Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!
¡Feliz Navidad!

Here are some photos from assorted Christmas gatherings and traditions.

Lots of fireworks coming from all directions at midnight on Christmas Eve add greatly to the excitement! (this is the street in front of my apartment) Note the one just taking off out of the plastic jug...The fireworks start at about midnight, and run for about half an hour. This is not a controlled fireworks show, but every family in the city setting off their own fireworks in the streets, on the roof, everywhere!

Christmas tree in Sololá.

Melany and Irvin with an Irvin-sized tree.

My landlady and her family, waiting for midnight.

Commercialism and capitalism at it's best; a Christmas picture
with my friends Astrid, Lourdes, Irvin...and millions of teddy bears.

And, the fireworks on New Year's to top it off, video taken from the roof of my friend Shannon's apartment. (On Christmas it's just as exciting)

Everyone in the city setting off fireworks, coming from all directions!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


This is November 1st in Santiago Sacatepéquez. It's the day of the dead, or all saints day. They make these kites, fly them, present them and the town cemetery fills with people, flying kites, building kites, eating, watching, taking pictures, sitting on the tombs, etc. It's an amazing event.

These kites are possibly my favorite thing about Guatemala. These are the giant ones...not fly-able, but just look at how beautiful they are!! And how long it must have taken each team of young adults to make them...out of tissue paper, packing tape and bamboo.

And here's a video: fun stuff!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Grace and Mercy

I just had a wonderful lunch with two young women who are from Central America. One is Nicaraguan and has studied law, and the other is from El Salvador and is a doctor. They came over to my apartment and we made rice, beans, plantains, and a salad of cabbage, cucumber and tomato with key lime juice and salt. The food, and the Spanish we spoke, were Central American. It was lovely to hear them say "Fíjate que..." and "vos." We danced in my studio apartment to Nicaraguan marimba music and I sent them home with lots of leftovers. We talked about living in a foreign country, and we praised and criticized the United States and Nicaragua. They thought Chacocente was a great project for its attempt to help people become independent, instead of giving them charity. It was a wonderful conversation about religion, architecture, race, poverty, culture, homeplace, Spanish grammar, stress, and family. I am so grateful. Sometimes I feel so alienated from my experience in Central America, and from the person I was while I lived there. Talking with them helped me feel more reconciliation between my two selves. When they left, I felt I was the precious participant in grace and mercy, which seem so often to arrive unexpectedly. Aleluia.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Guatemala #15: The story of 2008 part 4

Okay, I lied, this is also the best!

Ángel, playing and singing a song that he wrote:)

Here are the words (loosely translated)

I'm just a little bird, who wants to know more about God
When I go to school, I'm happy, singing to the Lord

Guatemala #15: The story of 2008 part 3

And.....the best for last! These are pictures from an activity we did during the past two weeks (the equivalent of a summer camp) with children every weekday morning. We did games, and songs and prepared a musical drama for the Sunday church service, called "The Red Guitar". It was about a cricket who got a red guitar for his birthday that didn't work! No music came out of the guitar! So, the cricket's friend, the worm, goes searching for musical notes for the red guitar.

It was amazing! We did one week in Zone 11, and another week in La Brigada. The first two photos are from the games and arts activities during the week, and the last three are from the performances.

Game in Zone 11

Making the red guitar, in La Brigada

Mosquito, canary and cicada in Zone 11.

The frogs give the worm the note G for the red guitar!

Full cast in Zone 11, singing with the now functioning red guitar!

Guatemala #15: The story of 2008 part 2

Concert in Zone 11

Concert in La Brigada

Two students receiving guitars that they were able to buy paying little by little, thanks to a donation we received to buy instruments.

Visits to three different nursing homes, to sing and play for the residents.

Erin Weaver, a wonderful volunteer who helped us out in June, gave several classes explaining how the violin and other stringed instruments work, and helped Yeimi begin to learn to play!

Preschool music class in the church Pacto Renovado in Carranza. This church runs a preschool, and we helped out every Thursday with musical activities.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guatemala #15 : The story of 2008, part 1

So, once upon a time (in 2006), a girl named Beth went to Guatemala. She lived with families, and learned spanish and learned to like beans, and a whole bunch of other new foods. She started working, and helped start a music school in the Mennonite churches in Guatemala City. She faithfully reported to her family and friends for one year, but then, she might have dropped off the face of the earth for all they knew, as her blog posts completely stopped appearing for months and months. However, she continued working hard and completed 2 years in Guatemala on November 2nd!

Here, at long last, is an update from Beth:

Hello! I've been busy for a long, long, time, but thought that maybe someone out there might like to see some pictures from this year (this year!). I don't think I've posted anything since January. Okay, I just checked, and I posted a couple in January, and one in April. How embarrasing!!!

