08 December 2007

The Centenary . . .

Speaking of adopting pets, the big college just did.After receiving votes from 1400 alums, faculty, staff, currents students, and even a batch of prospective students, Centenary College (alma mater, hail) has announced an additional mascot. We'll remain the Gents and Ladies, of course, but now we have a Catahoula cur named Skeeter to tote around and love.

What a beautiful dog. And from a rescue shelter too. Even better.

Go Skeeter the Gent!

05 December 2007

Adopting a pet or a child?

Here are two poignant sentences from Russell Moore's must-read article "The Brotherhood of Sons" in a recent Touchstone journal:

It is one thing when the culture doesn’t “get” adoption, and so speaks, for instance, of buying an animal as “adopting” a pet. When Christians, however, think the same way, we betray that we miss something crucial about our own salvation.

So let's learn and love it, friends, with passion and action. We meditate too little on how, through the Messiah whose birth we celebrate during this season, we now have the perfect love of the perfect Father. And we marvel too little at how earthly adoption can help us see that reality a bit better. The reality Moore conveys about the Russian orphanage where their boys lived for too long can help us do exactly that, yet it deserves warning: it is emotionally and spiritually hard to read, making me want to simultaneously genuflect in gratitude for my own adoption as daughter to the Most High and crawl on those knees to the nearest airplane that can transport me to Russia.

All that said, I have one critique for the article: Moore insists that when they teach their boys about their cultural heritage, that means teaching them about what it means to be a Moore, with all its Mississippi-ness, but not what it means to have been a Russian, with all its Tchaikovskian folk opera.

Now, maybe the spiritual precedent would suggest that it's better to know as little as possible about the previous reality but to live robustly the new adopted life. But as it pertains to human existence and adopted life, I worry a bit about this idea. I worry about it culturally, because I think everyone should have broad cultural educations, and a family with adopted children from other cultures has a particular privilege to learn such business with a great deal of personal investment.

I also worry about it socially and economically, for it is often the privilege of the relatively wealthy to adopt, and when the wealthy adopt children from foreign countries where disadvantage is the norm, then that cultural heritage is threatened with weakness and perhaps even extinction. If God has designed the Church with cultural diversity as an integral component, then local churches whose members have adopted have, again, a particular privilege to practice such stuff.

Finally, Americans are particularly good at privileging American-ness. We live rather obliviously to the global community, partially because we spend too much time in our own virtual worlds of materialism and celebrity culture. It's necessary that the adopted Moores understand their Moore-ness, with all its Hank Williams and Charley Pride, but there's nothing particularly smashing about those things. All the Moore boys, and all of us too, would do well to know some "Peter and the Wolf" too, but the Moores especially.

After all, adoption is the privilege of leaving what was squalid and empty to enter into what is rich and yours. But human adoption isn't quite like spiritual adoption in that some of that richness is of the flesh, and some of the yours is really ours. That is, human adoption does liberate orphans from a kind of loneliness into another, like the consumerist supremacy of McDonald's. But transcultural adoption liberates the adopting family from its monotony of blood into a hegemony of culture, like the broadening of Moore-ness for all the Moores from Mississippi to Russia.

For now, to be a Moore means more than Baptist ministers and the Confederacy. Now it means to be a Russian brother.

04 December 2007

Other good photos, on that other topic again

For more good photos about that Bobby Knight business, check out The Times' photo blog from whence the one above came. At least the story is better fleshed-out there. (PS the guy with his head up is one of my students. Bonus points? Er, probably not.)

Mr. and Mrs. Menefee

And now for pictures from the professional, Kevin Beasley.  

Of course, I can't actually reproduce them on my site, but if you want to see the multitude of images he shot of my sister's wedding, go here and navigate to "weddings" and then "Emily's and Craig's wedding" (password phifer).  

I especially suggest you look for the photo of Noel gazing at his navel.  The shots of Craig in the suicide-door car are really grand too.  Oh, and then there's the fun of a wedding in general.  Yeah, that.

02 December 2007


Just as I hit "publish post" for the bit below, ESPN was linking to two stories about the game on its main page!  The links: Tech losses Knight at halftime | Centenary wins.  An unfortunate typo in the former; a simple beauty in the latter.

Centenary's athletics site paraphrases the issue this way: "A group of 20 to 30 Centenary students baited Bob Knight as he passed by.  Knight stopped, turned, and headed back towards the section with a pointed finger.  After a few words to the crowd he disappeared into the tunnel to meet up with his team."

01 December 2007

Centenary's big W

Proud to be a Gent.  And/or whatever we will be.  Because tonight, the Centenary Gents defeated the Texas Tech Red Raiders in a great game at CenturyTel.  

The crowd looked small to start, no doubt owing to the competing SEC championship game.  Regardless, we grew to a relatively large crowd soon and would have seemed rather impressive in the Gold Dome.  Alas, we were home away from home.  

But we had to dress pretty because Bobby Knight was there.  At least until half-time.
At the end of the first half, Kelly and Kakie and I retreated to the C Club area for free munchies and apparently missed the show.  When we returned to our seats, Kelly's husband (who had stayed in his seat during half time) said that just as Texas Tech was returning to the locker room, Knight stopped at the Centenary student section and was gesturing passionately to them.  He couldn't tell what had happened or who started it. 

Then a fellow faculty member joined us and said that Centenary radio had reported "an altercation" between the students and Knight.  But that was all he knew for sure.

By this point, it was quite clear that Knight would not be returning to the game.  The official line later was that he was ill and has been since Texas Tech played in Alaska last week.

Finally, we heard the story from a student, an advisee of mine, who had been standing there and experienced the situation first-hand.  He first told the story to a group two rows in front of us; then he told us, and then he repeated it again to the mother of a basketball player directly in front of us (she had apparently not overheard either of the previous tellings).  So if he was making any of this up, he was doing it well and repeating the same details three times in a row.

The advisee said that just as Knight passed them, one of the students said, "Watch out: he's got a gun!" alluding to a recently reported incident and a bunch of students responded by hiding their heads in mock fear.  Clearly a planned bit of trash talk, and clearly in poor taste, but clever nonetheless.

The advisee then tells us that Knight paused to yell at the students, saying that he didn't have to be here, that the only reason Texas Tech would bother playing a team like Centenary was as a favor to Rob Flaska (our coach, who has some former connection with Knight).  
This is where local news stories stop . . . well, what local stations even covered the game.  KTBS spent their entire sports section via satellite to their main sports guy who reported on virtually nothing, spending the entire segment on his personal commentary about LSU's possibilities for the National Championship.  

So if you want news on this game, you should check out this story on usually crummy KTAL (an entertaining piece, what with the reporter's singing and all) or check out virtually any Lubbock news outlet, like this one.

Anyway, the point is that advisee did not stop there.  He said that Knight proceeded to curse the students and yell angrily.  When one of his assistant coaches approached and tried to help him leave the court, he began yelling at the assistant and cursing him.  Then he returned to the students and took up his rant again, so fiercely that the advisee found himself feeling rather frightened and had to turn away.
The Shreveport Times' photo gallery (from which the photos in this post come) seem to support this story, especially the one above showing Knight interacting with an assistant coach in front of the Centenary student section.  If Knight merely "stopped, walked to the students and calmly explained" his position, why would his assistant need to intervene?

Regardless, Bobby Knight left, not to return.  And Centenary prevailed, defeating Texas Tech definitively only in the last two seconds.  An intense second half, and rewarding.

Knight's son and heir responded defensively to the media, but it hardly matters.  Whether or not he has his father's talent for coaching, he clearly shares his temper.  (Anyway, does the fact that Texas Tech couldn't maintain their lead in the second half at all indicate that Knight's son can't coach?)

