Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Some things aren't so bad

Things that don't completely suck about living in Berkeley...

Proximity to San Francisco

the ecology center, and the recycling in general, esp. the city-wide food-scrap pickup

Indus Foods

pretty bay

Zachary's, the only place outside the windy city that actually lives up to the claim to serve "Chicago-style" deep dish pizza

the Berkeley Parents Network

Acme bakery

less than 1 hour from wine country

3 farmer's markets per week, plus a host of CSAs to choose from

baby brigade (aka mommy movies) at the speakeasy, a pub/theater

lots and lots of parks (with playgrounds)

elephant pharmacy

totland, habitot, tea & tumble

you get to have the view of San Francisco

it's not hot

(sure is not)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Church Songs

The Luke Warm Church announces publication of “Church Songs,” whose title, according to the editor, was chosen because “We didn’t want to turn anybody off with threatening words that no one understands anymore like ‘worship’ or ‘hymn.’ People in today’s society get kind of uncomfortable with too much talk about old fashioned church things. They’d much rather have religion they can turn on or off at will. Our book seeks to meet that need.”

Sample items:

A Comfy Mattress Is Our God
Joyful, Joyful, We Kinda Like Thee
Above Average is Thy Faithfulness
Lord, Keep Us Loosely Connected to Your Word
All Hail the Influence of Jesus’ Name
My Hope is Built on Nothing Much
Amazing Grace, How Interesting the Sound
My Faith Looks Around for Thee
Be Thou My Hobby
O God, Our Enabler in Ages Past
Blest Be the Tie That Doesn’t Cramp My Style
Oh, for a Couple of Tongues to Sing
He’s Quite a Bit to Me
Oh, How I Like Jesus
I Lay My Inappropriate Behaviors on Jesus
Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me
I Surrender Some
Praise God from Whom All Affirmations Flow
I’m Pretty Sure That My Redeemer Lives
Self-Esteem to the World! The Lord is Come
Sit Up, Sit Up for Jesus
Special, Special, Special
Spirit of the Living God, Fall Somewhere Near Me
Stick Nearby, It’s Getting Dark Outside
Take My Life and Let Me Be
There is Scattered Cloudiness in My Soul Today
There Shall be Sprinkles of Blessings
What an Acquaintance We Have in Jesus
When Peace, Like a Trickle. . .
When the Saints Go Sneaking In
Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
God of Taste, and God of Stories
Lift Every Voice and Intellectualize

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Email to an Atheist

Here's an email I wrote to an old high school acquaintance:

I wanted to tell you something about being an atheist. I think of it very much like I think of the whole "gay issue" in the church. Let me explain. I have many Christian friends who believe it's sinful to be gay, and who don't understand why I say that my gay friends are created as they are for a purpose, not because God/sin messed them up. I actually believe they are perfectly OK the way they are. But I believe this because I know them - I know their faith, their families, their love. I have seen them at worship, in pain, and deliriously happy (most often at weddings - their own). I have also seen what the world has done to them - I know people who went through actual electric shock therapy, I know people who spent every night for a decade begging God to take it away. I know this all first-hand.

And so I never expect someone who hasn't personally experienced all of this to understand it. How could you? I didn't, until I knew gay Christians (who were better Christians than me). So it doesn't bother me that people haven't come around, because they just haven't been exposed to what I have experienced. I don't like them to be hateful, but most of the circles I run with aren't that way, they are simply naive. The fact is, I don't believe a person will be "converted" on this issue by arguments, or science, or rhetoric, or protests. If I may channel Stephen Colbert, you simply need to know it in your gut, and that requires personal experience.

So all of that is a VERY long way of explaining that I feel the same way about people who haven't experienced God. I would never expect you to believe what I believe based purely on MY explanation, or on the scriptures which obviously hold no authority for you, or on someone else's experience, or on an argument, or anything else like that. I honestly believe God can only be found through personal experience (warning: this can happen whether one is looking for it or not). So your not believing in God is simply an honest result of what you have experienced of this world and this life so far. It is not threatening to me or my faith, nor is it in any way inferior. It's each of our truths.

Do I believe in absolute truth? Sure I do. But I don't believe I can know it. I'm too imperfect and ignorant. In seminary I took a postmodern philosophy class that really helped me clarify this: the difference between believing truth is "out there" but being willing to admit that I'm way too limited to actually say what it is. I think that's a healthy balance; I hope you agree.

To me, it would be pointless to argue about whether God exists, because I only know it from my experience. God is not someone who can be known by anything other than experience. And, ironically, God cannot be explained by the experience because there are no words to describe it.

What I mainly wanted to say was go your way, my friend, and know you won't get any flack from me for your beliefs (and I hope that would go both ways). I do hope that in some way you will one day experience God: be it during a performance of Beethoven's 9th, or at a sunset, or contemplating an artwork, or reading Carl Sagan (I've noticed there seems to be a Church of Sagan...and I have to say, Sagan's basically talking about God the way he talks about the universe...and also, Contact is one of my all-time favorite Christian movies). You may not want to call it God, and that's fine. I just hope everyone gets to experience, in this life, a touch with something greater - God, or universal Love, or simply the self-giving of another human being.

But for me, there has been full-on mystical connection to the divine, the kind you get in meditation, the kind that is pretty universally reported by all the world's religions. I find it to be the most truthful way to talk about God, because it's the most personal (and somehow also the most universal). In my life, God has become a very personal friend and guide, but She's not that way for everyone. God meets us all in the way that we are able, that we are willing. God stoops to our level. [that's why it's so ridiculous to think I should have to defend God: if God needed defending, He'd be pretty lame. I only want to believe in a God that is so beyond my petty defenses as to render them absurd]

But even better: God will, on occasion, raise us up to Her level. And that, my friend, can be an awesome experience.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Open communion (...or not)

Hey, here's a shocker: I'm still the token liberal at my school (at least in my current class). How did THAT happen??

Yes, I managed to start a huge debate by presenting my chosen topic for my final paper: why there is actually maybe some theological justification (built up over the last hundred years by advances in systematics, historical/biblical studies, ritual evolution, and liturgical theology) for open communion - that is, communing the non-baptized.

I am really not happy with my paper, nor do I have time to get it to a happy place (mommyhood is just too demanding). Done will have to be better than good. But perhaps I'll still post some bits of it. Just be kind and realize I wrote most of it in a sleep-deprived haze.

Here's what I presented that got me about martyred right there in class:

This paper began as a study of two moods of Eucharist: the solemn and the joyful. Recognizing the slippery nature of the term “mood,” I moved towards the theology undergirding each subjective response, which I understood to be revealed in the metaphors of memorial meal and/or sacrifice, for solemnity, and the eschatological heavenly banquet, for joy. As I began my research, I quickly discovered two common themes in the writing on eschatological eucharist: it had largely come back into vogue in the last century because of new trends in biblical studies and theology, and the authors nearly always came to the conclusion that the communion table should be open. The more I read, the more interested I became in just this topic (rather than its comparison with other themes – which was good since I needed to narrow my focus). Furthermore, I was intrigued by the notion of supporting open communion with a real theology, not just some vague notion of hospitality or inclusivity. I began to explore the theological culture that has led to this practice being considered and/or adopted, particularly in Episcopal churches.

Thus my thesis became centered on how certain theologies and movements in biblical and liturgical studies over the last hundred years began recovering and enriching some traditional beliefs about the Eucharist. For example, eschatology has come into its own as a field, and there has been an emphasis on the theology of hope by such scholars as Jurgen Moltmann. Modern ecumenical statements on Eucharist (e.g. Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, and the ARCIC agreed statement) and new prayers that came out of the Liturgical Movement renewed the biblical emphasis on Eucharist as an eschatological meal (something that the Eastern church never lost), and recovered the metaphor of a heavenly banquet at which persons from all nations will feast with God (to quote Jesus).