So, first, some lovely pictures from activities we've done this year in the newly named Academia Menonita de Artes y Recreación (AMAR), or Mennonite Academy of Arts and Recreacion. The acronym spells the verb "to love" in Spanish, which expresses what we hope this space to be for people, a space of love, respect, learning, creativity, expression...a safe space. These first pictures are from concerts we've done this year with students from three different communities in and around Guatemala City (Zone 11, La Brigada and Bárcenas Villa Nueva, for those keeping score at home, haha). The distance between the two farthest communities is 2 to 2 1/2 hours by bus.

A picture's worth a thousand words! (or at least I hope it is, at least these pictures will give you a bit of an idea of what we have been up to).

Blessings, Beth

p.s. - look for more updates soon, I've got a bunch more pictures and possibly videos I'd like to put up!

Children miming playing the recorder and the keyboard to the music that I played with another teacher.

Children demonstrating their newly acquired music literacy!!

Second year guitar students from Mixco playing and singing at the Mennonite Church Jesús Luz y Vida in Boca del Monte. (Jesus Light and Life Church)

First year guitar students playing a chord progression in Bárcenas Villa Nueva.

Giant musical notes! Kids demonstrating music literacy in La Brigada, Mixco.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

alison bechdel

I have a lot to say about the anti-Prop 8 March I went to yesterday, but that's not what this post is about.

I went to an amazing book talk by Alison Bechdel, one of my favorite cartoonists/graphic novelists/etc, the other day. I don't usually post just to link to other blogs, but, I mean, seriously, when I get mentioned in famous people's blogs, that's pretty damn cool.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

a break in mood

It's been too long since I posted something silly. And since today I'm writing the "sin and suffering" chapter of my constructive theology, I must post someone else's silliness.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up with Alison Dennis: the silliness only increases. It is deep and wide, like the love of our Lord.

Note: Alison Dennis is a former housemate and fellow devotee of Jeebusism, one of the best fake religions I've ever helped make up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

more vision, less perishing?

Look, as I said before, I'm not sure how much I even believe in this stuff. But I went home after the spirituality and sexuality performance, and I watched the returns with my friends and housemates.

When they called Illinois, I thought about my theology prof, an old-school southern liberationist, who told me months ago that an Obama win, for him, having grown up in the Jim Crow south, "would be like redemption."

When they called Pennsylvania, I thought about my grandma, eighty-six years old, who broke her arm a couple weeks ago, but who got a ride with her son to the polls. She was not going to miss it.

And when they called Ohio, I thought about Jesse Stinebring, who led the Obama campaign in Oberlin. He ran it out of his house for the last ten days. Sending volunteers out to cover that whole part of the state. Making calls and teaching people how to knock on doors. I went and knocked on some doors when I was in Ohio over the weekend, more out of a commitment to Jesse than a commitment to Obama. Jesse's seventeen.

And you know, when the called California, I thought it was a good sign for my sisters and brothers in California seeking to retain their constitutional freedom to marry. (Now, that looks unlikely.)

And yes, I'll admit, when they called Colorado, I may have shouted "Focus on this family!" and given a terrorist fist bump to my married lesbian couple friends.

And when they called the whole damn thing, I didn't know what to do. I screamed and shouted, and the thirty people in the co-op basement flooded into our front yard, chanting and singing and weeping. When I walked Rachael home after the speech, everyone on the sidewalk was happy. "Barack Obama!" called a woman from her front porch. "Yes we can!" we called back.

I believe that we are the ones we've been waiting for. I don't believe anyone can ride into Washington and save us. I believe in Jesus Christ for president (in the manner of Woody Guthrie) and everyone else is just going to be a better or worse commander of the empire.

But to have a president who's less Constantine and more Saul Alinsky?

After the speech, April went and got the flag. It had been leaning against the wall by the free box for some months. I don't know why we didn't give it away before now; somebody had ended up with it after an immigration rights rally. But we had it, and April took it outside, and set it up on the front porch. I watched.

Vamos a ver.

Monday, November 03, 2008

voting day hymn

Look, so I'm not even sure that I believe electoral politics can enact long-term meaningful change, under the current system. But I do believe it can make things at least better or worse.

And my theology professor, who is sometimes one of the most cynical guys I know, says he's "beginning to lean into the hope."

And whoever we elect tomorrow, the day after the inauguration, we'll all still have to start a whole new cycle of working to end government-sponsored racism and war and torture and environmental degradation.

But I'll be at the polls when they open. Here's a hymn to get you going. May it guide your heart at the polls, and in the days to come. If you don't know it, look it up on youtube or something; as DTH says, it's one of those hymns where the tune really fits the words.

Once to every man and nation

Once to every man and nation,
comes the moment to decide,
in the strife of truth with falsehood,
for the good or evil side;
some great cause, some great decision,
offering each the bloom or blight,
and the choice goes by forever,
'twixt that darkness and that light.

Then to side with truth is noble,
when we share her wretched crust,
ere her cause bring fame and profit,
and 'tis prosperous to be just;
then it is the brave man chooses
while the coward stands aside,
till the multitude make virtue
of the faith they had denied.