We shall see how the story shakes down.  Since the game happened on Championship Saturday in college football, hardly anyone will take the time to report on this game or its shenanigans.  Some of our local sports could hardly bring themselves to do it, but shame on them for that.  

After all, the Knight business is really no surprise.  But the varying stories are.  Which will prevail, the provocative one from my trustworthy advisee who claims to have seen it, or the tamer official line from the SID to the AP and beyond?

28 November 2007

Moral Compass

This is sure to offend and worry, but I'd like to hereby champion this small but reasonable blog post about The Golden Compass.  

Let us celebrate the imagination and guard our children with active instruction, not knee-jerk boycott.  Let every Christian be a cultural critic and a public philosopher, engaging the world (the kosmos) with compassion and information and wisdom . . . not an uninformed grinch or a prudish fearmonger, avoiding the world with anxiety and control and faithlessness.

26 November 2007

Dying Well

The good bits in this article are the names: Tanya O. Walker-Butts, Gaines C. McCorquodale, Loretta L. Pettway, and Dr. Sumpter D. Blackmon.  Apparently, everyone in Camden, Alabama, gives a middle initial when speaking with a reporter from the New York Times.

But the bad bits in the article start early, like the second paragraph:

Over the last eight years, the refusal of patients to die according to actuarial schedules has led the federal government to demand that hospices exceeding reimbursement limits repay hundreds of millions of dollars to Medicare.

Darn those patients, refusing to die on a timetable that would please insurance agencies.  Reminds me of that Monty Python skit: "I'm getting better!" the old man says.  "No you're not," says the Cleese character, who proceeds to beg the rotating "Bring Out Yer Dead" gatherer to help him a bit.  He finally agrees and finishes the elderly one off with a hit to the head.  

An unfortunate picture of our Medicare situation today, it seems.  Preferable to whack the ill prematurely on the head and lob them on top of the wheelbarrow with the rest of the dead than to provide help and care until the last natural day.

It seems rather grievous to me that we would not consider it a privilege to serve the dying.  A civilized society such as ours has ample resources; indeed, we are so technologically advanced that we have ample means to create the problem in the first place by medically prolonging life past when it wants to live.

Let us protect our elderly and care for the dying.  No unnecessary tubes or needles but simple, authentic service.  Hospice can be a true blessing, enabling the ill to celebrate their final days sometimes in their own homes but always with comfort.  What a wonder!  

So shame on Medicare for fleecing hospice providers just because they actually did a good job, continuing to care for the dying even when they refused to die.  And may we all instead show much mercy, learning to show such care to those around us.

14 November 2007

The Day Miss Phifer Became Mrs. Menefee

Last Saturday, the last Phifer woman gave up her maiden name and took on a new one.

We began at Debora David's Face to Face where we got our hair did and faces made to the tune of so much fun. Then to the ceremony site where we all got dressed (hello Spanx) and enjoyed Kevin Beasley's photojournalism: it felt tremendously glamorous to stand about and do normal things while someone else unobtrusively but constantly snapped photos.
After we were ready, we hopped over the puddles as we crossed to the shotgun house on the property and awaited our processional cues.But who can tell it all? The cast of characters is a start. Or the honoring toasts the bridesmaids gave at the rehearsal dinner, the skilled musicians, the festive dancing, the beautiful dress, the photogenic bride.
But then the most unique bits: how the mother of the bride made the ringbearer's pillow out of her wedding dress when she married our father, how our 11-month-old rode in a tulle-laden wagon as the ring bearer, how the bride wore our great-grandmother's aquamarine as is our tradition, how the bridesmaids outlasted everyone on the dance floor and even returned there by themselves after the bride and groom left while the coordinator began the picking up.

How the matron of honor was so delighted to stand by her sister and celebrate her all evening long. To celebrate her wedding and all marriage.

Mumble, mumble

Here's a nod to Myles' alter ego, whose new biopic "I'm Not There" I'm officially excited about . . . not least because it features Cate Blanchett as the young Bob Dylan. So that's two reasons why Myles is surely salivating for the movie. Wow.

08 November 2007

Glover praised by decrepit old man

According to the Shreveport Times, Mayor Cedric Glover gave a "well-delivered and comprehensive" State of the City address yesterday. At least, that's what former Mayor James Gardener thought, but his term ended fifty years ago, and things may have changed a little since then.

James Gardner, who served as Shreveport mayor from 1954 to 1958, said he felt optimistic about what Glover said about Cyber Command and his support for the initiative.

"I think he's doing well," Gardner said after noting Glover's address was well-delivered and comprehensive.
Gardner may be quite a fine man and a stellar former mayor, but if he is the best we have to critique the current mayor's speaking skills, then we are lacking. Even if he was a young mayor, he's pushing past 70 now. What he knows about the cyber command center brewing across the river also seems (therefore) doubtful. Nobody at Centenary can figure it out, so my bet wouldn't be on the senior ex-mayor.

But maybe I'm speaking out of turn. Wouldn't be the first time. Maybe Gardner is young, or a young 80. And maybe he is a cyber command genius. But the Times would do well to say so. As it is, their source made me guffaw rather than aw.

06 November 2007

Cognitive-behavior therapy: just another faith

"God wants us to become part of his redemption of a fallen world, not simply to manage our reactions," says Powlison in a beautiful, lengthy response to a probing comment on the piece linked below. Let us counsel each other toward activity and glory.

05 November 2007

Hold on to the weak

What a wonderful post by David Powlison over on the Between Two Worlds blog. Moves me toward words of gentleness and courage.

(The blog's link to the Mad TV sketch didn't work when I tried it, but you can see it here.)

04 November 2007

Sissies and the gospel

I have just commented on Denny Burk's blog, as he has been following John Piper's comments about women in combat. But I have a few more words to say than merely those. Here they are.

Whether or not Piper has appropriately made application of biblical manhood and womanhood to military combat, I do not quite know. But surely a man can be redeemed and indeed enact robust biblical manhood without taking up as his cause the issue of women in combat. Surely a man can be redeemed and enact robust biblical manhood while still pausing at the sound of an intruder because his black-belt wife could be a great helper when meeting that danger. Does such a man need to be called names by a humble and powerful preacher who frankly has bigger fish to fry?

I recall Myles telling me that Piper preached at Glorieta about how ridiculous he had thought an American couple who proudly celebrated their plans to retire and travel around the country in their RV to follow butterfly migrations. Such a thing would be marvelous to watch, and the journey would inspire much worship in the retirees, but Piper boldly declaimed that as a lifelong goal when the time and money required to do such could be used in much more specific gospel-promoting and Jesus-honoring ways.

So reading Piper's comments about wimps, focused on such a temporal issue as women in combat, makes me grimace. Even if we grant that the issue reflects a deeper heart issue, and even if we grant that the deeper heart issue is central to the gospel, name-calling seems ill-advised. And, as I say, I'm not sure I want to grant those other things.

Heaven forbid that my husband would think it more important to keep women out of combat than to love orphans. Or even to give a barbaric yawp of manhood when danger enters our front door than to extend the lovingkindness of undeserved forgiveness to that danger-bearing intruder.

Not that Piper would state such a preference either. Or that I would hold Micah back if he wanted to pummel an intruder. Or that he would ever pause with wonder if he or I should go, since his wife, unlike a certain martial artist I know (Cherish), will likely never have any sufficient skills to thwart any such danger.

My problem, then, is not with the complementarianism, nor with the underlying intent. Rather, my problem is with Piper's tone, which smacks of merely chauvinistic gender politics.

Having profited from so much of his teaching and writing, I gladly grant that he undoubtedly has sincere affection for our Lord's divine hierarchy at heart. And the cultural weakness of our men and women fairly in mind as well. But, please. These remarks are invitations to lambasting, along with unfair and out-of-context quotations that could put a shadow over his entire ministry. And that seems absurd.