Biblical scholars have paid more attention to the total life of Christ (particularly the members of the Jesus Seminar, but also those working in reaction to them) and the idea of recovering the historical Jesus has led to more emphasis on patterning the Christian life after Jesus’ own practices rather than later dogma. One way this played out was that theologians and liturgists noticed that there were many ways Jesus used meals to illustrate the kingdom of God – primarily by subverting both cultural and religious norms of his day by eating with the “wrong” people – and began questioning whether the Church’s practices really matched those of its founder. There is also biblical scholarship questioning the authenticity of the Last Supper accounts, which has caused it to fade somewhat as the focal point of Eucharist and be put into conversation with the other biblical examples of Jesus breaking bread as an act of communion with his followers. Whether or not we agree with the work of these scholars, my point is that they have influenced the Christian community into thinking about Eucharist in new ways, especially as an open meal of fellowship.

Liturgical studies has also contributed to this “perfect storm” of factors which are opening communion tables. The recognition of diversity in historical practice (e.g. “splitting”) has opened the door to the acceptability of a variety of practices here and now, rather than pretending there is, and always has been, only one way to do Eucharist. The endorsement of cultural influence on communion, based on scholarship that has uncovered the way that culture played an important role in the original meal practices of Christians, has helped to open the practice as well.

In the liturgy itself, a significant development is the renewal of the weekly practice of communion and, for my church (Episcopal), the replacement of Morning Prayer on Sundays with a service of Eucharist. This has made the Eucharist the primary element (or co-primary with Word) of the Sunday service. In churches that primarily reach out to the unbaptized (which could be most any adult in our post-Christendom country), this ritual change meant excluding many from fully half of the worship life of the community. Another ritual change is the renewed focus on the baptism of adults through new catechetical processes (based on the RCIA). This has altered the meaning of baptism somewhat, stressing its nature as a commitment by a person who is already participating in the life of the church (and, let’s be honest, has probably been taking Eucharist since that’s the main thing to do at church!). These developments in ritual have altered the meaning and purpose of Eucharist in the Sunday service for many communities of faith.

These are just a few of the examples of ways that the last hundred years have seen developments that may be leading to an evolution of eucharistic theology and practice. We must remember that the way Eucharist has been “done” over the centuries has varied widely, from the original fellowship banquets to ocular communion, from propitiatory sacrifice to memorial meal to means and enactment of grace. Changing understandings of Scripture, new evidence from archaeology and texts, cultural and political factors, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit have all played a role in the evolution of the rite. It is not possible to say it has “always” been done one way – though admittedly, the overwhelming evidence is that it has almost always been fenced to the baptized (remember, however, that the “baptized” used to be the entire population). As theologies have changed and grown, in response to and in discussion with biblical and historical scholarship and cultural factors, so practices have evolved to reflect – or push – changing liturgical norms. To propose a change in practice, arising from a change in or new nuances of theology, is by no means unheard of or unholy, particularly in a tradition, such as Anglicanism, that locates its theology squarely in its worship practice.

What I am doing here is asking whether what we’re seeing now is another shift in theology that is significant enough to change practice. Does the theology, biblical scholarship, and liturgical development of the 20th century warrant opening the table? At the least, I would suggest that it helps us understand why some communities already have done so – how the theological culture of our time promotes open communion, which needn’t be without theological grounding.

Finally, I wonder whether there particular contexts in which this would be most appropriate? I think for example of a community that wishes to welcome all to the table as Jesus did, thereby making communion their rite of initiation and opening the entire worship service to all; then promoting baptism as a rite of commitment – in accordance with the RCIA model – rather than a means of putting people in categories that can exclude them from participation. It is rather silly to send catechumens – who are serious about their commitment to Christ – out of the church during communion time, when any person off the street might stick around and partake without anyone checking her credentials!

What am I not doing? I am not addressing, at length, the question of communion replacing baptism as a sacrament of initiation (and baptism then becoming the sacrament of commitment). I am looking at how communion can play a role as an initiating device, but I will not have space to argue the role of baptism itself and how that would change with open communion (I will, however, point the reader to articles which do so). I am also not able to go very deeply into the ecclesiological issues that are raised by open communion, though I will mention some of the problems that must be dealt with. Finally, I am not writing a paper on sacramental theology, but rather noting how a paradigm shift in theological studies led to a defensible change in eucharistic practice. The next step (another paper!) is to go back from practice to the theological academy to evaluate the implications of this ritual evolution on sacramental theology, ecclesiology, and related disciplines.

The practical question raised by this study is whether the larger church body and hierarchy should recognize these developments and sanction the open communion tables already practiced by many congregations. Are we ready to put the official seal of approval on this evolution in theology and practice?

But really, whether we agree or not with the practice, what I hope to prove is that the culture was ripe for this change, that people who are doing it are coming by it somewhat honestly – we can at least see why and how it makes sense even if we react gutterally against it.

Finally, a couple of quotes from the fabulous Geoffrey Wainwright (so you can see I didn't just make all this up):

“We have pressed people to come in…and then left them without food and drink at the meal which is the sign of the great supper of the final kingdom, telling them rather that they must wait several years until by their acquired knowledge and virtues they have earned the right (we do not use quite those words, of course) to baptism, and, after a further interval, ‘confirmation’ (by whatever name), and only then will they be admitted to the Lord’s table.”

No one should be refused communion who has been moved by the celebration of the sign then in progress to seek saving fellowship with the Lord through eating the bread and drinking the wine.”

(both from Eucharist and Eschatology)

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Food Democracy Now!

Please sign this petition to ask President-elect Obama to choose a Secretary of Agriculture who is committed to sustainability and reforming our food system.


Friday, December 05, 2008

The New Cicero

I loooooove this article. Politics, preaching, art, rhetoric, all wrapped up in an educational, historical, damn finely written essay. Way to go.

The new Cicero

Barack Obama's speeches are much admired and endlessly analysed, but, says Charlotte Higgins, one of their most interesting aspects is the enormous debt they owe to the oratory of the Romans

In the run-up to the US presidential election, the online magazine Slate ran a series of dictionary definitions of "Obamaisms". One ran thus: "Barocrates (buh-ROH-cruh-teez) n. An obscure Greek philosopher who pioneered a method of teaching in which sensitive topics are first posed as questions then evaded."

There were other digs at Barack Obama that alluded to ancient Greece and Rome. When he accepted the Democratic party nomination, he did so before a stagey backdrop of doric columns. Republicans said this betrayed delusions of grandeur: this was a temple out of which Obama would emerge like a self-styled Greek god. (Steve Bell also discerned a Romanness in the image, and drew Obama for this paper as a toga-ed emperor.) In fact, the resonance of those pillars was much more complicated than the Republicans would have it. They recalled the White House, which itself summoned up visual echoes of the Roman republic, on whose constitution that of the US is based. They recalled the Lincoln Memorial, before which Martin Luther King delivered his "I have a dream" speech. They recalled the building on which the Lincoln Memorial is based - the Parthenon. By drawing us symbolically to Athens, we were located at the very birthplace of democracy.

Here's the thing: to understand the next four years of American politics, you are going to need to understand something of the politics of ancient Greece and Rome.

There have been many controversial aspects to this presidential election, but one thing is uncontroversial: that Obama's skill as an orator has been one of the most important factors - perhaps the most important factor - in his victory. The sheer numbers of people who have heard him speak live set him apart from his rivals - and, indeed, recall the politics of ancient Athens, where the public speech given to ordinary voters was the motor of politics, and where the art of rhetoric matured alongside democracy.

Obama has bucked the trend of recent presidents - not excluding Bill Clinton - for dumbing down speeches. Elvin T Lim's book The Anti-Intellectual Presidency: The Decline of Presidential Rhetoric from George Washington to George W Bush, submits presidential oratory to statistical analysis. He concludes that 100 years ago speeches were pitched at college reading level. Now they are at 8th grade. Obama's speeches, by contrast, flatter their audience. His best speeches are adroit literary creations, rich, like those doric columns, with allusion, his turn of phrase consciously evoking lines by Lincoln and King, by Woody Guthrie and Sam Cooke. Though he has speechwriters, he does much of the work himself. (Jon Favreau, the 27-year-old who heads Obama's speechwriting team, has said that his job is like being "Ted Williams's batting coach.") James Wood, professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard, has already performed a close-reading exercise on the victory speech for the New Yorker. Can you imagine the same being done of a George Bush speech?