By the light of burning martyrs,
Christ, thy bleeding feet we track,
toiling up new Calvaries ever
with the cross that turns not back;
new occasions teach new duties,
ancient values test our youth;
they must upward still and onward,
who would keep abreast of truth.

Though the cause of evil prosper,
yet the truth alone is strong;
though her portion be the scaffold,
and upon the throne be wrong;
yet that scaffold sways the future,
and behind the dim unknown,
standeth God within the shadow,
keeping watch above his own.
Words: James Russell Lowell, 1849
Music: Ton-y-Botel (Ebenezer), Yn y glyn

Monday, October 27, 2008

reformation sunday

Let our bones be broken,
and re-knit anew.
Will you break our walls and teach us how to fight?
Will you break our genders and classes?

Our hates and habits are calcified:
Sedimented with the weight of race and nation.
Are you strong enough?
Are we strong enough for the breaking,
and for the reforming?

Make our pretty old churches new and ugly,
marked with the dirt of tragedy and fertility.
Mark us with ashes,
make us your own.

We are always in need of re-forming,
and we are always being re-formed.

(words are not enough... we must resort to bread...)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What I'm Up Thinking About

(I was up late thinking. And maybe it was the coffee I had too late in the evening, but maybe it wasn't, so I got up to write, and I wrote a letter to my pastor. And I edited it very slightly and posted it here.)

A few things, that feel really related, and might even sound related in the morning:

Today I drove with my friend to _______. She had to drive up to take her mother to the dmv, so her mother could get her license back, because her mother lost her license driving drunk. She said to me, "What's sad is that she was a really good mom, up until the drinking and the mental illness started." And I believe her. Because I could see little glimpses of it in the way they interacted, in the way her recently-drinking mom told her that she was a fine young woman. In the art in her mom's garage, and in the story about going to see her dad sing a concert seventeen years ago. But all of that changed when her mom started drinking, when ___ was in the fourth grade. What a tragedy. And now she contends with a legacy of family broken-ness, and she contends with her own self-doubt and commitment issues, and she contends in a very real way with her mom. And she plans out with her sister who will drive her mom to the dmv, and who will have a stern talk with her about drinking and driving. And the whole thing is so heart-breaking. Just so heart-breaking. This, E., my same friend whose life has had more than its share of curve balls and awful in the past year, where periodic abusive text messages from her mom are just part of the fabric, the background of it all. And I asked her on the way home if she feels like there's anything else she could try, and she listed all the things they have tried, and I have to agree that it seems like there's nothing else they can try. It just makes me shake my head. It just makes me snap at my girlfriend. It just makes me sad and angry.

Except that it doesn't just make me sad and angry. Because we ride together, the whole way to ________ and back. And we leave her mom's house, and I say to her, "We're getting ice cream, right?" and she says, "Oh, yeah." And we do. And our rides, both there and back, are full of life and integrity and deep heart sharing and laughing like crazy at the joy and awful in the world. And we stop at the library on the way back, and I pull five good comic books off the shelf for her, because she's been in such a superhero mood lately. That makes me shake my head now. The superheroes in my life don't wear capes one can see.

And then, I ride the train to where I'm meeting Rachael after her bookclub, and I find a lovely little coffee shop to hang out in, and I just take out my little paper sketchbook and draft the rest of my constructive theology paper. It's just little sketches, but it's pretty much all there, everything I think is important enough to write about Jesus, about sin and suffering, about ecclesiology, about ministry, about eschatology. I thought I would have to take long breaks in between drafting one section and drafting the next, but it just flows and flows like crazy. And now I figure that it's probably the whole weight of the day, just pressing me and pulling me, and the Spirit moving through that, and coming out in quotes and dotted lines and question marks, like fingerprints in clay.

And also, today, I talked to my other friend and colleague Nate, who's writing a sermon. And she's having a hard time of it. And somehow, the conversation came around, and we just ended up talking about how what you learn in seminary is to have two contradictory things, two things that are utterly opposed, and that are both utterly true, and to hold them together. I think I went so far as to say that such a thing basically describes what seminary is for: to learn how to hold two contradictory things, ideas, whatever, together. I might even stand by that statement in the morning. And it feels like such a thin place, now, thinking about how we spoke to one another, me on my cellphone on the el platform, she in her apartment with her books and her tv.

And I think about my own people. And I had a frustrating interaction with someone close to me a few months ago, where he came to the city briefly, and it was just exhausting in its falseness and its emptiness. And I went back to my house, and I complained about it to two of my housemates, because they were there, and they totally just held it all. And Corrigan, my housemate, said, after all of my complaining and lamenting, he said, "Well, what's the anarchist version of 'we'll keep him in our prayers?'" And he just meant it from his heart and it makes me cry to think about it now.