12 October 2007

Nobel, what?

Except for the fact that Al Gore's latest prize is surely putting a damper on my mother's European cruise (watch out! says Mr. Tony) I have had more interest in Doris Lessing's too-long expected Nobel win than in any other Nobel-related news in any recent memory. Here's one reason:

And here's another:

But I haven't even read any Lessing! Must remedy that.

09 October 2007

Please adopt.

This afternoon, I had a meeting at school to discuss how we faculty types might help our FYE students do better research and ask more interesting research questions. When I came home, Gram and Noel were hanging out in his room, investigating the window and carpet fuzz and exciting things like that. I should have kept that going.

Instead, when Gram left, I absentmindedly turned on the television and heard Alexis Stewart (Martha's daughter) lamenting her 42-year-old infertility and gladly confessing to Oprah that she spends $28,000 every month feeding her idol of pregnancy.

My heart sank. It sinks again every time I think it. That's about as much as an international adoption costs, and she's been spending it every month for almost two years now. With the money Alexis Stewart has spent trying to make a mini-me, she could have adopted 44 American children.

Do billionaires have more right to children that look like them and act like them? They certainly have more ability to ensure that product. But the poor middle class suffers most from this idol, it seems; Oprah also featured a couple who has taken out second mortgages on their homes to accommodate their IVF bills, and another couple who traveled to India for a foreign surrogate mother because it cost less than half of an American surrogate. (Notably, again, the latter couple could have adopted an Indian child for the same cost as their surrogate experience.)

I shudder at the financial implications, for it seems unethical to spend money in this way. Infertility has become a multi-billion dollar industry while children yet live in orphanages all over the world.

Thankfully, current discussion on Oprah.com's discussion boards (which I only had time to momentarily skim) mentions the need for balance and some responders cry out for adoption. More, though, praise the information, glad to have company in the infertility wars.

God help us to not idolize our wombs. I am reminded of my own son, who stands (literally) at the precipice of walking and makes us marvel and rejoice every day. But I am also reminded of women I know who have recently carried their babies to full term, but not to life. And I am reminded, again, of the 200+ children conceived as a result of sexual assault, finding love and comfort now in a daycare in Congo.

Please, let us practice hospitality. Will the childless not welcome the motherless and fatherless into their homes? Let us welcome them all the more for having entered our families through a strange providence rather than a medical phenomenon.

08 October 2007

Hardly imaginable

As noted on the Think Christian blog, this is no easy read, but I commend it to you with all sobriety and caution (for it conveys some rather disturbing details): today's New York Times article "Rape Epidemic Raises Trauma of Congo War" should give us all pause as we consider the plight of humans across the globe.

The article features the work of Dr. Denis Mukwegeat the Panzi Hospital of Bukavu, a tremendous place. Their website notes that they counsel women and their husbands, when applicable, toward real forgiveness of their aggressors and perseverance together. The hospital also hosts a daycare for children conceived from sexual violence, counting more than 200 such children in their care between 2003 and mid-2006.

It remains unthinkable to me that such atrocity would happen anywhere, on my street or in the wilderness, and yet this story suggests that violence toward women has become the norm in Congo. And this points us to at least three tragedies.

First, the obvious tragedy that women would be so violated, physically assaulted because they are regarded as chattel, economic means to a political end, mentally and emotionally and physically annihilated by men who have lost any semblance of control or real humanity.

So we see the second tragedy: that these men would become so inhuman that they would perpetrate such acts, and in widespread manner. They not only do evil but approve of others who do so, and help commit the crimes against other humans, perhaps in an attempt to simply justify one's own lawlessness. And suddenly, the standard of real manhood drops: the norm becomes rape and murder, divorce and war.

And the third tragedy remains for the children, some of whom carry disease and all of whom carry stigma into this world. All that results in more stigma and maybe even abandonment, even as they dwell in a sick land that seems only to wait for them to grow up so that they may join the war too. May God heal the land and the people, not just "that" land and "those" people but we who are their sisters and brothers, and soon.

04 October 2007

Emily, the Bride

Is my sister gorgeous or what?

As I approached the corner of Cotton and Common, she suddenly came into view, a statue atop her pedestal, veil flying in the wind.

What could I do but roll down my window and scream with excitement? Then park and join the smiling gallery.

Lots more veil-flying ensued, with both mom and Vicki serving as helper. Noel behaved himself rather well throughout as well. He only ate a few leaves and otherwise enjoyed the show as much as the grownups did.

The heat seemed as nothing, Emily our cool celebration at every location: that temple, the old red-brick church downtown, a levee, and a graffiti wall perfect for her cop fiance.

I can hardly wait for the big day (November 10) when we all get to join in the photos. Kevin Beasley seemed to be having such fun, exuberant and giddy as he described this and that pose, looking through the veil and laying on the ground to get this or that angle. Highly recommendable, he is, for adding to the celebratory giddiness.

And then, what images we get in the end!

23 September 2007

Noel at AC Steere

All right, already! Enough with the demanding comments.

My excuses for not blogging recently include the following:

1. I've been busy. The fall semester started, and I've been doing lots of media writing for the big college. And to think, I even got a new laptop (a MacBook Pro!) and I've had no time to laud it here. My "to do" list is longer than my . . . well, it's long.

2. Grandma got stuck in the bathtub. Long story. Maybe when it's less fresh and more funny, I'll write about it. No, just when I have time. Wait for that.

3. I turned 30. And who wants to write when she's old? Well, me. As per Holly's request, I'll take a photo of my present from Noel very soon and post it here. Just post nagging comments until it happens. To appease the rude masses until then, how about some photos of Noel?

The talented Catherine Humble took these last Tuesday night (coincident with the bathtub incident, by the way) at AC Steere Park. Aren't they wonderful? (Click on the slide show itself to bring up a separate tab/window with bigger photos.)

07 August 2007

Lead poisoning, anyone?

In the Strange strange news report, here's one for the books. Or, more accurately, the pencil boxes.

Today, the AP reports that a German surgeon has removed a pencil lodged these 55 years in a woman's brain.

I can imagine, based on the scant details provided in the story, little Margaret skipping along with a pencil in her hand, ignoring that common wisdom not to run with scissors or other sharp objects lest you poke an eye out, when oops, she tripped and the pencil invaded her gray matter.

Apparently the aphorism lies, for the pencil did not seem to affect her eye. Just produced a half century of nosebleeds and headaches. Small potatoes. So we should say instead "Don't run with pencils because they might disappear into your brains."

Worse things can happen, for sure, but this must be a parents' nightmare nonetheless. And a skipper's nightmare too, according to Margaret: ''It hurt like crazy.''

I can confirm. Once, when we were at orchestra festival, I was running and tripped on a sidewalk, scraping the knuckle of my big toe on the concrete. Ripped a big hole in my hose and left a scar that remains to this day. Just writing the story makes my toes curl.

Now if that isn't the same kind of thing as wearing a pencil in your brain for 55 years, then I don't know what is.

24 July 2007

My mom the cowgirl

My mom. An Air Force family, she and her sisters grew up in Pakistan, Germany, Taiwan, and Japan. She can still count to ten in Urdu and Mandarin Chinese. She's a cultured woman of the globe.

Her parents moved back Stateside just in time for her to graduate from high school as the fastest typer in Texas. Over the next twenty years, she morphed from typist to business owner (not that she can't still type lightening fast), opening a catering company, a series of executive suites with centralized secretarial services, and then the Express Personnel Services franchise in Shreveport that my sister now manages. So she's a smart gal with lots of initiative and lots of pants suits.

But to my knowledge, she never drove an AWD vehicle across any ranch. Or talked to cows. Certainly never bottle-fed any calf. Until she married Randy Glass. Now look at what's happened.

It's a good transformation. Seems like the natural next step: globe-trotter, entrepreneur, cowgirl. And blast if I'm not jealous about her feeding that calf!

Though I've not met him, that calf has already won me, or at least the lactating mother in me. Since he was born, the mama cow has kicked him away from her udders; Mom and Randy finally had to put her in a squeeze chute and tie back her leg so he could suckle. Hopefully, he got the all-necessary colostrum and will survive.

His surrogate mom will surely do her tongue-sticking-out derndest to make that happen. Ride 'em, cowgirl!

09 July 2007

Too clean

Free Online Dating

Because I only used the word "hurt" once and no other potentially racy word ever, my blog has been rated G. I'm a little disappointed. Maybe if I quoted my grandmother more often, I could up the rating some.

Maybe one day I'll become a librarian

Apparently, it's now cool to be a librarian. Kara Jesella's recent New York Times piece "A Hipper Crowd of Shushers" confirms that information fluency isn't just for geeks. Or at least that geeks can sometimes do cool things, like get tattoos and order drinks according to their Dewey Decimal book-title equivalence?

Some people have too much stuff in their brains.

21 June 2007

Quotable for sure

Tonight's conversation with Grandma Esther yielded these quotables. By the end, I was in tears, mostly because I was trying to keep my audible laughter to a minimum.

1. "I meant to put my trash can out tonight. I don't have anything in it . . . much."

2. "I had the diptherie. Did you know I had the diptherie? I got it one Christmas at the store."

3. "I found those cuff links in a drawer in that little bathroom. Same drawer as a broke plate. I thought it could be fixed sometime, would be real nice to display flowers on. But I never did. That and some rags Melva gave me, like ones I gave you."

4. Grandma: "I guess Eric was glad to see you today."
Me: "Who?"
Grandma: "Your baby."
Me: "Noel?"
Grandma: "Yeah, I called him Eric."

5. "I'm proud I don't have a blue hip."

6. "She thought she had the poison ivy, but doctor says it's east from taking drugs."

19 June 2007

Sending to Uganda

The Desiring God blog today posted several responses from students at Westminster Theological College in Uganda to John Piper's book Let the Nations Be Glad as taught by Dr. Dave Eby in an introductory missions course. This interests me for at least two reasons:

  1. Our dear friends Kathryn and Brent Applegate have been planning a mission trip to Uganda for some time now. They and four others from their church, North City Presbyterian near San Diego, leave July 30 and return August 15. Kathryn is currently in search of long gauzy skirts to appropriately clad herself while there.
  2. Dave Eby is now the Dean of Graduate Studies at Westminster Theological College in Uganda, but he was the founding pastor of North City Presbyterian (see #1). The church has therefore long enjoyed a strong affection for Uganda, at least partly represented by their Uganda Children's Sponsorship program. Obviously, this August mission trip is connected to the Ebys' ministries there.
So my eyes opened widely when I read these encouraging bits from Ugandan believers. Perhaps the Applegates and their fellow travelers will meet some of these initialed folk. At the very least, I pray the short-term missionaries can love some kids lavishly and encourage the long-term indigenous ones while there. I'm quite sure encouragement will flow the other direction. May God be famous in Uganda.

14 June 2007

If Grandma Esther wrote 8 facts about herself

1. Jenny, you don't want to know about me. I mean, nobody wants to know eight things about me. I'm just going to stand over here now.

2. What am I doing? First one thing and another.

3. Keep this hammer beside my bed, just case this house catches on fire I'll break that window out now.

4. That boy at Brookshire's, he must have pushed the wrong keys; salad dressing on sale last week two for three dollars, but do you know I paid 3.49? I got that jar in a bag with my ticket and last week's circular; Venita said she'd take it for me or I will, she does that all the time they get things wrong. That ain't right, Jenny.

5. Well, he don't have to be black.

6. Wish I could get a hose and put that gas from my old car into yours.

7. If you'd come in right now, I'd write you a check for Nolan. Whatever he wants, now. I don't want him to not have something he needs. You buy him some food now, Jenny. Don't let him cry, go hungry. We want our little boy to have it all. Something you see somewhere else, something someone else has, you just get it and I'll pay you back now.

8. Call me. Grandma. Esther.

04 June 2007

Another guest post, this time from Auntie Vicki

Since my no-blog mom tagged herself, I decided to tag another non-blogger: my aunt Vicki. Here they are together in a photo from last Christmas, Vicki on the left looking rather like their father, and my mom on the right looking rather like their mother (Santa hats notwithstanding):
I don't think anyone will mind my saying that this guest post comes not merely from my aunt but from Noel's third grandmother, insofar as she does a great deal of mothering toward him and is generally grand. So, enjoy these 8 random facts about my aunt Vicki, guest-written by my aunt Vicki:

  1. I love books. Not just the words in them, although that is like unlocking a mystery, but I love the feel and look of books. I love the shape of books. I love the adventure of books. I love the anticipation of starting a new book – the hope that it will quickly engage me. Then, when it does and I can’t wait to get to the end, I’m so excited about the next book – not always knowing what it will be. Excited, yet at the same time, apprehensive – because maybe it won’t grab me. But – they most always do! And, thanks to Jen, I love librarything.com – there I can see all my books at one time – the art of the covers and the comfort of their existence.
  2. I love mornings. I love the beauty of God’s creation – the way the light comes through the trees in my back yard; the song of the birds as they welcome the day and welcome me into it. I can’t wait for those days when the weather is kind enough to allow me to I throw open my windows and welcome the promise of a new day, a new opportunity. Even rainy, overcast days – I love the mornings!
  3. I’ve recently rediscovered that I love mowing and weed eating! There is something soothing about the monotony of those straight lines and the smell of the freshly cut grass. If that by itself wasn’t enough – then I edge. Oh my, the wonder of a freshly cut edge where the grass meets the concrete! In addition to the beauty and zen-ness of the mowing, there is that little bit of righteousness I feel about actually breaking a sweat and “exercising” – while doing something that gives me pleasure in and of itself!
  4. I fear heights. When living in California, I seriously could not consider taking a job that would require me to be higher than the third floor (although I did once work on the fourth floor – with constant trepidation). The Seattle Space Needle – no way. The new bridge over the floor of the Grand Canyon – kill me now! I once was invited to dinner at the top of one of the tallest buildings in San Francisco. I was with a bunch of people and didn’t want to appear foolish, so went – trying the entire time not to have a panic attack. Fortunately – it was foggy – so there wasn’t much to see. I think that’s all that saved me (and the fact that I purposely sat with my back to the window). But my fear of heights is only related to attachment to the ground. I don’t mind flying – in fact enjoy it. And – one day before I leave this earth I hope that I can take a hot air balloon ride!! High? Yes. But not attached to the ground!!
  5. I once had dinner with Orville Redenbacher. It was at Benihana’s in San Diego – where you eat around a hibachi grill with several other people. Well, this day Dan and I went in, were led to a table with only two other people and low and behold one of them was Orville Redenbacher. He was like a caricature of himself – his grin, large black-rimmed glasses, shock of white hair, brown tweed suit and famous bowtie. He was there with his publicist – and was in the midst of a conversation about his recent trip on the Goodyear Blimp (now that I don’t want to do – height fear notwithstanding!). When we sat down he introduced himself, gave us a round sticker of his face which he autographed and then proceeded to spend most of the time there in conversation with us about popcorn!
  6. I would love to play a musical instrument that would allow me to play with a group (in my dream – a symphony orchestra). I play the piano, but that is not a “group” instrument. Ideally it would be the cello (which I played in junior high school). I love the vibrations of a cello and its mellow tones. But it could also be the oboe. I would love to be part of great music – not a standout, just part of it!
  7. I have my father’s hands (Nancy has mother’s hands). I recently compared my hands with my fathers’ – held them up, side by side – they were the same. I see character in my hands and I see wrinkles and aging skin. I see my hands a lot these days – on the computer keys, playing the piano, holding a book, patting Noel. I think I’ve noticed them most recently because when Noel holds them, or sucks on my fingers, there’s such a contrast between my hands and his. My hands are large, more tanned than his. Yet, I like my hands. There seems to be experience in my hands – evidence of days past and lessons learned.
  8. I love competition – games and sports. I wish I had the talent and physical ability to figure skate. I’d love to play golf again. I love a good baseball game – being there, not so much watching on TV. I’m crazy about game night. Won’t ever turn down an opportunity to play Scrabble, Boggle, Bridge, Taboo, Settlers of Catan, Balderdash – or just about anything. OK – maybe I’m not so anxious to play Worms (I’ll never figure out those controls). I’m unfortunately addicted to computer games – I always know just one more game will be the BIG one! The BIG win! So – anytime, anyplace – deal the cards, set up the board – whatever. I’m there!

31 May 2007

My mom tagged herself

Gosh, I love my mom. Look for more about how and why later. But for now . . .
She wasn't even tagged (since she has no blog) but emailed me 8 random facts about herself anyway. I've asked if I could post them here as a "guest post" and she obliged. Her 8 reminded me what I left off my list: namely, how much I love the game of bridge (inherited honestly from the women of my distaff side) and how I am clearly my mother made over (except for the quilting thing). Enjoy!

8 random facts about my mom, guest-written by my mom:

  1. I love the hand of a fabric. Randy noticed it early on: "You shop with your hands, not your eyes!" I love the folds of fabrics, the play of the light, the weave, the color combinations, the weight, you name it, I love it about fabric. Even though I've always had an affinity for fabric, I'll never look at it the same way since I started quilting.
  2. Air is different colors. My favorite is just after dawn or just before the sun sets. There's a rare pink, blue, turqoise (and too many other colors to name) quality to the space between you and any particular object in the distance.
  3. Reconciling a bank statement is a beautiful thing! I've come upon this love relatively late in my life. It would have been helpful in earlier times, but as they say better late than never. The advent of computer programs like Quickbooks and Excel have brought a completeness to reconciliation. Who knew there would be so many opportunities for my favorite activity: bank and credit card statements, cash reserve and bad debts, associate advances, chargebacks, ahh the list grows all the time! At the end, not a penny's difference, that's my goal!
  4. I'm an oatmeal kind of gal. For the last many years I've enjoyed a half glass of orange juice and plain oatmeal made with water for breakfast almost every day. Recently I've added dried blueberries, but it will take several months to decide if they are a permanent addition to the menu.
  5. I love looking at old family photos. All, except ones of myself. To see Jennifer stretched out on the couch sucking her thumb at about age 3, and Emily riding her tricycle in the backyard gives me a thrill and warms my soul. But then there's that photo of myself, hairstyle and clothes of some unknown era. What was I thinking??
  6. I would wear a long gown with a train everyday to work if I could. I think there is nothing quite as elegant as a gown with a train and I've decided there just aren't enough opportunities to wear one. My daughter's wedding dresses are sheer beauty! But let's face it, that's a one-time opportunity. I did have the hint of a train in the gown I wore to ILC this year, but it only whetted my appetite for more!
  7. A good hug will fix anything! I'm a hugger from way back. I don't understand or even really trust people who don't like to hug. I've known several people like that, but the joy they miss is immeasurable. Good people hug. Or anyway that's how it seems to me.
  8. Finally, I'd like to discuss a finesse. A finesse is a beautiful thing! Getting someone to do what you want them to do without complaint, or hesitation, or even really knowing they're being led to do is a high art. In Bridge, a finesse yields extra tricks. In life, a proper string of finesses could end war.

28 May 2007

Tagged: I'm It

Shannon Stevens tagged me. Walked right into my inbox and said "You're it." Or something like that. Here are the rules:

Each tagged "player" states 8 random facts/habits about himself or herself and then writes a blog entry that reveals the 8 things and posts these rules. At the end of the blog, the tagged person must list 8 newly tagged people, leaving a comment that says "you're it" and asking them to read your blog.

So here goes. 8 random facts about me:

  1. I'm a huge fan of The Cosby Show. Got highly disappointed when a sociologist visiting Centenary several years ago said the show didn't do any good to upset African-American stereotypes and might even have had an opposite effect. Hrmph. I love it anyway. Hardly missed a new episode growing up, hardly miss it in syndication now, am buying the DVDs as they come out. Go on, ask me any trivia.
  2. Like Shannon, I love roller coasters. Even "the old, crickety wooden ones like the Texas Giant at Six Flags." One of my favorites: The Big Bad Wolf in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Katy Valentine and I rode that hanging coaster too many times in a row just because we could (the park was so empty that day), and we tried it out in the front, in the middle, in the back. At dusk, we learned by experience not to ride in the front car of a roller coaster once the bugs come out.
  3. I'm afraid of big things, like the really tall statue of Ramses II that finished the eponymous touring exhibit my family visited when I was a kid (subsequently, I have learned to go slowly and searchingly through museum doors lest some huge thing in the next room shock me). Too, the ocean: I love the sound but won't go past where my toes can touch, because other big things like whales and giant octopi live there. And also like St. Stephen's in Vienna; we got lost returning to our hotel from the opera late one night and suddenly, there it was, dark and looming. We had walked into the incense-filled nave a few days before, and I pivoted a careful, scared circle to map it in my mind: immense rose window behind, the tomb of Emperor Frederick III plus various relics and mystical things in side chapels, Habsburg intestines in the crypt below.
  4. Whenever I hear Willie Nelson or Prairie Home Companion, I feel a little carsick. (My dad made us listen to his one tape of Willie every time we took a road trip. As for Prairie Home Companion, it was always on during my parents' seemingly endless countryside drives on Sunday afternoons: "Look, girls, isn't that dogwood beautiful? See it, in the middle of that forest? Right there. Beautiful." We learned to quit saying "no" because it just prolonged the pause; until a few years ago, neither my sister nor I even knew what a dogwood looked like. And we're working on Willie and PHC.)
  5. Every time I move, I pack all my books in alphabetical order. Not alphabetical in each box but alphabetical per box, so that a box marked "Mc" only has books authored by writers whose last names begin with "Mc" and so on. Thankfully, we don't move often (random bonus fact: I dislike moving).
  6. In high school, I rarely read required books. Well, I generally began them but almost never finished. But in 10th grade, I tested very well on the books: the now-doctor April would tell me what happened just before the quizzes.
  7. I didn't have play clothes growing up.
  8. I have a scar at my hairline where my sister threw a size D battery at me. We were fighting over a tape player and when the battery compartment opened from our jostling it, she just picked up the batteries and threw them, not meaning to actually inflict injury (she was maybe 7) but just get me out of the room, I think. My mom didn't punish her: she was so scared that she didn't need it! And my dad figured I didn't need stitches, so now I've got a wad of scar tissue to remember it by.
So there we have it. Now to tag a few more: Strange, Two Sheds, Sic, to-be Mrs. Menefee, Kathryn, Shelby.

23 May 2007

Are you busy?

So my grandmother called this morning while I was at work. We don't have a land line anymore, so she called my cell, and even though she understands it is mobile, she nevertheless assumes that I'm at home when I answer it. She'll probably remember later that I work on Wednesday mornings, and then she'll feel terrible: she hates to call when I'm at work, even though I tell her that if I'm busy, I won't answer. But she definitely didn't remember this morning. Here's about how the conversation went:

Me: Hello? [I say this like I'm answering a land line without caller ID, because that's what Grandma expects, even though I'm actually answering my cell phone.]

Grandma: [Long pause.] Ooh. [Like I've surprised her.] Jenny?

Me: Hi Grandma.

Grandma: Jenny, did you call me?

Me: Um, no.

Grandma: Well, I was just in the bath [by which she means 2 inches of tepid water in her tub] and the phone rang, but I couldn't get to it in time. Called Jackie because she sometimes calls in the mornings, thought she was at her exercise class but maybe not, so I called her to see if she called, and Bob answered, said she wasn't back from exercise yet, so it wasn't her. Thought it might be you, but you didn't call?

Me: Nope.

Grandma: Well, I hurried out the bath [which now makes me think she could be dripping naked next to the phone, like when she answers the "What're you doing?" question with an obvious mouthful of toothpaste muffling "Just brushing my teeth" because she's crazy afraid of missing a phone call] and put on a bathrobe real fast [phew] but didn't make it. Thought it could have been Jackie, but no, so I thought maybe you.

This continues on a loop for a while as she runs through previous missed phone calls and possible callers, reiterating how Jackie often calls in the morning but it couldn't have been Benita because she calls at 10:30 every night and never in the morning, etc. Then, finally:

Grandma: So I probably ought to let you go because I'm getting cold here. Are you busy? [Absolutely no pause for answer.] I mean I just got out real fast and put on this bathrobe.

Etc, with a diversion about her always impending haircut, until finally she does say bye.

17 May 2007

Curious as the World Turns

It's Friday night. Noel has finally fallen asleep after lots of rocking: every noise, every shift of the tide, every relaxation of a new muscle of his own and Noel arches his back and pins his eyes open to check it out.

This isn't new. Most naptimes and night-bedtimes go this way: sometimes it's accompanied by fussy crying, but usually it's just a long winding down with lullabies. Even at only five months, our son seems rather concerned that he will miss something important if he submits to sleep.

But finally, last Friday night, with Curious George in hand, he falls asleep in my arms and I take him to the bassinet. When I lay him down, he manages to keep Curious (as Micah calls him, even though I insist that's not his first name) in his hugged arms and looks particularly precious, so I call Micah in to look at him.

Micah brings the camera and even though he takes care not to use the flash (hence the blurry image), I am skeptical. The camera still clicks, a vestigial sound alluding to the actual click a non-digital shutter would produce.

Noel's eyes crack open once and he tightens his grip on Curious. We finally exhale, figuring he has not really awoken.

As Micah gets ready to take one more picture, Noel's eyes open again, focusing straight on daddy and widening his eyes. Not long after this, he drops Curious and extends his arms to be picked up.

Nothing to confirm a suspicion that there's stuff you're missing during sleep than to wake up and see daddy hovering over your bed with a camera.

03 May 2007

Lessons from a saint

I wrote earlier about the homegoing of a friend who suffered with brain tumors these five years and finally departed this flesh in favor of a glorified body that has no tumors whatsoever. Now a few words about lessons observed from another friend over Libby's last months.

I've learned so much about real ministry watching this friend (let's call her "Sue"), though I'm sure that what I've observed isn't half of what one could see. Her love for Libby was a true overflow of her affection for her Lord, so she gave of herself in body, mind, soul, and affections liberally and gladly and without pause. This is primarily remarkable because, honestly, Libby wasn't always the easiest woman to love.

What I observed in Sue was a real forgiveness, reconciliatory spirit, compassion, and sacrificial love. Her love toward Libby in those last days especially was tireless, never seeming to remember any former complaint or difficulty. I'm sure the hours she spent praying for Libby in the last months, not to mention the years over which she knew her, are nearly countless. And after Libby's death, she grieved deeply in that hope-filled manner that befits the people of Christ.

Sue often stayed with Libby overnight at Grace Home and stood bedside for counsel. A few weeks before Libby's death, I thanked her for staying with Libby those nights, for I wished I could and knew that it was very hard as Libby was in much pain. Her response was, "Jen, what else could I do? I love her!" And of course, she meant it: no false modesty or imagined affection, no mere sense of duty.

Now, Sue isn't an emotional kind of gal; her heart is simply near to the heart of God, which means she loves all those in Christ with a genuine and sacrificial affection. I've been able to watch it unfold these past few months especially, and it's taught me a lot about how to minister. This is how one must conduct ministry: love to the uttermost, never keep a record of faults, pray unceasingly, regard those the Lord gives you to care for as true daughters, never demand fruit from your efforts and rejoice only in God if you ever see it, never count any of the work as your own but offer it all up to the Lord as a holy and acceptable sacrifice, and give up everything you are (body, time, emotions, mind) to do all the good you can.

All this Sue has learned from our Lord, of course, who did and does all that infinitely better. And all this she would insist is not of herself but is only of Him. And she's right. That's why she can do it. And that's how and why I must do it too.

26 April 2007

Top Five

To honor the last day of National Poetry Month (and to try and keep up with the Muffins, the Two Sheds, and the Sics) I shall hereby post a Top Five:

  1. Four Quartets by TS Eliot (well, and "The Rock" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," but 4Q tops them all).
  2. "Epithalamion Made at Lincoln's Inn" by John Donne (but oh the Holy Sonnets!)
  3. "In Memoriam" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (but let's not forget "Ulysses" and "Crossing the Bar")
  4. "Upon the Circumcision" by John Milton.
  5. and "Birches" by Robert Frost, because earth really is a pretty good place for love.

I have much dismay realizing that those Five are all dead white men, but they are indeed my favorites, at least the top five poems that I go back to and read over and over. Of a whole host of other beautiful poems, though. Five is too hard.

Travel for Jacks and Goober

The organizers for C. S. Lewis: the Man and His Works, a 21st Century Legacy were "pleased to inform" me today that my proposal has been accepted to be read at the conference. To quote Myles, "yeeeeeehaw!"

Now I've just got to write the paper. . . . And plan for a busy fall, what with parading around North Carolina as a Lewisite and parading around Florida as an honorable matron while my sister becomes Mrs. Menefee. Should be eventful.

25 April 2007

Speaking of Mrs. Hagler

Yesterday we celebrated Libby Choate on the occasion of her early entry into the perfection of our faithful King. I would like to say more about all this later, but suffice it to say now that we remembered her wit and melancholy with glad tears, and we honored her affection for music with some fine tunes indeed: the Nicholls women started with "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and Lin Norman closed with a capella "Amazing Grace" featuring beautiful gospel rolls and rhythms. April commented afterwards, "If anyone doubted Lin could sing before. . . ." Indeed.

Though I have hardly played at all over the past year, I broke out the violin for "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," which Libby requested long ago. With Myles on voice and guitar, it seems we did reasonably enough, and I am grateful for the grace that made it so. But apparently there was some dissension from the pews. Specifically, the pew hosting Mrs. Joy Hagler.

Libby was a faithful participant in the church's widow ministry, which enjoyed a particularly high swing when I was in college. During that time, Libby and I, along with Mandy Yeager and April Callaway (as they were then known), cleaned Mrs. Hagler's home bimonthly under the able leadership of Jenny Weimer (also as she was then known).

We all had our stations, and Mrs. Joy informed us when we failed to clean them well. The learning curve was steep, and she swatted at you with her cane if she wanted you to attend better to your duties. The shag carpet was always my favorite: vacuum, then take the "carpet rake" out to lift the flattened lines. But she was generous, and we learned lots there . . . about cleaning and about ministry too. I highly recommend regularly cleaning a widow's house for rigorous spiritual formation.

But if you have asthma, be careful what widow you choose. Mrs. Joy is now 86 and she has smoked vigorously since well before her 20th birthday, so the woman has a terrifically scratchy voice. A lover of art and exotic things, she has interesting nicknacks all over her house, and a wonderful record collection too. She has a certain beauty about her too: Mrs. Joy liked to take out her photo albums and remind us that she won a contest (in Las Vegas, I think) with her long, shapely legs when she was young.

So here's the picture you need: a 60-year cigarette expert, long white hair in a ponytail, bright and beautiful big eyes, spunky mind and smile. She doesn't go many places, but she came to Libby's memorial service yesterday, and that should tell you something . . . about Libby and Mrs. Joy.

But get on with it, you beg. The point is that after the service, she commented on my part: "You sure have gone a long way since I heard you last," she began, and I said "Yes, ma'am?" still unsure about whether she meant this as a compliment or complaint. "But you still sounded good," she finished, with down-turned eyes that meant to convey a little shame.

So I chuckled a bit and repeated, "Well, yes ma'am." Oh my, got to love Mrs. Joy. She does tell it like it is.

06 April 2007

Lenten disciplines

It's Good Friday, which means it's the best day for the exercise of my favorite Lenten habit: reading TS Eliot's Four Quartets. Eliot wrote these four five-movement poems late in life, arguably adapting sonata form to written language, and I esteem them as some of the best poems ever. (Maybe one day I'll post a fives list of poems.)

Two of the quartets, "Burnt Norton" (Quartet No. 1, if you will, as Eliot placed it first in the collection) and "Little Gidding" (No. 4), are highly anthologized, but my favorite is "East Coker" (No. 2), not least because it ends with the line "In my end is my beginning," which one day maybe Micah will let me have as a tattoo.

But we're getting off the subject. Every year during Lent, I read the quartets because they explore the humility of this age and the glory of the renewed age to come. And every year, I find that I love the poems even more than the year before, especially my favorite section, that which celebrates Good Friday ("East Coker," fourth movement):

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
In these metered feet and careful rhymes, we see the beauty of the Messiah: he is the wounded surgeon, the bloody-handed healer, the ultimate keeper of the hospital which that ruined millionaire endowed with sin and death, our only food and drink. He makes us whole on this ironic Friday, such a day of death and terror, a remembrance of the most awful bad. Let the dying nurse tell us the story again so that we might again call it good.

02 April 2007

Things my grandmother gave me

Every time I go to my grandmother's house, she says she wants to give me something, and sometimes she actually does. Today, it was a hodgepodge as she puttered around her house finding things she had set aside just for me:

  1. Half a pan of yellow cake with crushed pineapple on top. She wanted me to take more, but I told her we would struggle to eat what I was taking before it went bad. She thought I was lying, but Micah has confirmed that he probably won't eat any, as it's "just yellow cake with pineapple on top." To take the cake home, Grandma provided a plate, three toothpicks, and some aluminum foil; the toothpicks are ostensibly to keep the foil from sticking to the cake top, but, of course, they poke through the foil immediately, no matter how careful you are. Micah thinks this is a hazard. She really wanted me to use another pull of foil to go crosswise and also wanted to provide a plastic bag and twist-tie to further secure the package, but I refused those.
  2. $5.50 cash. The $5 was an honorarium for taxiing her to the accountant's office this afternoon as she delivered her "tickets" (read: "receipts") and other tax-worthy documents so that he can prepare her W-2. (The papers were sealed with an entire roll of tape in the envelope her CPA sent last year's taxes to her in.) The 50 cents was repayment to Micah for scanning and printing two copies of an old family photo; she has asked multiple times "how much do I owe Mike for that work, now?" and we've told her the photos were only 20 cents each, so she doesn't need to repay us. She doesn't take anything for free, though, so she finally got out her coin purse and even gave him a 10-cent tip.
  3. A pile of scrap paper. Every time I have talked to her over the past month or so, her answer to the question "What are you doing?" has been "First one thing and another, cutting up these papers." She has a small table-top shredder that she feeds the mailing labels on everything she receives, along with bank statements and the like, but the shredder is so small that she can't just shove in a full sheet of paper. Well, she could on the trifold, but that's too simple. And she could just tear them into shredder-size bits, but that's not sufficiently neurotic. So she cuts them with old-school scissors: metal and pointed, with a pinky rest. It's a wonder she hasn't punctured herself with them. And she apparently maintains piles of "to-be shredded" documents somewhere in her house so that she can tackle them all at once rather than bit-by-bit. Ergo, the project requires a good month of paced work. She never throws her mailing address in the trash can (you know, the one that she puts directly in front of her house, a stone's skip from the mailbox) and she gets scrap paper out of the deal. What's more, she can share the scraps: all the size of 1/3 a full 8.5" x 11" sheet, these apparently indicate that the month-long project has come to a close.
  4. A spot of tea. In a common marketing endeavor, Tetley sent a sample of their round tea bags to postal customers and Grandma thought I might like to have them since she doesn't plan to brew tea with them. The envelope proclaims these are "FREE" and "Introducing" Tetley Round tea bags. And it seems that Tetley introduced those round bags in 1989. . . .
  5. A bag of baby spoons with one surprise fork. Each utensil is still in its original cellophane package, and they are bound together with a twist-tie. That package was then dropped into a cellophane bag that has some gold stripes on it, and that bag is closed with a gold twist-tie. Grandma thought we might like to have these for "Dola." When I told her that another silver spoon originally in the gold bag wasn't a baby spoon but one designed for some kind of serving, like the spoon we always use for cranberries, she took that one out and only let me leave with the baby ones. She said, "I found these before your shower and held them, case nobody gave you spoons, but if you don't want them, I can keep them, but if you only have one, you could have another, case Doel knocks one on the floor you can just get another one, don't have to clean it. But Jenny, you don't have to take these, now, if you don't think you'll use them, but I'd like Doel to have them. You know Avon gave me those, worked for them long time and they always gave us things like that, a spoon in every big order, and I worked hard."
All this came after several stories about snakes, a lecture about how to feed Noel in such a way as to obviate all crying, and an offer of a boiled-ham sandwich ("Don't tell me you're not hungry. Oh, Jenny, I know. I know you're hungry." At 3:30 pm? Some of us lunch on more than a handful of potato chips, which is what she said she had today). It was an ironic afternoon.

31 March 2007

198 words: quick, now

Earlier, I announced my knowledge of a certain CS Lewis conference. This evening, while watching the Gators trounce the Bruins (as predicted in my bracket and the warm cockles of my little heart), I emailed a paper proposal for that conference. Hopefully, they accept.

It was harder than I expected to do this. Lots of reasons why, but they're mostly compositional. That is, I have never composed an actual title for something unwritten, and I have certainly never composed a confident thesis before actually writing the body of its essay. But the CFP required both, so I struggled for them and have relative peace with what emerged. Here they are: first the proposed title, then a 198-word abstract for an unwritten but proposed paper. All comments welcome.

Will the Green Lady Become a Self? The Dangers of Self-Consciousness in CS Lewis' Perelandra

In the book of Genesis, no one asks "Who am I?" before the Fall, but all sons and daughters after ask this because the initial temptation struck directly at the question of identity: will humans define themselves as creatures in relationship with their Creator or as autonomous beings? In CS Lewis' Perelandra, the Un-man tempts the Green Lady with Eden's rhetoric, arguing that she can and should take upon herself the independent risk of disobedience: he tells stories about great women and teaches her about beauty, and then he makes those arguments practical by showing the Green Lady her other self in a mirror. As she begins to believe that experience trumps all theory, her interceder, Ransom, fears he may have finally lost her. After all, Ransom knows that this rhetorical triptych—the high call to maternal martyrdom, the definition of beauty as costume, and the assertion of an autonomous self—could steal the Green Lady's affections from Maleldil and the king to herself. Though many have argued that self-awareness distinguishes humans from all other creatures, the Perelandrian temptation demonstrates its dangers: such consciousness leads to independence, which leads to ego-centrism, which destroys relationships and compromises real beauty.

28 March 2007

Birds and other books

Even if you don't like birds or books (oh, heavens, don't not like books!) please read Cindy Crosby's "Chuckleheads and Timberdoodles?" in the most recent Books and Culture. This review of The Birdwatcher's Companion to North American Birdlife is a treat, and most reviews aren't treats. So brew a cup of tea, grab your binoculars, and learn a few new vocabulary words from Crosby's lovely paragraphs.

27 March 2007

This is for Malcolm

Just to confirm that I do take an interest in my husband's extracurricular activities, I would like to post these highlights from a very recent Books and Culture interview with William Langewiesche:

Q: Are you a pilot who writes or a writer who flies?

I'm a writer. Even when I was a pilot I was a writer.


Q: Should we honestly believe that if we're in a plane going down that our seat cushions can be used as flotation devices?

There are plenty of cases of airplanes going into the water and people surviving. What to do in that case is not difficult to remember. Get the hell of out the plane and don't wear your high heels down the inflatable exit ramp.

All righty, then.

This reminds me of that night outside Portland, Oregon, when we accidentally passed the Spruce Goose. We had been to a wedding in Medford, though we had stayed in Ashland at the beautiful Ashland Springs Hotel. We spent the post-wedding afternoon in the redwood forest ogling gigantic trees and then took a leisurely drive up the Oregon coast the next day because we were flying back home from Portland the day after that.

So we stopped at various points to watch creatures and eat local desserts and such, but as darkness achieved its westward creep from the east, we set our faces toward Portland. Until we saw this:

Imagine that the sky is a beautiful black and you haven't passed anything worth discussing in a while. Imagine that you're just driving down the highway and happen to glance left as you're approaching a huge hangar full of a huge airplane some ways off the road. Imagine that you say to your pilot husband, "Look, look" and the car drifts in the direction you are gesturing almost instinctually.

We can hardly close our jaws as we turn off the road and drive toward it, for the plane keeps getting bigger and bigger. I scramble for some kind of guide book that might tell us what we see, but signage finally makes it clear: that's the Spruce Goose.

Of course, the museum is closed because it's past dinnertime, but we park and walk around the hangar. The all-glass front wall lets you see the thing fairly well; what you can't see in the photo above is that other small planes (like the ones Micah flies on a regular basis) are lined up for display under the Spruce Goose's wings. The photo below might help you get a sense of scale: note the helicopter flying above the plane.

Now, the history of the Spruce Goose is a fascinating one, and so is the biography of the one who envisioned and built it. But the awe I felt driving toward it and standing next to it (albeit outside its hangar, which seemed all the more awful) was oddly not like the fear I feel for big things (like gigantic artifacts displayed at museums, like whales and all other massive creatures that abide in the ocean, and like the ocean itself) but more like a great intrigue for a meal I have never before eaten but suddenly find before me.

That is, it was deeply satisfying to see such a huge, crafted thing, such a bold creativity put so carefully together. And it was delicious to stand and reverence the thing, because that seemed the only right thing to do. Just like a primo bowl of macaroni and cheese at the Steakhouse. . . .

21 March 2007

Today's Mail

I didn't think I'd been away from the office that long. Went by the department to check mail at least two months ago. Apparently I should have gone earlier, because today I found on my desk a big USPS bin, which our friendly campus mail persons must have lugged over to keep the stuff from overflowing onto the floor.

So I lugged the bin downstairs to the car and just sifted through it all at home. What was inside?

  1. Eight free textbooks I did not request but am cool with receiving. One publishing company sent books they've sent me before (that time upon request).
  2. Lots and lots of marketing material from various publishing companies that want me to buy books. I'll request at least one as a possible teaching text and put several others on my wish list.
  3. Several interoffice memos: one from the music secretary who's filling in for me as ODK faculty secretary while I'm on leave and doing a much more brilliant and generous job than I think I'd have ever done, another from the public relations office sending copies of invoices related to marketing we did for Lauren Winner's visit last November, another from the FYE program chair inviting me to read the philosophy and goals for a similar program at St. Lawrence University, another with the minutes from a previous faculty meeting, and yet another from the registrar's office informing me that one of my advisees is failing two courses.
  4. One wedding invitation, announcing the to-be wedded bliss of a former student and notifying me as to his two registries.
  5. A few brochures for summer writing programs at other universities.
  6. Two bits from Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion received via inter-library loan: an essay by poet Scott Cairns entitled "The End of Suffering" and an interview with Alice McDermott. More on those later, no doubt.
  7. An envelope from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary announcing their "CS Lewis: The Man and His Work – a 21st Century Legacy" conference this October. The poster they sent is beautiful, and so is the conference. Arthur, we must go! CFP has a March 31 deadline. Can we make it? Let's go anyway.
  8. And then, at the bottom of the bin, a Noel gift from one of my favorite writers. Two board books and a simple card. Very, very cool. It's the positive yin of the negative yang that came to light yesterday when a visitor responded to Noel's active legs by saying it will be okay if, when Noel starts moving on his own, he annihilates some of the books on my lower bookshelves, because they're replaceable, and I nodded nervously because I guess she's right, but I can quickly form lots of arguments for how no book is really replaceable, especially the author-signed ones that sit on those lower shelves. And I'll be derned if the kid rips those pages up or marks out my marginalia with some Crayola. Shifty better be ready for a new box in our moving oeuvre: not just "Ma to Mc" but "signed by author so don't leave these in the sun, cuh." Anyway, receiving in today's mail two Happy Noel books from that giver is the inverse of happy Noel one day taking a crayon to one of my books. That's the point.
So we read the two new books to Noel as he emerged from the bath tonight, hoping to again instill in him the truth that books are our friends. Then I pasted Boudreaux's on his you-know-where, put a doubler in his diaper, and handed him off to Micah for rocking to sleep. Now he's slumbering, and we're blogging. What an evening.

14 March 2007

Plagiarism at home

Well, this story is ridiculous. If sad and pathetic equals ridiculous. And ridiculously close to home, seeing that the plagiarized Dr. Sikes' office is almost directly under mine at Centenary.

The quotations provided by the accused plagiarists (what a father-daughter pair) remind me more of undergraduates blubbering in my own office when caught red-handed rather than established academics. Unbelievable. If the claims are correct (indeed, if the narrative borrows 90% from another document, they surely are) this woman's PhD should definitely be revoked. How can we require honorable scholarship from students if teachers don't even require it of themselves?

13 March 2007

How Christians Spend Money

Maybe it's because I spent the morning reading about missionary work in Kenya and thinking about other work going on in Uganda. Maybe it's because Sunday night I finally watched The Departed and felt inimitably sad afterwards because of this world's brokenness and how we brought Noel (albeit broken too) into it, such that I am more eager than before for our righteous God to make this world right. And fast, no more dilly-dallying.

But whatever the reason, when a coworker sent an email flyer about a Christian comedian coming to town, I was slightly more than frowny. After all, who but Americans would think "Christian comedian" is a legitimate career choice?

Maybe there's nothing inherently wrong with it. I can imagine a gazillion reasons why it seems ridiculous, but those hinge more on the teleological worthlessness of amusement in general, and I'm just not willing to make the argument that we should only pray and feed the poor but never read novels or watch films or even enjoy silly comedic business from time to time ("am I right?" she asks in that Monty Python way).

But the reality of Christian comedians speaks to our affluence in ways that unsettle me. The emailed flyer essentially declares that American Christians are so rich in time and money but so stressed in energy and affection that they need stand-up comedians to make them happy. And we rich American Christians have so many ways to spend our money that the church needs to organize entertainment for us so that we can feel like we're doing Christian things when we're really just laughing at clean jokes instead of dirty ones. We love to disengage our minds and spend money, and we're practiced at both. We must do them, must.

So it may not be wrong (I certainly don't mean to pick a fight with the coworker about it), but it bugs me. Then again, maybe I'm just a bitter codger who needs to laugh a little.