More than once, the adjective that has been deployed to describe Obama's oratorical skill is "Ciceronian". Cicero, the outstanding Roman politician of the late republic, was certainly the greatest orator of his time, and one of the greatest in history. A fierce defender of the republican constitution, his criticism of Mark Antony got him murdered in 43BC.

During the Roman republic (and in ancient Athens) politics was oratory. In Athens, questions such as whether or not to declare war on an enemy state were decided by the entire electorate (or however many bothered to turn up) in open debate. Oratory was the supreme political skill, on whose mastery power depended. Unsurprisingly, then, oratory was highly organised and rigorously analysed. The Greeks and Romans, in short, knew all the rhetorical tricks, and they put a name to most of them.

It turns out that Obama knows them, too. One of the best known of Cicero's techniques is his use of series of three to emphasise points: the tricolon. (The most enduring example of a Latin tricolon is not Cicero's, but Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici" - I came, I saw, I conquered.) Obama uses tricola freely. Here's an example: "Tonight, we gather to affirm the greatness of our nation, not because of the height of our skyscrapers, or the power of our military, or the size of our economy ..." In this passage, from the 2004 Democratic convention speech, Obama is also using the technique of "praeteritio" - drawing attention to a subject by not discussing it. (He is discounting the height of America's skyscrapers etc, but in so doing reminds us of their importance.)

One of my favourites among Obama's tricks was his use of the phrase "a young preacher from Georgia", when accepting the Democratic nomination this August; he did not name Martin Luther King. The term for the technique is "antonomasia". One example from Cicero is the way he refers to Phoenix, Achilles' mentor in the Iliad, as "senior magister" - "the aged teacher". In both cases, it sets up an intimacy between speaker and audience, the flattering idea that we all know what we are talking about without need for further exposition. It humanises the character - King was just an ordinary young man, once. Referring to Georgia by name localises the reference - Obama likes to use the specifics to American place to ground the winged sweep of his rhetoric - just as in his November 4 speech: "Our campaign ... began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston", which, of course, is also another tricolon.

Obama's favourite tricks of the trade, it appears, are the related anaphora and epiphora. Anaphora is the repetition of a phrase at the start of a sentence. Again, from November 4: "It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools ... It's the answer spoken by young and old ... It's the answer ..." Epiphora does the same, but at the end of a sentence. From the same speech (yet another tricolon): "She lives to see them stand out and speak up and reach for the ballot. Yes we can." The phrase "Yes we can" completes the next five paragraphs.

That "Yes we can" refrain might more readily summon up the call-and-response preaching of the American church than classical rhetoric. And, of course, Obama has been influenced by his time in the congregations of powerfully effective preachers. But James Davidson, reader in ancient history at the University of Warwick, points out that preaching itself originates in ancient Greece. "The tradition of classical oratory was central to the early church, when rhetoric was one of the most important parts of education. Through sermons, the church captured the rhetorical tradition of the ancients. America has preserved that, particularly in the black church."

It is not just in the intricacies of speechifying that Obama recalls Cicero. Like Cicero, Obama is a lawyer. Like Cicero, Obama is a writer of enormous accomplishment - Dreams From My Father, Obama's first book, will surely enter the American literary canon. Like Cicero, Obama is a "novus homo" - the Latin phrase means "new man" in the sense of self-made. Like Cicero, Obama entered politics without family backing (compare Clinton) or a military record (compare John McCain). Roman tradition dictated you had both. The compensatory talent Obama shares with Cicero, says Catherine Steel, professor of classics at the University of Glasgow, is a skill at "setting up a genealogy of forebears - not biological forebears but intellectual forebears. For Cicero it was Licinius Crassus, Scipio Aemilianus and Cato the Elder. For Obama it is Lincoln, Roosevelt and King."

Steel also points out how Obama's oratory conforms to the tripartite ideal laid down by Aristotle, who stated that good rhetoric should consist of pathos, logos and ethos - emotion, argument and character. It is in the projection of ethos that Obama particularly excels. Take this resounding passage: "I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations." He manages to convey the sense that not only can he revive the American dream, but that he personally embodies - actually, in some sense, is - the American dream.

In English, when we use the word "rhetoric", it is generally preceded by the word "empty". Rhetoric has a bad reputation. McCain warned lest an electorate be "deceived by an eloquent but empty call for change". Waspishly, Clinton noted, "You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose." The Athenians, too, knew the dangers of a populace's being swept along by a persuasive but unscrupulous demagogue (and they invented the word). And it was the Roman politician Cato - though it could have been McCain - who said "Rem tene, verba sequentur". If you hold on to the facts, the words will follow.

Cicero was well aware of the problem. In his book On The Orator, he argues that real eloquence can be acquired only if the speaker has attained the highest state of knowledge - "otherwise what he says is just an empty and ridiculous swirl of verbiage". The true orator is one whose practice of citizenship embodies a civic ideal - whose rhetoric, far from empty, is the deliberate, rational, careful organiser of ideas and argument that propels the state forward safely and wisely. This is clearly what Obama, too, is aiming to embody: his project is to unite rhetoric, thought and action in a new politics that eschews narrow bipartisanship. Can Obama's words translate into deeds? The presidency of George Bush provided plenty of evidence that a man who has problems with his prepositions may also struggle to govern well. We can only hope that Obama's presidency proves that opposite.

• Charlotte Higgins is the author of It's All Greek To Me: From Homer to the Hippocratic Oath, How Ancient Greece Has Shaped Our World (Short Books).

Thursday, December 04, 2008

stupid insomnia

It's 3:30 a.m. I am wide awake. I have gotten 2 hours of sleep this night, and apparently my body (or brain) has decided it's done.

This is not entirely the baby's fault. I mean, it generated with her. I went to bed at 10, but she started fussing the moment I got in the room. So I dealt with her until 11, when I gave up and brought her into bed to nurse so at least we could go to sleep. We did, for those lovely 2 hours. Mostly - I mean, she fussed often, but these days I'm so used to rolling over and finding her paci and putting it back in without much waking up.

That's the key, you see. If I wake up - if I get past a certain point of sleepy haze - then it's all over.

So anyway at 1:00 she woke up a bit, and her paci wasn't working, so I gave her the boob. It calmed her, got her paci in, and we were off again to dreamland. I hadn't woken up too much. And as I started drifting off, I sent up a desperate prayer: please God, please please please let her sleep until 3. Just give me two more hours.

Well I got about 10 minutes. Then she woke up again, and I couldn't find her paci fast enough, and she escalated to full-blown crying. This is incredibly annoying, because the quick fix is right there and simply can't be found. So I had to go to plan B, which was to stick my boob in her mouth. Last night, plan B was enacted 6 times. Oh, did I mention she's cutting her first tooth? And we traveled all week last week?

I hope that's the explanation because I can't go on like this. It's inhumane. Especially because she was such an amazing sleeper for so long. It is simply cruel and unusual to go from getting 7-10 hours of sleep every night together to suddenly being woken up every hour or two. Like she's a freaking newborn again.

So yes, here we are at 1:15 or so and we have screaming. And I was so mad that she hadn't gone back to sleep, and I wasn't getting to go back to sleep, and I could feel myself waking up. That's the worst part - that moment when you realize that you are not going to recover from this one. For me, it's really desperate. Because what happens when I wake up, as I said, is I do not go back to sleep for at least an hour or more. This happens every time I have to handle a night waking. That's why I do my best to ignore her cries - not to be cruel, but J can handle it, and he goes immediately back to sleep.

But with this tooth, she's been too upset to be comforted by anything but nursing. And she wakes up too much to bother with the bassinet, so she sleeps next to me. Which means I'm waking up constantly all night, and I'm feeding her constantly, and I'm getting absolutely no rest.

At that point, I knew she wasn't hungry, and I was too frustrated to let her use me as a human pacifier. I was mad at her. So I put her in her bassinet, because I couldn't deal, and I wanted to fling her across the room or yell at her, anything to make her shut up.