And I think about the orientation to American Baptist life that I just got back from. And hearing about missional churches, churches that are built first on mission and only later on the other parts of being church, and I found myself wondering: can I do that backwards? Instead of taking totally disengaged Christians or whoever and making them engaged in the struggle, can I take people who are already ferociously, life-and-death engaged in struggles for justice and give them a place to rest and pray and eat and take heart, and people to hold them and love them and challenge them and give them a little sabbath before they burn out five years into their careers? Well?

"What's the anarchist version of 'we'll keep him in our prayers?'" I think it's probably just that.

The only reason that I think I can do this, is that when I came from a day of walking through heartbreaking tragedy and beloved community, walking in between, the theology just flowed like water out of my pen. And tonight I feel heart-broken and spirit-woken, and I'm writing this.

Oh yeah: And this: Jesus is in a house, healing and teaching, and the man who is paralyzed, he can't get in to Jesus, so his friends, the ones who are carrying him, dig through the roof. Most days I feel like that man.

love from chicago.


Saturday, October 18, 2008


I just watched Strictly Ballroom, a movie I used to watch with my high school girlfriends. We even analyzed it once for an English project, comparing it to the hero's journey. Watching it today, I am situated in several contexts that are new since high school. It is now an important part of my belief system that Jesus does not coerce people, that he is a liberator. Montessori's philosophy of teaching also stresses the importance of following the child, letting the child have choices, giving the child freedom. I have dated David for over 5 years and he is all about liberating the people from the power structures that try to control them (a la Walter Wink). Finally, I have recently been so angry at the brokenness and injustice of the world (see my last blog post).

These new contexts practically make Strictly Ballroom a holy text for me. When a dozen minor characters, not necessarily sympathetic, band together at the end of the movie to support the subversion and defiance of the two protagonists, I cried. There's a line in David's novel about people doing the same thing, banding together against the forces of coercive power, and in his novel each individual acts on behalf of the hundred more who cannot. I cried reading that line, too.

I also love that the defiance takes the form of art, of dancing together. Art is powerful partly in its danger to systems of power. The moral of Strictly Ballroom is not to live in fear, another key tool of the powers that be to coerce the masses. I may add that this tool is especially relevant to the experience of our country today.

Apparently these days I am hungry for reminders that groups of people I don't even know are working alongside those I do know to bring more wholeness and justice to our world, more joy and defiance and beauty and risk and cooperative, mutual power. Hope is just as important as food for my survival. This movie was like eating.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Love and Anger

I just read the first draft of David's novel, which is about the struggle to bring the Kindom, and for book group I'm reading Persepolis, which is about the Iranian revolution. And so for the last week or so I've been very cranky and crabby and irritable and sensitive and wondering why... finally today I had a big wave of grief for all the hard-to-swallowness of this world and realized my irritability is probably just misdirected rage at injustice. I'm still haunted by the horrible parts of the life stories of the people I know in Nicaragua and so my grief today had some specific faces. At the wonderful school where I teach, each appreciation I have for a positive aspect of the education there is also like a knife of wonder: "why is every school not like this? nothing about these children makes them more deserving of a quality education, and in so, so, SO many schools equally deserving children receive fewer opportunities and resources in their education. If they go to school at all. And again, I am contrasting the two schools I taught in, last year and this year. Last year the children sometimes were sent home at lunch because there was no food to give them and hungry children can't concentrate in school. In my current school, one of our main concerns is how to more fully incorporate experiential learning programs into the curriculum. The contrast leaves me reeling, baffled, confused at this world I live in.

When I was done crying I looked for ways to respond to my grief symbolically as well as actively (actively is a whole nother blog post). David and I came up with these ideas: write un-naive wedding liturgy, read about the crucified Christ, go to Quaker meeting tomorrow morning, write in my journal, write a song, (pray). I also lit a candle, anointed my own forehead with oil, watered my plants, fed myself soup, read feminist folk tales AND......(and here's the inspiration for this post)

...listened to music compiled by the Iona Community from around the world: "Sent by the Lord" and "Love and Anger". I had gotten these CD's and songbooks for Christmas and what music could have been better today! They were so very appropriate and there is even a Nicaraguan song in there in two languages. It's so heartening to put faces to those building a better world. The notes about the songs, for example, are mindful of the ways wealthy worshippers can't completely authentically sing words written for poor Christians. In Spanish the words are: "We are a people who walks by the path of pain/ The invited humble and poor are of God" and in English "For the world and all its people we address our prayers to God/ All the powerless, all the hungry are most precious to their God" with the note "In the original Spanish, the text is very much the song of an impoverished people, and it would be impossible for most British worshipers to sing the words with full integrity. The English text attempts to keep some of the deep passion of the original but allow for wider use." There are some readings in between songs and one of them is a prayer that all peoples be fed, even if it means forgiving debt and seeing stocks lower, or if it means a reduction in dining choices for those who are not hungry. I turned toward the CD player in my kitchen and shouted "AMEN!"

I am even thinking of using some of these songs with my voice students (I have 2 now). I already gave "We Shall Overcome" to one student. :)

In a song I wrote recently, one lyric is "I hope they never leave off haunting me, the lives in other lands." I feel this grief will come and go in waves my whole life long, as someone who cares (as in David's song, every lament is a love song). But the encouragement will keep coming my whole life long, too. Here's to the Beloved Community, here's to calling in Paradise with song, and here's to imagining the better world we're longing for. Amen.

PS The title of the second album comes from a prayer wherin we ask God to use our love and anger to spur us to work for justice.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

don't trust the living

I re-installed windows, so I was looking for some snazzy picture to replace the pre-installed generic desktop. My last desktop wallpaper (ah, the mixed metaphors of GUI) was the ancient Orthodox Trinity icon, but I was ready for something new. While looking for pictures of Jesus, I came across this:

Now, I think this is actually excellent advice, in addition to being pretty hilarious. I think it's particularly useful to see everyday as I start my Constructive Theology paper. At my seminary, we finish off the MDiv program by writing a big paper that's supposed to lay out much of our theology: a status report of what we actually believe.

My temptation in doing theology is to only trust the living. My ideas are better than the church fathers, and the ideas of liberation theologians are better than, say, the Lateran Council. Or Martin Luther. Or Kant. And, you know, I stand by that, to a certain extent. But if I'm really trying to listen to the voices of the disenfranchised and marginalized in my theological work, then I must also pay particular attention to the dead.
And one way that I can do that is by listening to what the tradition says about God, Christ, Sin/Suffering, and Ministry. (These being four of the required "loci" for the constructive paper.) I think that too often the temptation among liberal theologians is to privilege contemporary lived experience, without trying to understand the ways that written and oral tradition can represent the lived experience of dead believers.
The corollary to this, lest you think I be taking a turn to the Ultramontanist, or that I am suddenly advocating apostolic succession, is that I must also look for the places where dissenters have been erased. I must watch for times when the forces of domination have sought to wipe out their opponents, and this is also rife in the Christian tradition.
Perhaps I don't fully agree with the zombie, but I should at least not just trust the living. The disappeared, the martyred, and the plain old dead must have a say in my theology, if it is to be holy.

Zombies are on their own.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

on donuts

My friend asked me a question a month ago, and I'm still thinking about my response, so I thought I'd post it.

She's from Germany, and we were eating at Dunkin' Donuts (dollar= two donuts after 2pm) and she asked me what the big attraction was of Dunkin' Donuts for Americans. Since, you know, they're not very good.

I thought for a long time, then said, "I think it's that they're good enough to fend off the despair for a little bit, but not good enough to make you believe that things can be better."

I stand by my response.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

fired up tone of voice

So, I may be sometimes-lukewarm in my support of presidential candidates, but I am rarely lukewarm in my support of my friend's mother. Here is an excerpt from an email my friend sent about her.

"Good news: Some guy picked a fight with my mother about Barack Obama when she was tabling at her new part-time local-campaign job. About taxes and the pharmaceutical industry. He was antagonizing her about how corporations are the backbone of America and what, she didn't want pharmaceutical companies to have the money they needed to research new drug therapies because it was all eaten out with taxes? Did she not care about new medical advances? She said, in her "fired up" tone of voice, Well, no, she didn't care, because she was part of that part of America that didn't have health care at all, couldn't even go to the doctor, so, no, she didn't really care at all about what new fancy drugs his pharma company could make, because she and lots of America wouldn't be able to buy that either. He turned around and left. I am super-proud of her."

There you have it.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Thank you, thank you, thank you

Sometimes I think it is so difficult to get my needs met. People need all sorts of things: community, food, shelter, meaningful work. Since I moved back to the United States from Nicaragua almost one year ago (it still seems so recent!), it has been difficult for me to get these ducks all lined up at the same time. It has been easy to be happy about being engaged to David, but also difficult to be happy in general. I have been making my new apartment into a home, developing new friendships with people here, and searching and searching for meaningful work. The months of commuting an hour to different temp jobs have taken a toll.

I cannot truly express how grateful I am for my new job. Today was the first day that parents left their children with my head teacher and me at school. Yesterday was the First Day of School, but today was also a first day. I worked at my Montessori school until 12:30, then biked home to cook lunch for myself and do chores and errands. Then I returned to school for the 3:15 weekly staff meeting where we learned about brain research with regards to learning, went over to friends' house for dinner, talked on the phone with Beth for a long time, and here I am in my lovely apartment where I once again have internet thanks to meeting my Slavic languages-studying neighbor while we did laundry in the basement last weekend. I'm borrowing his wireless network.

I am really happy. I had a great second first day of school today. I just love my new job. I love that it is permanent, that I speak Spanish there, that I fit into the school's culture and values. I love biking 13 minutes to work with a friend, I love cooking lunch at home, I love my growing familiarity with this neighborhood, I love building on the friendships that have been established in the last 10 months.

For the first time since Oberlin, I have good shelter, good community, and meaningful work, all at the same time. It feels so good. I sleep well and wake up singing thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

For Sarah's Birthday: An In-Depth Analysis and Compilation of Disney Movies

Rachael electronified this for Sarah's birthday, and I'm trying to put this here so she can read it. The internet says this will work, but the internet is not always reliable. As you may have noticed. Enjoy, if you're into this sort of thing.

Read this document on Scribd: Disney spreadsheet pretty version

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Summer Moltmann Blogging: Golgotha and Auschwitz

From The Way of Jesus Christ, p. 210.

"This means that it is neither religious poetry nor a disregard for the dignity of the individual and alien suffering of others when we see Golgotha and Auschwitz together, and say that Christ too was murdered in Auschwitz. The apocalyptic Christ suffers in the victims of sin and violence. The apocalyptic Christ suffers and sighs too in the tormented creation sighing under the violent acts of our modern human civilization. We therefore have to extend the remembrance of Christ's sufferings to all those in whose fellowship Christ suffers, and whom he draws into his fellowship through his sufferings. It is only when the remembering extends to their sufferings that hope will spread to the fields of the dead in history. But where forgetfulness is the order of the day, the dead are slain once more and the living become blind."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Summer Moltmann Blogging: the Solidarity of Christ

From The Way of Jesus Christ, p.180. (I've changed the male God language to female God language, leaving it otherwise unchanged.)

"Let us sum up:
'The sufferings of Christ' are God's sufferings because through them God shows her solidarity with human beings and her whole creation everywhere: God is with us.
'The sufferings of Christ' are God's sufferings because through them God intervenes vicariously on our behalf, saving us at the point where we are unable to stand but are forced to sing into nothingness: God is for us.
'The sufferings of Christ' are God's sufferings, finally, because out of them the new creation of all things is born: We come from God.
Solidarity, vicarious power and rebirth are the divine dimensions in the sufferings of Christ. Christ is with us, Christ is for us, and in Christ we are a new creation. In what sense is God love? God is the power of solidarity, the vicarious, the regenerating power."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Our Weekend in Oberlin

Here are the lyrics to the song we sang on Sunday in Peace Community Church in Oberlin. David and I bussed to town for our first two sessions of premarital counseling with Steve and Mary. I did two solos in church today: I sang about the day when peace will come, and I sang "Give Me Jesus." Lately my mourning for the brokenness of the world has been so close to the surface that a song like the one below just undoes me; I long so painfully for "slaves set free and children fed". I've noticed that my yearning for justice, my mourning of the suffering in the world, requires a balance of personal devotion to a Jesus-person who specifically loves me and cares for my wholeness. As in, Jesus washed the disciples' feet before he defied the Empire. One day I was doing music with Tom and we were singing about laying down our weapons and being faithful and serving the world, and then we sang "Give Me Jesus", and I could put everything aside and just be broken and simple and needing just love. After working for a better world, we just need some arms to rest in. So the song "Give me Jesus" in church today was a good balance to the one below. David spoke about Ezekiel, and the dry bones of despair and death and violence and poverty in our world. He spoke about bones coming together when healing happens, when unlikely folks learn to love one another, when we find those who will walk with us. He talked about running from the tomb when the stone has been rolled back, because we can't bear the thought of resurrection; and he ended by saying that Jesus pursues us and we cannot outrun him. He sat down and the congregation shared communion. Then we sang:

When all is ended, time and troubles past, shall all be mended, sin and death outcast? In hope we sing, and hope to sing at last: Alleluia! Alleluia!

As in the night, when lightning flickers free, and gives a glimpse of distant hill and tree, each flash of good discloses what will be: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Against all hope, our weary times have known wars ended, peace declared, compassion shown, great days of freedom, tyrants overthrown: Alleluia! Alleluia!

Then do not cheat the poor, who long for bread, with dreamworlds in the sky or in the head, but sing of slaves set free, and children fed: Alleluia! Alleluia!

With earthy faith we sing a song of heaven: all life fulfilled, all loved, all wrong forgiven. Christ is our sign of hope, for Christ is risen: Alleluia! Alleluia!

With all creation, pain and anger past, evil exhausted, love supreme at last, alive in God, we'll sing an unsurpassed Alleluia! Alleluia!

Words: Brian Wren (Rachael's favorite hymnologist!!!), 1998
Music: Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

copyright 1989 Hope Publishing Co.

I think it is a good time for me to be getting married; it gives me a deep celebration in a world full of reasons to despair.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

summer moltmann blogging: sabbath and autonomous zones

I've talked before about Hakim Bey's book Temporary Autonomous Zones. The idea is that it's important to create small, even temporary places where domination-free life can be experienced. This is more effective as a revolutionary tactic than overthrowing a dominating state or system, as such a system will immediately crush you the moment you get enough power to threaten it. With the T.A.Z. thing, folks can experience what this other life is like, and get excited about starting their own autonomous zones. Bey stresses that these can be the size of a city or a bed. I see good churches at such zones, and Moltmann has turned me on to the temporal power of such an idea via sabbath. (This time I've made the God language gender neutral, but it's otherwise unchanged...)

This is from God in Creation, p.282.

"In [God's]rest all created beings find their won rest. In the presence of God's existence is the blessing of their existence. Everything that is made has been called by the Creator from non-being into being. Everything that exists is menaced by non-being, for it can again be made a nothingness. That is why everything that is, is restless and on the search for a place where this menace cannot reach it- for a 'resting place'. It is not merely the human heart which is 'restless until it finds rest in Thee', as Augustine said. The whole creation is filled with this same unrest, and transcends itself in the search for the rest in which it can abide."

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I got a job!

Beginning on August 26, I will be an assistant teacher in a pre-primary/kindergarten classroom at a local Montessori school. Since I moved to Chicago in October, I have been working through a temp agency, doing office work that I turn out not to be very suited for. In addition to being an assistant teacher during the mornings, I will teach a few short sessions of Spanish language to kindergarteners each week as a head teacher. Since this still leaves me with an 80% time job, I'm hoping to fill out the rest of my annual income teaching voice lessons and getting jazz gigs with my piano-playing friend from college who's moved here to go to CTS with David.

Needless to say, I am very, very excited about this wonderful new development in my life here in Chicago. No longer will I commute 2 hours a day back and forth from office jobs which range from "just fine" to "depressing". I will bike 10-15 minutes to work, interact with children, speak Spanish, and develop my skills teaching and performing music. I feel very grateful and look forward to the coming year.

Here are some edited-down highlights from the Wikipedia article on the Montessori method:

"In the elementary, middle, and upper school years, Montessori schools ideally adhere to the three-year age range of pupils to encourage an interactive social and learning environment. This system allows flexibility in learning pace and allowing older children to become teachers by sharing what they have learned."

"The premises of a Montessori approach to teaching and learning include the following:
* That children are capable of self-directed learning.
* That it is critically important for the teacher to be an "observer" of the child instead of a lecturer.
* That there are numerous "sensitive periods" of development (periods of a few months or even weeks), during which skills are learned effortlessly and joyfully.
* That the school room environment is prepared to encourage independence by giving students the tools and responsibility to manage its upkeep.
* That children learn through discovery... Through the use of specifically designed toys, blocks, sets of letters, science experiments, etc., children learn to instinctually correct their own mistakes instead of rely on a teacher to give them the correct answer.
* That children most often learn alone during periods of intense concentration. During these self-chosen and spontaneous periods, the child is not to be interrupted by the teacher.
* That children must actually touch the shapes, letters, temperatures, etc. that they are learning about."

In Nicaragua, children were often yelled at or smacked. I am really looking forward to working in an environment where children are treated with respect and spoken to calmly.

Friday, July 25, 2008

summer moltmann blogging: resurrection hope

from "God in Creation", pp. 92-3. Sexist language included so as not to paint too rosy a picture of Jurgen.

"Does this [resurrection hope] have practical consequences? It does not lead to the kind of optimism that overlooks the negative. But it does offer the strength to hold fast to what is dead, and to remain mindful of those who have died. The hope of resurrection brings the living and the dead into a single fellowship of hope. In this fellowship death is not suppressed, nor are the dead given over to oblivion. The messianic community of the church of the risen Chrsit has always been understood as a community of the living and of the dead.... The protest against the annihilating Nothingness must not lead to the suppression and forgetfulness of the annihilated; and equally, hope for the annihilated must not permit us to come to terms with their annihilation. The first is obviously the danger for revolutionaries; the second is the danger of the religious.
...What accords with this faith is the expectation of the transformatio mundi. The expectation of 'the end of the world' is a vulgar error. Like the expectation of the annhilatio mundi it is gnostic in origin, not biblical. It is the means by which many people would like God to win acceptance at the world's expense. But eschatology is nothing other than faith in the Creator with its eyes turned towards the future. Anyone who believes in the God who created being out of nothing, also believes in the God who gives life to the dead. This means that he hopes for the new creation of heaven and earth. His faith makes him prepared to withstand annihilation, even when there is nothing left to hope for, humanly speaking. His hope in God commits him to faithfulness to the earth.

Monday, July 21, 2008

baptist polity: form leads to content?

Here's most of my weekly response paper for my Baptist Polity class... It's about whether Baptist Polity lead to any necessary content, or whether it's just a very flexible form...

In reflecting on whether historical Baptist principles point to any content beyond a form, any policies beyond polity, I’ve actually become gradually convinced that they do, especially when functioning as designed and proclaimed.
Consider the right of the individual to join a church, and to act as his or her own Biblical interpreter, his or her own priest. This is a pretty strongly anti-authoritarian polity, and the autonomy of the local church and the seperation of church and state act to reinforce its anti-authoritarian tendencies.
If Baptists have an anti-authoritarian polity, then I would certainly argue that it will (at least usually) lead to other anti-authoritarian policies, practices, and tactics. Hakim Bey, in Temporary Autonomous Zones, argues that once individuals have experienced life beyond the bounds of domination by some ruling authority, even in a small and/or temporary context, they learn about the possibility and desirability of such domination-free living.
This raises an obvious question: if Baptist polity leads to anti-authoritarian policies, why are so many Baptist churches so grotesquely hierarchical and authoritarian? Why do authoritarian governments thrive in the US, under the hearty support of so many so-called Baptists?
I think this contemporary failure of Baptist polity to be actualized in anti-authoritarian policy is partially the victim of the lack of concern for historic Baptist principles in most Baptist churches. Many of these churches have also used a single interpretation of the Bible as an authoritative break on the individual freedoms of their members.
However, I would point out that this polity is very strong, when it functions. It is not necessarily efficient, and it is often not simple. However, it is very difficult to take over, partially as a result of that lack of simplicity and efficiency. As such, once more and more Baptist churches (and others!) start practicing the freedoms that their forebears taught, it will in theory inspire additional Baptists to start similar churches, or to transform existing churches into places that are more averse to authoritarianism. That is to say, the second answer to the “Why are Baptist churches not actually like this?” question is simply, “Give us some time.”

Thursday, July 17, 2008

netroots nation


Today I'm at the Netroots Nations conference in Austin. I'm here through the weekend on behalf of CTS, tabling for the seminary.

The Conference hasn't really started yet. It's a conference of progressive internet activists. Me, I always thought that the revolution would not be led by white people with computers, but I suppose they have a valuable role to play. We'll see how it goes, and I brought my mandolin so that I can use folk songs to lure people to the Chicago Theological Seminary booth.

In other news, most of the folks here have cool blogger names on their nametags. "Progressive Grandma," "Common Sense in CT", that kind of thing. I'm trying to think of a fake internet name that I can use on the back of my nametag. It should be both nerdy and Jesus-related.

So far, my best ideas are "Just Another Anarcho-Baptist", "John the Whaptist", "M/Human/Cleric 3/Bard 1", and "Optimus Christ." Your suggestions are obviously appreciated.

The best part of my trip to Austin so far has been going to ice cream with my long lost friend. I warned him of the dangers of gnosticism.

I'm a progressive blogger at a conference of progressive bloggers! Clearly I'm a little delirious about it. I swear, I'll post some Jurgen Moltmann quotes soon to make up for it.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Thinking back to Nicaragua

I've been answering questions for a prospective Chacocente volunteer by email. She sent me a list of questions that were easy enough to answer. But the last question, "what was your favorite part?" was really bittersweet and really took me back into my memories of my time there. Life there was just so MUCH. Everything was intense: the sun, the loudness of peoples' voices, the strength of their opinions, the poverty, the separation from family and friends, the pace of teaching school, the commute, the religion of one of my host families. I resisted remembering if there WAS a favorite part, but when I did I got a big feeling in my gut, you know? Tears in my eyes. There's a lot from this experience I have yet to work through.

Here's what I wrote to the prospective volunteer in response to her emailed question "What was your favorite part?". I'm really glad I was asked. Since sending my response to her, which I've posted below, I've begun seeing a counselor in part to talk through my experience of living in Nicaragua, and of coming back to this country.


My favorite part:

This was hard to think of because it was such an intense experience and so colored by loneliness and frustration and being overwhelmed. I did not have an adequate support system to help me confront the poverty I lived in, to help me do my job in the school, to ask me how I was and just sit with me and listen and encourage me. There weren't enough people saying, "how are you? you're doing a great job. thank you! keep up the good work!"

Anyway, the best parts were in the Project. I loved being outside so often. It's just beautiful. Sunsets, the stars, the sounds of animals and the lush greenery (I liked the rainy season best, Marchish to Octoberish), the crops sloping up and down soft hills, the kids running through the corn, cuddling in hammocks with kids, having my students fall asleep in my lap as I chatted with their parents in the cool evenings. I liked going home with Yamileth and watching soap operas with her mom, both of us with our tired, washed feet propped up on chairs, sipping sweet coffee together. I liked rinsing the shampoo out of my hair at the end of a long hot dusty day under a luke-warm tap with good water pressure in an outside shower made from concrete with a view of the sky and plaintain trees and of the haphazard corrugated steel roof of Yamileth's house. I liked biking through fields stretching far to either side with the mountains distant beyond and a volcano smoking to the west, I liked walking to the post office alone to mail long letters to my now-fiancee and then stopping by my favorite vendor on the way to the second bus to pick up my favorite cosa de horno, cornbread. I'm really getting choked up writing this. These were the moments I felt alive. Also hiding in the tall grass to get alone time, or chatting in a dark room with Yamileth and her son in the next bed after lights out but before falling asleep.

How long are you planning to go for? I was there for 9 months. If I had had a friend with me, someone like those 2 volunteers who came for 2 months in the middle of my time there and became my friends, I could have stayed for the whole 12 months I had committed to. Other volunteers in the past who have stayed the whole 10 or 12 months spent a whole month in the middle visiting home to rest. