain to protect my mascara from a race down my cheeks.

His eyes were full too. "I sang this song to my wife of fifty years the month before she died of cancer. That's why I have tears in my eyes too. Have a wonderful anniversary."

And we did. It would have been a sin not to.

So here's to Jon, the one I love talking to more than anyone else in my life. I love his blue-green eyes... and noticed tonight how much they remind me of when we first met.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Close Encounters of the Third Culture Kind

The other day, Professor Buchanan woke up the room when he deftly quoted a Chinese proverb... in Chinese. Apparently stashed among his many other white male educated elite privileged mad skills, he parlays the Chinese. Damn straight he does. You don't get to hang out with the signatories of the GAT treaty without dazzling talents. And he's got them in spades... and Mandarin.

When class ended, he casually tossed out: Y'all might want to learn Chinese....

Too right. By the time our kids are having kids, Chinese will be the lingua franca, or the lingua chinoise!

Caitrin is studying Chinese—ahead of the curve as all homeschoolers of blog writers are. Every day she puts on her little headset, stares at the screen that features happily married couples in red headresses, Chinese cats that look remarkably like tiger kitties and not the evil twins of "Lady and the Tramp" fame from the Siamese variety and a big blue balloon. She listens raptly and then erupts into what sounds like bad English through too much chewing gum: she-shi ni how wa shi shi kung pao chicken.

And in case you don't believe me that Chinese is the language of the future, check out Russia's change of heart from ESL (English as a Second Language) to Chinese as the best way to suck up to a big economy:

China to set up Confucius institutes in Russia
Xinhua, Oct. 18, 2006 - Chinese Education Minister Zhou Ji said on Tuesday that China will set up several Confucius Institutes in Russia next year to cope with the growing demand from Russian people to learn Chinese. The Confucius Institute is a non-profit school specializing in Chinese language education and cultural communication. Zhou said the Russian government also attaches great importance to Chinese language education and the two governments have signed an agreement specializing in supporting language teaching in both countries.

According to Zhou, there are about 10,000 people in Russia learning Chinese, up 40 percent on last year. On the upcoming China Year in Russia, Zhou said, the two sides will strengthen cooperation in language education. China will provide different types of textbooks and reading materials for different levels of learners and teaching staff will also be provided with extra teaching materials, Zhou said. A Chinese language competition will be held in Moscow next year, the minister added. China has helped to introduce Chinese as a degree course in Russian universities and supported the establishment of a Chinese language center in Russian universities, Zhou said. China will also provide audio-video teaching materials and a Chinese testing service to facilitate teaching and learning Chinese in Russia, he added.

"Language is the bridge of friendship. To expand Chinese teaching abroad is conducive to stepping up understanding between China and the world," Zhou said.

From: China Today

Shut up and Listen

I have a friend (whose blog I have on my blogroll - Living Deliberately) who is experiencing what so many of us (me, some of you who read here) have gone through—suspicious scrutiny when expressing interest in and questions about what is perceived as heresy by "one's group." She wrote eloquently about "listening" here.

Here's a taste:
I’ve been thinking about how to listen.

Can I do it well if I am arguing with the teller while they are speaking? Can I do it well if I approach it with my mind predisposed to disagree? Can I listen well if I interrupt, or I am afraid of them, or if I treat them with suspicion?

Can I listen and defend at the same time? Can I say I’ve really listened to what another thinks, if rather than hearing from them, I heard it from a third party who may or may not be honestly representing them?

I’ve recently been reminded of how threatened others can feel when someone is trying to listen to another. Not unike a petulant sibling who wants Mom’s attention all to themselves, and is jealous and angry that little brother has her ear. Even though I know this to be the case, I still wonder why it’s true.

Listening is not deciding. And someone who respects another’s intelligence will afford them the space to listen and contemplate with integrity.

I think everyone wants to feel heard. And every idea has a person behind it. It’s okay to get to know the souls behind the concepts.

And what a wide, wonderful world it is when you can see the eyes of a human, their needs, their desires, their cares, instead of just their idea.

This friend is reading about Catholicism and Orthodoxy. To date, she's been reformed Protestant. Pass the popcorn.

One of my professors says that dialog can't occur without risk. Risky listening means that we're willing to revise an idea or understanding or belief or perspective. We may not reach new conclusions (though we may!), but we enter into dialog willing to, willing to see newly, differently. We also risk our stereotypes and preconceptions in dialog, wanting to get behind ideas to people, as Tia says so eloquently above.

Without risky listening, we merely have presentation versus presentation. Think Talk Radio, think TV political debate shows. There is no dialog because in truth, nothing is at stake, no one is risking anything.

Shout out to Tia for risking and listening. Bon Courage!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

You can see she's a beautiful girl,

She's a beautiful girl
Everything around her is a silver pool of light
People who surround her feel the benefit of it
It makes you calm
She holds you captivated in her palm

Johannah, dressed up for Homecoming. Senior Year. Isn't she beautiful? And her own person too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

When Peach Cobbler is on the Line

I've had so many blog entries for this blog percolating in my head and no time to write them! I'm staring down the barrel of a huge midterm due tomorrow (8-9 pages on Rawls and justice as fairness) as well as a ridiculous number of papers to grade for the composition class I teach. My daughter is in that vortex of senior year of high school combined with applying to colleges and that seems to take inordinate amounts of my time.

So here are a few random observations on the fly:

Cincinnati is a much nicer place to live when the Bengals win. Did you see that looooong fourth and 1 pass to Chad Johnson? Gutty play. Go Palmer! Go Bengals!

It's miserable to watch UCLA lose to Notre Dame. Period. (My dad, conversely, was delirious. His California vanity plates say: ND Freak. Understandably.)

I've been so busy, I just realized I haven't had a real meal in three days.

I've finally figured out what strain of faith I'm most attracted to: Academic Catholics! They rock my world. Can I just get baptized in the library and chew up some of their journal articles for communion?

And last but not least, I finally skunked my dear husband in a battle of numbers. He is always right. Always. I suck at anything numbers related and usually make grandiose, overstatements or totally inaccurate estimates to support my arguments (who me?) which he then rightly tempers with a return to reality.... things like,

Me: China spent like two trillion on beer production last year, honest. Our professor said...

Him: Uh, Julie, I'm thinking China didn't even spend two trillion on their military last year....

He's always oh-so-gentle, but I've taken to doubting any numbers I quote since I am always wrong.

But not this time, homies!

We had a face-off: who has sold more records, has earned more money, is a bigger superstar: Sheryl Crow or Madonna? I took Madonna, he wagered on Lance's ex. At stake: homemade dessert by the loser for the winner.

No contest. Madonna is queen.

What made me laugh so much, though, is that I doubted.... for a split second. Jon's sense of numbers is just that much better than mine. Then I remembered one critical number fact that restored my faith. Jon and I missed fifteen years of popular music out of devotion to all things Vineyard music (which has never come close to equaling either Madonna or Sheryl Crow's monetary take, btw). The last time we knew the title of a Madonna song was while we were dating: "Borderline" is our song. She had ten big years there where we were literally out of the country or totally out of touch.

So wouldn't you know, we resurfaced in the world of pop culture about the time Sheryl Crow was hitting it big. No wonder he didn't think Madonna had had many hits. Can't blame Jon for picking Sheryl. But I confess I'm sure happy to win his peach cobbler.

It. Is. To. Die. For.

I'm now thinking about other statistical wagers, like who has more money: Sting or Bono?

Maybe put an apple turnover on the line?

P.S. New column link in post below.

Not so black and white

This week's column is up. It's the beginning of a short series on Black Theology. I've been wanting to do this for some time and now seems as good as any.


Friday, October 20, 2006

Column will be up on Monday

So there you have it! I'm now a Monday writer which is a huge relief to me. Gives me the weekend to write.

In other news: Notre Dame does accept homeschoolers as applicants. Thrilled about that. Johannah is throwing out an app in their direction as well as OSU, UK, Kent and Xavier. OSU is crazy hard to get into all of the sudden because they are taking fewer freshmen than ever yet have more applicants than ever.

You wouldn't believe the essay questions.

These two come from Notre Dame:

1. Students at the University of Notre Dame are passionate! Their passion gives direction and definition to campus academic, community, and spiritual life. Recognizing that you have already provided us with a list of your extracurricular activities, please briefly describe your greatest passion and tell us how it defines and directs you.

2. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote in Story of a Soul, "The sun shines equally both on cedars and on every tiny flower." She reminds us that beauty can be found in the great and the small, in the extraordinary and the mundane. Show us the magnificence of the simple in your life.

The OSU questions are even more difficult. Paraphrasing:

1. Should Americans be required to vote like Australians? If so, what punishment ought to follow not voting: loss of driver's license, fines?

2. Given that more women than men are in college today, what do you think ought to be done about the decline in male students?

3. When an artist creates, should his aim be to create beauty or to provoke thought? Explain.

One of the UK questions asks if the student has any experience with diversity and to describe it.

Not exactly easy questions and most require two to be answered. Multiply that out and you end up writing ten essays! Very dicey while continuing to do schoolwork, act in a play (two in Johannah's case) and keep up with a job (we told her to quit today).

I have to admit... it wasn't that challenging to get into college when I applied. I admire these kids. Lots of pressure.

Changed my UPI column day

My grad school class is Tuesday/Thursday and I'm just drowning trying to write for the column and class every week. I've changed my day to send my column to Fridays and I will probably be published on Monday or Tuesday. I'll let you know.

In the meantime, I hope to write a bit more on this blog. I have lots of mundane things I could write about like college applications for Johannah, lacrosse and zoology for Liam, season-finishing soccer games for Caitrin and Jake's adjustment to part time enrollment in high school.

Noah, btw, got great feedback on his essay (the professor loved his writing style - yippee!).

But why write about my family? Most of you don't know them and it's like having to read the Christmas letter from hell when it shows up on a blog. (I wrote an un-Christmas letter here in 2004.)

Fall just rolls by too quickly for me. I love the look of the trees right now - aflame in red, orange, yellow, brown and lingering faded green. The whole world is sadly winding down to winter.

And I thought I should point out that Notre Dame plays UCLA at home for the first time since 1964... My father and brother are going to that game (they forgot me), but I'll be rooting for UCLA just to spite them both. :) Go Bruins (who don't stand a chance, but remember, the Bruins gave us Troy Aikman and QB coach for the Ravens: Rick Neuheisel).

Bengals... we'll just wait and see. Crossing fingers.

Okay, clearly all I have time for these days is inane comments about sports. Perhaps this is a sign that I need to finish grad school asap. The brain cells are expiring at too rapid a rate.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Not a sports blog

(as Dave would say) but I can't help but mourn the loss by the Cardinals last night at MNF. How deflating! They had the Bears beat and lost the game. Tragic.

Matt Leinart is every bit as good as we knew he would be despite the over-worked scrutiny of the NFL before the draft. Last night he looked poised, pumped, in total control. Gotta love his enthusiasm. He looked like a man-boy having a great time. That team is loaded with talent and if they can pick themselves up after this devastating defeat and recognize how close they are coming to big wins, I think the Cards can become a terrific team. Will Denny Green lose his job over this? I wonder.

Can Matt carry the team on his shoulders? Sure hope so. He hates to lose so that helps. Someone has to hate it.

I can't stand it when teams that deserve to lose, win, just because the other team collapses.

Oh the agony of sports!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Homeschool to cyber-cell-phone school

So my poor new freshman son is working like a fiend (26 hours to pay for food and rent and the more important Road Runner connection for his computer) and suddenly has his Very First Essay due.

Now Jon teaches at UC and knows what they want in these essays. Noah doesn't want help... until like the eleventh hour. At that point, Jon can't give it- he's teaching and sleeping! So the task falls to me. After his late shift at work, he comes to our house and we sit together until the wee hours piecing together the opening paragraph from his draft. Bleary eyed, I send him to bed in our house where he sleeps the full seven hours. We rise early and do a bit more work and he heads out the door to make his first class.

After class, he calls me from the library. We work some more. Alas, he must leave for work again (another eight hour shift into the night). That night he calls me at midnight. We chat on the phone while he emails the drafts. I read and make comments on the phone while he types them in. He adds material and reads it to me. We both have copies of the book that he's writing about open in front of us. Exhausted but happy with where it's going, we collapse into our respective beds.

Morning dawns and the phone rings. Literally dawns. I roust myself out of bed and read his draft emailed to me. Looking good, but not finished.

So now he's got to finish the paper and get dressed and hoof it to class while grabbing food on the way. Panic sets in. He has to get to the library to print it too. Disaster seems inevitable. And then....

That's when I remember we are in the 21st century! No more electric typewriters! No more phones glued to a wall (how inconvenient). Time for mobile essay writing! I can see the TV ads now. So I say:

Noah, put on your clothes and start walking. You dictate, I type and then I'll send the finished draft to your email.

So he walks out the door, cars and deisel buses whizzing by. First he can't hear me, then I can't hear him, but all the while the final paragraphs of the paper are pouring out of him as he waits at the "Don't walk" sign, as he thrusts his freezing hands into his deep pockets, as he waves to girls who know him (they all love him). He gets to Starbucks as I'm typing the last line.

We laugh. Can we really have just written an essay over the phone on the way to class? I hit the send button and the now completed essay zings to his yahoo account in milliseconds. Noah gets his java and heads to the library where all he has to do is hit the print button.

Makes it to class with two seconds to spare.

Wow! Do I love cell phones and the Internet?

Now some people might think this is an absurd amount of help to give a college kid. But not me. This is a kid who is working 26 hours a week to pay for his life while going to school fulltime... someone who didn't go to school for the last two and a half years. And he's doing it... he's hanging in there, wants to succeed, wants to make it work, is making it work.

I just felt glad that I could help at all. It's a pleasure to watch his mind grow and unfold. A continuation of all those years together. Awesome.

Thank you God, aka Internet.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The nightside of history

This week's column initiates a look at the night side of our history (though as is usual of me, I can't help but do it through my personal, superficial southern Californian background). I hope to explore in future columns some of the stuff I'm learning in my justice class and from my postmodern theologies and felt like setting it up!

I hope to blog more but wow am I busy! Will say that homeschool is going swimmingly this year and I had a sweet time helping Noah with a college essay last night. Who says home education ends when they leave for college? :)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Three Cheers for a Higher Power

My mother visited us from California for the last week. She had a speaking engagement in another town in Ohio. For those who are new readers, my mom is one of those shocking grandmas. She's written a total of 55 books, speaks all over the country and hikes up mountains for "vacations." You can check out her website here: Karen O'

She's got a new book out that has a beautiful cover: The Beauty of Aging

Anyway, we went to a country club community event where she was the keynote speaker. In advance she had been told not to be overt about her Christian faith in such a way that it might offend those who are not Christians. The event was sponsored by a community family news magazine, not a church. My mom is artful in her ability to affirm those who are making the journey toward God and is inclusive in how she expresses her beliefs. The talk was delightful and practical. She talked a bit about offering gratitude at the end of each day and that prayer can function as the means to offer that gratitude - to God, to your source or Higher Power.

She sold lots of books and got great feedback at the book table.

However, what neither of us counted on: this is Ohio. Church and Christianity are givens.

The feedback on the evaluation forms was overall very affirming - women love when my mom speaks. But two of the women were dismayed by the lack of overt Christian message. They went so far as to say that my mother undermined the Christian message by including a Higher Power in her talk and that Jesus is the only way to God. One of them said it made it nearly impossible to witness when my mom as the speaker didn't take a strong stand for Christian faith. The organizer of the event then expressed some disappointment that my mom didn't make her faith more overt (how confusing is that!?).

The event organizer assumed that since my mother attended a 4Square church that she would be too charismatic in her enthusiasm for her faith so the moderator had wanted to "tone her down." How ironic that when my mom took her advice seriously, she got criticized for it.

I find the whole thing absurd. Imagine being one of those women: you go to a talk over breakfast and the whole time you're listening, you're evaluating whether or not you agree with the speaker (thereby missing the import of the talk, I might add, which was about making the most of each moment in our lives based on my mom's book Squeeze the Moment).

Instead, these couple of women were busy "squeezing the speaker" in their minds, utterly missing the moment.

I have to admit... I remember living that way. It was a good reminder to me to realize that I need to give as much space and graciousness as I hope will be extended to me.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Truth: the First Victim in Politics

Here's my UPI column, a day late.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to detatch from ideology. Not as easy as one would like it to be.

Sorry this blog has been so quiet. I've got my mother here, I was out of town earlier in the week on business and my five kids suddenly are clamoring for rides to all parts of Cincinnati. I miss keeping up with all of you and hope to catch up on your blogs this week.

A couple quickies: Congrats to my friend at Musings for her new blog that is featuring blog contests!

As I type, the Tigers are ahead 6-0 over the Yanks in the eighth with one win a piece so clearly we should be happy for Dave!

And finally, a big congratulations to my editor, Larry, who revamped our Religions and Spirituality site at UPI. Looks beautiful! (Now it tracks the most read columns in the center aisle too!) You can see what your favorite columnists look like by clicking on columnists.

Hope to see you all soon in cyberspace.