Finally J got up, and changed her diaper, which was admittedly really wet and stinky. But that required turning on the light, and she was making so much noise that I wasn't going to be going back to sleep. I put her back in her jammies and she was full-blown screaming, and I couldn't take it. I came out here in the living room, sat on my couch, and wept.

Being a parent is incredibly hard. I know that this is a phase that will pass. I hope to God I have a good sleeper again one day. I'm sure she will eventually be. But I'm so physically not cut out for this, because of my stupid insomnia. It ruins everything.

You see, after my crying jag, and feeling sorry for myself for a few minutes, and shaking out what I could of the anger, I grabbed the homeopathic teething tablets and went back in. J was lying in bed with her, letting her scream, but holding her (he couldn't stand to let her scream alone in her bed, so he opted to let her cry it out but while being held). I gave her a tablet and she quieted down. I gave her another and she stopped crying altogether. Then she started up, I gave her a third, and she completely calmed.

And she was looking at me with this completely sad look on her face, like she was so tired and so sad to be awake, and so sorry to be keeping everybody up. She just looked apologetic. So of course I felt terrible, and I realized that she felt exactly like me - horribly tired and frustrated that she couldn't fix it, just couldn't sleep. Plus, she was in pain. Oh, her sad little face.

I actually turned out the light because I knew I'd never stop looking at her. And she was intently looking at me. So I made it dark so we could both go to sleep.

And she did, almost immediately. J patted her for a while, but she went down fast. By this time it was 2:00. And I was so wide awake that there was no hope for me.

And now it is 3:45. I gave up and got out of bed at 3:15, realizing that I was not going back to sleep. I don't know how only 2 hours was sufficient, but somehow, my brain and body have decided that's it for the time being. So yeah, up from 1-4 or so tonight. Yep, it's just like the good ol' days.

Really, night waking wouldn't be such torture if I could just go back to sleep. It's the lying awake after I help the baby go to sleep that kills me. I don't know what to do about it. Most times I cannot move or get into a comfortable position without awakening her and starting the whole mess over. I certainly feel like getting up and drinking milk (or obviously turning on the computer) will only wake me up more.

But I am starting to feel a little tired, so maybe I'll get some cooperation. I want to sleep so badly. I'm absolutely devastated that my little one actually has been sleeping peacefully for nearly 2 hours and I've completely missed my chance to sleep!

Oh. I just heard her. Here we go again. Oh well, at least I'm not being roused out of sleep this time.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

An Open Letter to the President Elect


Sir, with all due respect, I’m angry,

Oh, and really hurt.

Let me start by saying that I am not very wealthy, and yet I sent a lot of money to your campaign. I didn’t actually keep track, but it was several hundred dollars if not over a thousand. I wept on Tuesday evening, crying tears of joy, tears of relief, tears of hope and expectation.

I bought your book, The Audacity of Hope, and I read it. It was inspirational, with prose that was obviously intelligent and thoughtful yet accessible. I believed what I was reading and dreamed of a new America, with someone as our leader who has ascended the mountain of power yet will continue to carry the perspective gained by living at the bottom, down in the trenches where the rest of us hang out.

And let me also state that I understand the need for political expediency. In your book you outlined articulately the need for a pragmatic approach to solving our nation’s problems, and even highlighted that such an approach often opens our minds to the positive and beneficial aspects of our opponent’s point-of-view. Hopefully, this will help as our country attempts to come together after so many years of division.

So, I understand this whole civil unions vs. gay marriage argument that you and many of the powers-that-be in the political world espouse. I also understand the argument that “states should decide” because this allows politicians to be both for and against something at the same time. I call this the homosexual policy dance. And it is true that politically, the country does not appear to be ready to accept full equality for gay families. If a politician were to come out in favor of gay marriage it could be political suicide.

But, not doing so is dangerous. And it is hurtful. And the thing is, after reading your book, seeing you on TV, and listening to your speeches, I know that you know it. So I am wondering if you are going to do something about it.

I want to share a story. I was absolutely offended to listen to my voice messages the day after the voting (I hadn’t been able to peel myself away from the internet for several days, trying to read all the up-to-date, 24-hour news and so had missed several phone calls). One of the messages was a robo-call from a “descendent of Martin Luther King, Jr.”, pleading with me to vote in favor of Proposition 8, the infamous California ballot initiative which revises the California Constitution to strip me of a right to which the Supreme Court had earlier found I am entitled. She wanted me to vote to preserve the “tradition of marriage”. In my anger, I wondered to which “tradition” she was referring; the one in the Bible that says that polygamy is acceptable? or was she talking about the one in US civil law from 50 years ago that said that she wasn’t worthwhile enough to marry someone with white skin color?, or was she trying to highlight social differences from around the world by bringing attention to the myriad cultures who arrange marriage without any input from the bride and groom? I say she wasn’t referring to any of these. I say that she was using euphemistic terminology to justify her bigotry toward gays. How could a “descendent of MLK, Jr.” be advocating for such a hateful ideology?

To me, traditional marriage is really about the family. Civil laws regarding marriage help secure a familial unit, by establishing laws of inheritance, by limiting restrictions on transfer of benefits among family members, by giving tax breaks to those of us raising children, in order to promote a stable future society. I was reminded of that on election night, when I saw your beautiful family join you on the stage. What was so striking was how much love seemed to be present among you four, and I thought to myself, “no matter what happens in the future, they each know that they have something safe in this world and three other people on whom they can rely for the rest of their lives.” That is what a marriage is all about.

Proposition 8 takes away my family’s rights to have this same security. My sons are NOT guaranteed the same freedoms from inheritance limits with a civil union. My husband is NOT entitled to my social security benefits without the safety of federal civil marriage laws, if, God forbid, something were to happen to me. With civil unions, my husband and I DO have to pay taxes on our employee-based health care benefits; taxes that married heterosexual couples do not have to pay. They can therefore invest that money in their children’s future and we cannot. Proposition 8 was not about marriage equality—it was about family equality. And my family deserves equality as much as your beautiful family does.

That’s why I am angry. And why I am hurt. How could millions of Americans vote to say to my family that we are not worthwhile enough to enjoy the same benefits? Why would they want to take away security from my sons, who have had so many hardships already in their brief little lives?

How can YOU, Mr. Obama, justify this homosexual policy dance when so much is at stake? You are eloquent and brilliant, so maybe you can come to my house and have a sit down with my boys to explain to them exactly how this works. They are worthwhile but don’t deserve protection under the law? There will need to be some very detailed nuance brought forth for them to understand that one, yet it is what you sell to the American people. I would be interested to hear you try.

As a family, who happens to have parents who are gay, we deserve equal protection under the law. We need a FEDERAL law that will guarantee that our family is as secure in its future as yours is. That will guarantee that my husband will be able to collect my social security should I die prematurely. That will guarantee that my children can inherit without undue burden. That will guarantee that we no longer have to pay taxes on health benefits that my heterosexual counterparts do not have to pay. That will guarantee that if my family happens to be driving through Oklahoma and someone gets sick, both my husband and I are treated as full and equal parents—because we are.

I want to share another story. I recently had the privilege of attending a talk on my campus by Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard. During the often gut-wrenching presentation, she eloquently spoke of her difficulty understanding the hate that led people to beat her son unconscious and leave him tied to a fence in a field for 16 hours, simply because he was gay. She was able to articulately outline the complex connections among subtle discrimination and social messages of “difference” and the feelings of hatred that are learned from them. I don’t want to speak for her, but to me, it seemed to be her conclusion that such learned messages were underlying the actions of those who murdered her son. She came out very strongly against Proposition 8, saying that to her, such a ballot measure was not only unequal and unjust, but also lethal.

By not taking the political risk to stand up for something that is right, you contribute to the message that gays are “different” and there are people the world over who then solidify their fears and kindle their hatred. How many more Matthew Shepards do there need to be before we stand up as a nation and say that it has to stop? How many more years does my family have to listen to the message that we aren’t as deserving of tax breaks and federal recognition simply because there are religious bigots who feel we are “immoral?” Need I remind you that the same arguments were made against interracial marriage a generation ago? Need I remind you that progress was made in the civil rights movement because the courts stepped in and demanded equality, and then courageous politicians stepped in and demanded that the laws be enforced? Lyndon Johnson sacrificed the south politically for an entire generation because he knew that signing the Civil Rights Act was the right thing to do. Who in our generation is going to have the same political courage? Will that be you, Mr. Obama, or are my hopes misguided? Can I expect a new, changed America? Or is that for everyone but me and my family and the millions who are like me?


Karl Jeffries, MD

Resident Physician

Berkeley, California

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It appears to be the work of a group of unbelievable mother f--kers, working in tandem with giant a--holes

Punny Money

Perhaps you're already aware of this site, perhaps not, but I spent the better part of today, when I should otherwise have been writing a paper, noodling around on Punny Money.

I got there via a link in a Slate article about taking all-you-can-eat buffets for all they're worth; then I proceeded to read about the Olive Garden's neverending bowl of lies; then I read about the freebies on election day, and finally, I enjoyed learning the author's ethical stances on stealing office supplies and condiments.

All in all, a hugely entertaining blog. Check it out.

Monday, December 01, 2008

LA Love

As the sequel to my last post, I have to say how great it was to visit LA over the last week. I tell myself often that my home is just where my family is, but really, there is something about a place you've lived a dozen years that gets into your gut.

It was great to see so many friends and introduce Maggie to so many people. She, as always, was adorable and perfect. I had such a good time.

Here's hoping we can wind up there some day. It was so hard leaving again, this time knowing that I was in fact leaving the place I really want to live, and not knowing when - or if - I would ever get to live there again. Still, with the combined power of all my friends there praying, maybe it could work out after all.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bay Area Bitching

OK I just need to write one really bitchy post about the Bay Area, and then I can move on with my life. Here's what drives me crazy about this place.

First and foremost, number one most annoying thing: everyone who lives here thinks it's God's gift to the world. The general attitude is that nowhere else on earth is worth living in, least of all LA or Southern California. When I tell people where I'm from I usually get a look of pity and then a cheerful, "Aren't you so lucky to live here now?!" No! I'm not! Get over yourself!

Honestly, this place is nice, but have you read your own paper lately? The crime here is miserable! It's not that it's not a lovely place to live on the whole, but there's just such a sense of self-congratulation - like aren't we the best because we're soooo tolerant (except of intolerance, or people who disagree with our style of tolerance, or disagree with us period) and soooo green (nobody drives here except...just about everybody - and they don't know how, and they are rude, and the freeway designs are impenetrable, and the roads are terrible...) and soooo cultured (I can't find a good radio station to save my life and the newspaper sucks).

It would really not be such a bad situation if people just kept their love for this area to themselves, or at least didn't assume that everybody else feels exactly as they do. J was saying today that this is what it feels like to live in a one-party system: there are plenty of people who don't agree with the majority rule, but they can't say anything. Yep.

My favorite thing about LA, now that I don't live there, is that at least half the people really hate it there. It's quite fashionable to hate it there. And you know what? That made it pretty fun and unique to love it there. Yeah, you got weird looks, but there was something about fighting for your scrappy little town - and knowing, in your heart, that you could point out dozens of wonderful things about the city people love to hate - that really made you fall in love with it all over again.

Today in church somebody talked about her recent trip to Southern California and how she met some people (she didn't say how many, nor what part of So Cal she was in) who were homophobic. Then she basically said that all people in LA are homophobic, and wasn't she lucky to get back "home", where people are so accepting and loving and better than everybody else.

OK, I'm exaggerating a bit, but she really did say that So Cal is intolerant (based on the few she talked to) and that she was so glad to be home.

And it really bugged me for the rest of the service. I don't get up and talk smack about these people's hometowns. Why do they have to kick around LA? Oh, yeah, because everybody thinks they can. Well I'm here to tell you people: I LOVE LA and ya'll better not be talking smack about my boyfriend (to quote the great Carrie Bradshaw, who was admittedly speaking about NYC, which I must admit is a city I hated, and another one where people seem to think you're nuts if you don't absolutely love it there).

So Bay Area people: get over yourselves. I mean, geez, if LA is so awful and intolerant, what does that say about the rest of the country? San Francisco is a lovely city, but it's not heaven on earth (last I checked, that was Iowa...not in my opinion, but in a movie's at least). There are tons of problems with this area, hot on the list being the HUGE difference between the haves and have-nots, and how the latter (and their problems) are so ignored - also, admittedly, a huge issue for Los Angeles. And probably most major cities.

And you friends in LA - or anywhere else, for that matter, where you're happy - love what you got. You wouldn't believe what it's like elsewhere!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Photos of Mt Calvary

LA Times has several photos of the devastation at Mt Calvary:

(this and the next 3 or 4 are of the monastery)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Two more things on SB wildfire

Also please keep faculty, staff, students, and alumni of Westmont College in prayer. They have lost buildings but no lives, thank God.

And apparently now St. Mary's retreat house is in danger. SB is home to many incredible retreat centers (because it's basically heaven on earth - it's where we would LOVE to live one day, if only we win the lottery or J can convince poor Westmont to hire him). St. Mary's is a lovely little place. Another that is very important to met personally is the SB Mission Retreat Center, because that's where I received my call to ministry and decided to attend seminary and study worship.

So you see, without the retreat centers in Santa Barbara, my spiritual journey and entire life would likely be completely different. I know God lives in that place. My prayers and my heart are there today.

Requiem for a Holy Place

Mt. Calvary monastery has been completely destroyed by the wildfire in Santa Barbara. This is stunning news to the hundreds of us who have found our spiritual journey enhanced and enlivened by true mountaintop experiences there (in every sense of the word).

Mt. Calvary was one of the world's "thin places" - where the air hums with the energy of the Holy Spirit and there is a sense of calm and peace that sinks into your bones.

It is the place where I had my deepest mystical experience - what I can only describe as an orgasmic connection to the Ultimate - in the midst of a silent retreat. The silent retreat itself was an experience that I will never forget and long to revisit.

I went on retreat there a few times, and several more times (basically anytime I was in SB) we went up the mountain to visit the bookstore and buy coffee. Oh, that coffee! The brothers were always so generous and hospitable.

Several pieces of art from the monastery's resident calligrapher hang in our home. They bring me inspiration and hope daily.

I am heartbroken at this news, and most of all for the hundreds yet to have made it up there. What a huge loss for all people of faith in Southern California.

(I couldn't get much on the story except this blog post.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Feeling Fine

I'm a little slow getting to my op-eds, but I particularly loved these:

It Still Felt Good the Morning After by Frank Rich, NY Times


Thinking of Good Vibrations
Published: November 5, 2008


We are only thinking cheerful thoughts today, people. America did good. Enjoy.

Even if you voted for John McCain, be happy. You’ve got the best of all worlds. Today, you can bask in the realization that there are billions of people around the planet who loathed our country last week but are now in awe of its capacity to rise above historic fears and prejudices, that once again, the United States will have a president the world wants to follow. Then later, when things get screwed up, you can point out that it’s not your fault.

About the inevitable disasters: I am sorry to tell you, excited youth of America, that Barack Obama is going to make mistakes. And the country’s broke. Perhaps we should have mentioned this before. But let’s leave all that to 2009. When somebody runs one of the best presidential campaigns ever, he deserves a little time to enjoy the sweet spot between achievement of a goal and the arrival of the consequences.

Let’s hear it for the voters. Good turnout, guys — especially you Virginians who stood in line for seven hours. A professor at George Mason University who studies this sort of thing claims that there hasn’t been such a high participation level since 1908. You could turn out to be the ever-elusive answer to the question: “Name one thing that Barack Obama has in common with William Howard Taft?”

Let’s hear it for Hillary Clinton, who lost but made the country comfortable with the idea of a woman as chief executive. And Joe Biden, who actually ran a disciplined campaign, given his truly exceptional capacity to say weird things.

And let’s give a shout-out to John McCain. As desperate as he was, he still passed up opportunities to poke hard at the nation’s fault lines of race, religion and region — although he has probably created a permanent gap between the rest of us and segments of the country who feel under imminent threat from Bill Ayers.

McCain ran a dreadful campaign, but it’s over. Give the guy a break. He was stuck with George Bush. And the Republican Party. And the fact that he was constitutionally incapable of giving a decent speech. The road was hard, but he soldiered on and did a lovely concession Tuesday night. Kudos.

Sarah Palin did go over the top with her small towns vs. the world mantra. However, she does get credit for giving us a real understanding of the difference between a moose and a caribou.

O.K., there is nothing positive to say about Sarah Palin. And Alaska, are you re-electing Ted Stevens? What’s going on there? Did you actually believe him when he said that the court verdict was still up in the air? On the day after he was found guilty? By the way, if Stevens does win, it will be with about 106,000 votes. In total. There are more people than that in my immediate neighborhood! What kind of state is this, anyway?

But we’re in a good mood, so let’s forget Alaska. Instead, we’ll contemplate the fact that North Carolina tossed Elizabeth Dole out of office despite her ad campaign aimed at convincing the state that her opponent, Kay Hagan, was an atheist. This was accomplished, you may remember, through the creative strategy of showing Hagan’s picture along with another woman’s voice saying: “There is no God!” If Dole had won, by the next election we would have been bombarded with ads that appeared to show candidates saying “I support adultery!” or “Let’s kill the puppies!” Now that won’t happen. Thank you, North Carolina.

By the way, I believe that during the campaign McCain’s great friend Senator Lindsey Graham said something along the line of promising to drown himself if North Carolina went for Obama. I believe I speak for us all, Senator Graham, when I say that we are feeling extremely mellow today and you do not have to follow through.

Congratulations to Senator Susan Collins on her re-election. The entire moderate Republican caucus in the Senate may now wind up consisting of women from Maine. As Maine goes, so go the Supreme Court nominations.

Finally, on behalf of the baby-boom generation, I would like to hear a little round of applause before we cede the stage to the people who were too young to go to Woodstock and would appreciate not having to listen to the stories about it anymore. It looks as though we will be represented in history by only two presidents, one of whom is George W. Bush. Bummer.

The boomers didn’t win any wars and that business about being self-involved was not entirely unfounded. On the other hand, they made the nation get serious about the idea of everybody being created equal. And now American children are going to grow up unaware that there’s anything novel in an African-American president or a woman running for the White House.

We’ll settle for that.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Wedding banquet

Today's gospel was the parable of the virgins: the wise ones who have oil for their lamps, and the "foolish" ones who get locked out of the wedding banquet.

And after the sermon a person in my church stood up and said that this week, because of the passing of Prop 8, many people were locked out of the wedding banquet.

How profoundly sad.

(I'm not sure it jives with the meaning of that parable, but it was still kind of gut-wrenching).

Need Parenting Advice

Sorry again to people who aren't into the parental aspects of my nature (but sometimes it's all-consuming, as at the moment when I am running on no sleep). Need some help/advice/encouragement from other parents.

Maggie has been having miserable nights lately. We did our first big cross-country trip (w/plane ride) and a visit to cousins (some sickness there). On the plane home, she started screaming like she never has - top of her lungs, very high pitched but throaty (not a squeal). On the first plane ride she was happy, so this was totally weird. Even feeding her didn't always work. She either screamed or slept for 4 hours.

Then we got home and that night she screamed the same way all night. She was very warm to the touch, and definitely sounded congested. We were up with her off and on from 1 until 5, when I finally gave up and got up. In the morning I noticed her nose was running (clear). Her breathing continues to be noisy, and she stayed feverish all day. Friends/family suggested either a cold or a tooth (she's always been a big drooler and into gnawing). Teethers don't seem to help, though, except they distract her. I hate the sound of this cry.

The next day she was really fussy and miserable, but by that night, she slept well. She'd fuss but we could get her back to sleep. Yay.

However, the next night (last night), after a busy day playing at a museum (maybe I overdid it?), she was again up every 2 hours and would only nurse to go back to sleep (she went down at 5:30, we woke her for her night dipe & jammies at 7:30, and she stayed asleep only until 12, after that it was every 2 hours). She wasn't screaming, but she cried her "hungry" cry (still, sometimes she nursed vigorously and other times just went on the breast to go to sleep). It was exhausting - like having a newborn again.

Is this behavior normal for a 5 month old - to suddenly stop being able to sleep? She's been sleeping through the night since 7 weeks, so this is completely unusual for us. She's been a great sleeper, and even when wakes almost never actually cries. This is a very sudden change in her behavior. I've read about the 4 mo sleep regression happening at 5 mos. She's also mastering lots of new skills (rolling over & sitting up), maybe that's it. And she might be overtired because she only ever naps for short periods (20-40 mins), and that 2x per day, sometimes three if we let her nap in the late afternoon. But then, she's always been like that, and it's never affected her nighttime sleep. The problem isn't getting her to sleep, it's keeping her asleep (most of the sleep solutions I read about are for getting to sleep).

Or maybe she is just reacting badly to her first cold or tooth (although no tooth yet, so I'm thinking cold). So it might not be a major problem at all, but just a phase. Still, it worries me - will we go through this EVERY time she is sick or teething? Because yikes. It's really horrible. J and I fought tons yesterday (the only way we stopped was that Maggie and I literally just left for the whole day) because we're both so tired.

And we can't let her just cry because her bassinet is in our room and we have housemates. We're not in a position to move her to another room. Sometimes bringing her into bed with us helps; sometimes it just makes it harder. At least this morning she's her normal happy self (how is that possible with so little sleep?). The last two mornings she woke up crying instead of cooing - totally weird for her! I'm glad she's happy; but man, are we pooped!

What do you think? A 5 month thing? Or maybe because of the travel/new skills/lack of naps? Should we redouble our efforts for naps? Or just hunker down and wait for it to pass? Please tell me it's normal! Have you experienced something similar??

Thursday, November 06, 2008

An update from us

Since so many of the people reading this are friends and family (well really I consider you all my friends and family), I wanted to give an update on how things are going for us. This is personal stuff so if you just read here for my oh-so-brilliant theological/political/foodie commentary, then you prob'ly want to skip this post. :)

The very good news is that me & Maggie's little vacations these last couple weeks were not in vain: John is finished (or at least 95% there) with his first dissertation draft, which he said he can send off to his committee in the coming week. YAY!! Then he will have some time off while they consider revisions, and he plans to spend that time looking very seriously for a job (he was holding off on the job search while writing so as not to split his time). Depending on the number of revised drafts, it could still be a while until it's all done, but at least he's got the first major hurdle overcome, and he's once again available for teaching. This is huge. If ANYBODY knows of jobs teaching philosophy or film or both - at any level - please let us know. John's a great teacher with tons of experience and lots of cool class ideas that go over great with students. He will take adjunct work again for now, but of course we would really love to find something full-time (with benefits!). Location does not matter. He should be officially a PhD before next fall semester, possibly earlier.

Also, while digging through old stuff, he found a paper he wrote that is good enough to polish and send in for publication. So that's also good news!

Anyway I'm getting to the worst part of my semester - the next four weeks will fly by but also be completely FULL. Still, the light at the end of the tunnel is definitely coming into clear view. Every day I make the decision to keep going, but it's not always easy. I don't think I'm taking more than one course next semester either, because it's just been too much with the new-parent demands. At least next sem there's a course on faith & food, so it should be a pleasure rather than a chore.

As for Maggie, she seems to have her first cold, but I'm hoping a few days of normalcy will clear it up. It's not awful (yet). But I have been up with her since about 4 this morning (not the best schedule for a student!). Her plane ride yesterday was terrible, but I think she just feels not herself. We had a really wonderful time in Chicago and Iowa, and it was fun to put the baby cousins all together (and a little scary - there was a lot of curious hitting going on...).

Thanks for your ongoing prayers and support. We can make it! Yes we can (ha ha).

Oh one more thing: does anybody know when it's safe to let Maggie have communion bread? I don't mean theologically appropriate, I mean when it's safe physically. I'm less worried about wine (since it has germ-killing properties and she just has a pinky to suck on), but I know that giving bread to babies too early can mess with their digestive system and/or cause allergies. BTW the places we commune at all use real (leavened) wheat bread. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

If Jesus Ran For President...

I'm disappointed in the jab at the end (could have kept it nonpartisan), but this has some good stuff in it.

I noted to J how "socialist" Jesus sounds, with all his talk of the "redistribution of wealth." And J pointed out that, in fact, Jesus is worse than a socialist, because rather than wanting all things to be equal, he wants his followers to be sacrificial - to give MORE of themselves to others than others give to them. Not that if you have an extra coat you give it away to someone with none, but you give your extra coat and your other coat too! Jesus' ethic puts us lower than others...it means we are the last (who shall be first...).

It's just so un-American, isn't it?

Some random thoughts

Watching Obama's infomercial tonight kind of reminded me of watching The West Wing. I even got teary at the end. The joke in our house was that John cried at every episode - there was always this moment (in the first season at least) when it just got so heart-tugging, and I'd look over and he was wiping his eyes and trying to be inconspicuous, and I'd mock him relentlessly.

Anyway, bless the man, he read Michael Pollan's open letter to the next president. Here's what he said about it:

“I was just reading an article in the New York Times by MichaelPollan about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system isbuilt on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually iscontributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. Andin the mean time, it’s creating monocultures that are vulnerable tonational security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food pricesor crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and arepartly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs becausethey’re contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease,obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion inhealthcare costs. That’s just one sector of the economy. You thinkabout the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is trueon how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board.For us to say we are just going to completely revamp how we use energyin a way that deals with climate change, deals with national securityand drives our economy, that’s going to be my number one priority whenI get into office, assuming, obviously, that we have done enough tojust stabilize the immediate economic situation.”

(The full interview is here)

I'm about to head out to AAR, yay. Mostly very happy to see my family who are coming to watch Maggie while I attend my session.

I got to lunch today with a new prof at GTU who is teaching a class on (drum roll please) food and faith. Well that worked out pretty darn well. Turns out, she knows a lot more about the food side (and the socio-cultural aspects) than the faith (this she readily admits), so it's going to be a fun class to take because I'll get to learn about those aspects I don't know much about, and add to the discussion when it comes to the religion stuff. Plus it will be multi-faith, and looking at everything from gender issues to holidays, and there will be field trips...I mean, this is sounding like something that might even be worth stepping away from Maggie for. Just for three hours a week, that is!!

As for me I continue in my rather confused state, but I can't say much about where I'm at because life is just up in the air right now. Suffice to say that some days I'm a bit miserable, many days I'm OK, mostly I'm happy because mostly I'm with my daughter, and she's the light of my life. Thank God for the other moms I've met, who are getting my through all this, and for my breaks with family, which are more frequent these days. And I'm also really enjoying our church, so that is a blessing. (the ordination thing even came up recently...but I don't know how anxious I am to start down that road again)

Anyway I'm just praying John will be able to finish his degree soon and find a good job, so we can have good insurance again and he can be back teaching, which I know he misses. Though I do love having a great personal chef!

OK I'm going to get on with watching some hard-earned TV. Thank goodness Maggie went down easy tonight. Ha ha - she's like a fine wine - goes down easy, mellows with age. (or a cheese? more likely, with my genes)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Questions from an Undecided Voter

So I've been chatting with a close friend who's still undecided about who to vote for. I thought it might be interesting to post her questions here, in the hopes that you all might help me answer them. This is a long-time Republican (who admits she previously voted "blindly") who is really trying to make her own decision this time, and based on all her values, not just a single issue or two. So, here are the things still holding her up from voting for Obama - help me convert her! :)

1. Taxes: the concern is with Obama's plan which, according to what she's read, will cause her husband's employer (a small business that makes $7 mil a year) to pay so much more in taxes that the husband will likely be laid off (otherwise the owners would have to take a pay cut - which they estimated at $90,000 - and they won't like that). Now apart from the gross injustice of this situation (and what small business owner makes so much that they would have $90k CUT??), does anybody know enough about the tax plan to say whether this is actually the case? It sounds like crazy troll logic to me. But she claims that whenever Democrats are in the White House, his kind of job tends to be laid off (she admits this is partly due to the fact that they have contracts related to wars, and Republicans make more war...but when you're struggling to feed your family, keeping your job does come higher in your mind than worrying about war - and probably rightly so).

2. Abortion: apparently Obama has voted against banning partial birth abortion. Furthermore, he voted for some situation in which the end result was taxpayers funding abortions (I don't know the details on either of these - maybe you know what she's talking about?). She doesn't want her tax money paying for partial-birth abortions. She's also disturbed by this comment he apparently made about not wanting to "punish" his daughters with a baby (which I can't find in any reputable news sources but if you google that phrase, it's all over the conservative blogverse). Can anyone shed light on any of these tales? True, false, or what were the subtleties and details?

Thanks so much. I have hope! Yes, we can - get one more vote!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Serious Sustainability

Michael Pollan holds forth on how food is the link between many of the contemporary crises facing the country, and proposes some ideas for fixing the problem (goes with his letter to the next President).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

I gots no time fer bloggin'

Because I'm happily spending my free time this week (it's "Reading Week" aka fall break) going out of town. So I have to get going on the homework. Instead of doing a real post I'll point you to some ones I've liked lately:

http://videoutintellectum.blogspot.com/2008/10/churches-could-lose-their-tax-exemption.html - Thoughts on prop 8, politics, and tax exemption by John McAteer

http://craig.purplestateofmind.com/?p=522 - thoughts on McCain's negative campaigning by Craig Detweiler

http://www.sojo.net/blog/godspolitics/?p=3009 - thoughts on the broadening of the abortion debate by Jim Wallis

Don't forget to vote! I'm voting early by mail! And for my baby's sake (and because I always listen to her wisdom), I have to...

Friday, October 10, 2008

Food agenda for next potus

A note from Michael Pollan:

This Sunday's New York Times Magazine will carry my open letter to the next president, outlining a new food and farming agenda. It's called "Farmer-in-Chief" and it was just posted on the New York Times website at:


My intent is to inject these issues into the public debate, especially during the transition, by demonstrating that it will be impossible for the next Administration to make progress on energy independence, health care costs, or climate change without comprehensively addressing the problems of the food system.

I hope you'll take a look at the piece (as well as the rest of the issue, which is terrific) and share your reactions.

[I concur! - Stasi]

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Are we our brother's keeper or not?

I am concerned and upset by an attitude I’ve been hearing from many Christians about politics. Maybe this is an old problem, but I just feel like lately I’ve been noticing it more. The basic complaint is that there are all these lazy people living off the government – which means they are living off of taxpayer money. The way that many people vocalize it is something along the lines of: they should not be expecting me to pay for their [fill in the blank: food, healthcare, too many kids, retirement, etc.] with MY hard-earned money.

This distresses me for many reasons. First, I think it reveals a basic insecurity about money (which we’re all coming by honestly these days) which is based on, frankly, loving money more than God. Jesus said you can only serve God OR money, not both, and if one is this obsessed with somebody else getting to use their money (as if any of it was ours to begin with), then one seems to have chosen the side of mammon. Jesus said do not worry about what you will eat, or wear, or how you’ll get by, because your heavenly father will take care of you. Now of course I recognize that we live in a world that requires us to have some means in order to at least put a roof over our heads. But then again, I wonder…there are people who manage these things without turning money into an idol. Then there are people who DON’T manage them, and still are content.

I’m not saying we have to be ascetics or stop buying things (though we should probably stop buying so many things), I’m just saying that the basic idea that it’s “MY” money is the root of all evil. When I got married I had to stop thinking of my finances and J’s – it became “our” money. Now I feel compelled to take it a step further – to admit that, in fact, since all good gifts come from God, I must be willing to return them all back to God. I must be willing to allow what I think is “mine” to belong to the whole world.

Another issue is believing that we don’t somehow hold responsibility for our neighbor, that we’re not our brother’s keeper. I heartily disagree – I believe we are absolutely called to take care of others, particularly the poor, as Christians. Sometimes I think of paying my taxes like giving alms – as part of my support of the poor and oppressed, done on a massive scale that I couldn’t accomplish alone (nor could my church). I believe that when Jesus says if we are asked for our coat we should give our shirt also, he’s specifically saying don’t hoard, don’t take more than you need, and give generously to all those in need. There are ways that the government can actually help in this (there are lots of ways they hurt too, of course). And there are ways to vote with our dollars – such as buying fair trade and supporting local farmers – that reflect this ethic.

This is also why I believe so strongly in universal healthcare. It’s not a perfect system – nothing is. But it’s the only way I can see that ensures everyone at least has a shot at getting medical help when needed. As a Christian I believe that healing is one of God’s gifts, and I absolutely believe God performs that work through medicine and doctors, not just through prayer (though God answers only prayer sometimes too, but more often I think it’s all these things working together). Because I want to live in a society that cares for its elderly and children equally with those who are healthy and wealthy, I have to be for universal healthcare. I have to go with the option that will cover the most people and will always be there for those who need it most. Market-based healthcare denies coverage to sick people, plain and simple. That’s backwards. And when healthy people use it (if they have a job that offers it), they often get screwed too. So it’s really bad to leave it in the hands of corporations and the free market. It’s simply not a commodity. And it’s not a responsibility or privilege. It’s a right. Because I believe in making this world as close to God’s ideal as possible, I believe it’s a right. Because in God’s world, everybody gets healed, whether they can afford it or not.

And whether they deserve it or not. This is another of my pet peeves. I hate this attitude that everybody who is poor is lazy, or everybody who needs some form of government assistance could get off it if they’d just work harder. First of all, that’s a joke in this economy. Second, you don’t know anybody’s life except your own; how dare you judge? (I believe Jesus has stuff to say about judging others too) Third, even if someone is ripping off the system, how is that any of your business? Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. More than that, God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust. God gives generously to everyone, whether they deserve it or not! So if we want to emulate our heavenly father, we have to allow “our” money to be given just as generously and, yes, wastefully.

God’s grace is pretty darn wasteful. He wastes it on all sorts of undeserving people, most especially me. I don’t deserve a thing I’ve gotten from God – and neither do you. So how can we complain when the master forgives the debt of another? Or when he pays the same wage to someone who worked a fraction of the time we did? We can’t. (and if we don’t think of the money as our own, none of this will bother us anyway)

So maybe you think that all this economic stuff isn’t really in the Bible – that these are all spiritual metaphors. Maybe, but I am pretty sure at LEAST the stuff about loving God more than money is about money, and the rain falling on all equally is about farming which was their currency, and giving the coat and shirt is about generosity and sounds pretty darn practical, not just spiritual.

Many Christians only see one thing about money in the Bible – the place where Paul says that those who don’t work shouldn’t eat. Well it’s pretty silly to take that one literally and all the rest not. But even if you do, that verse is about people in the church, not the general public. Once people are in the church, yes, discipline can happen. We seem to have it backwards. We seem to think it’s our job to discipline the culture, and care only for those in the church. That’s not what the Bible teaches, it’s the opposite.

So, I don’t want to hear any more complaining from Christians about where their money goes – unless it’s complaining about it going to clearly non-Christian things, like war or oppression or environmental degradation or even, I would say, a big corporate bail-out (capitalism is not a Christian system). Just get over it, people. Your money is not your own, and when it’s used to help people, for crying out loud, get up and cheer, don’t bitch about it!! As Christians we are GLAD when something happens that helps others! It means God’s kingdom is making inroads on this sorry little planet. And if that something is not deserved or appreciated, well, that just makes it all the more like God’s greatest gift: his son. Does it not?

One final point to address: there’s the libertarian idea that the government shouldn’t be taking care of the poor because that’s the job of the churches. The government should, I guess, just be for defense (isn’t McCain’s spending freeze essentially going to do just this? Huh). But stop and think about this: if the general attitude of Christians is that poor people are lazy and don’t deserve financial help from those who are better off (however they got better off), then how in the world would that change if the churches suddenly took over? If Christians truly believe that it’s not “their job” to provide food, shelter, healing, education, and the like to others, then they church will be the LAST place people will find help and relief. The government HAS to pick up the slack, because as near as I can tell, there aren’t too many Christians who’ll be stepping up to take its place.

Christians like to give money to their pastors because their pastor’s “job” is to teach them and take care of them. Essentially, they see the church as a business in which they pay for a product – namely, the salvation of their soul – and receive benefits such as fellowship, counseling, programs for the kids, status in the community, good feelings, some nice entertainment on Sunday morning, and so forth. (ok that’s pretty cynical, but somewhere in that list there are at least a few things that everybody wants to get out of church) So, if you only want to give to the church because of what you get out of it, then your basic attitude about money has not changed. Your money is still in the service of YOU, and you alone. It has not been given over to God.

I think if the government took Christians up on their pleas to let charity become entirely privatized, the poverty in this country would dramatically increase, more children would go to bed hungry (it’s a travesty that so many already do), way more people would die or be ill because of lack of healing, and generally the idealized notion that the church would take over would be proven utterly false. Because the fact is, the attitude is not going to change overnight. And if you don’t believe the government should help the poor, then why would you believe the church should? The same issues will come up: who deserves it? Who’s not using it for drugs? Who’s got too many kids and thus doesn’t qualify? Who’s not living up to our standard of looking for work? And so forth.

We cannot forget: the rain falls on the just and the unjust. God gives without distinction. God doesn’t require drug testing, or limits on children, or proof that you’ll use your life well. And Jesus didn’t say to check and make sure the person really needs the coat – he said just give to whoever asks of you, and give MORE than they ask for. That’s a really hard calling. I’m not great at it. In fact, I really struggle with it. But I know that it means we can’t complain about these things.

It kind of boils down to what you think government is for, or what its potential is. If you believe the government’s only job is to make war (i.e. “defend” you – which usually actually means defending your way of life, i.e. your possessions), then you want it out of the public assistance business (and you probably make fun of “community service”). But if you believe the government can be used as an instrument of justice, then you try to vote and spend in ways that promote public good, even – perhaps especially – at taxpayer expense.

The final thing I have to say is that this is all, entirely, faith-based politics. I would never expect someone who does not have my faith to agree with this ethic. They might, because it can be arrived at through other means. But this, for me, is based on the teachings of Jesus, and I only hold Christians to his standards (and I do believe these are his standards – but if you are a follower of Jesus and disagree, let me know!). So please realize that this comes from a place of faith and is not universally applicable. But for you Christians out there – shape up!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Unfortunately I don't have time to see this film right now, but I encourage you to check out the thoughtful review from Craig Detweiler.

I did catch a bit of Maher on The Daily Show. He was whining about how God always comes through a prophet - always speaks to somebody in a cave or on a mountain, but never comes in person to talk to humans and tell them about himself, to say "hi" and show us the way to live and all that.

Apparently, Maher hasn't heard of Jesus. Or if he has, he talked to Christians who didn't explain that in Jesus, Christians believe that is exactly what God did.

Oh, well.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Ever increasing separation

I forgot in yesterday's post to mention one other thing that someone said to me at church, and I really resonated with it and I think it's at the root of a lot of what I'm feeling.

She said that for moms, when you are pregnant, the baby is so close to you that she is quite literally a part of your body (or a parasite, if you prefer!). The moment you give birth, that baby starts a lifelong process of ever increasing separation from you.

At the moment of birth, dads meet their babies and begin connecting with them. Moms, on the other hand, instead begin losing connection.

It's why each little separation hurts ... and why I am so reluctant to stop co-sleeping (though we mostly have, but I miss that little body next to me so much, even though she wiggled so much I couldn't sleep most nights) ... and why even having her out of my arms feels strange.

And what really sucks for us mommies is that it just has to keep growing, this separation. In order to send a healthy human being out into the world, we must continue to allow her to be ripped from us in myriad ways as she explores and becomes her own person.

This is a hard thing. And it taps into deeply primal feelings, hard-wire stuff that many of us didn't know we had in us.

But, on a positive note, we found a support group of other parents that's starting up at church. That should help a lot.

And speaking of issues around babies, check out the Film Philosopher's (aka my baby Daddy) review of Lake of Fire. Now THAT was a seriously hard film to watch, and I wound up always watching it when nursing, which was all the more traumatic.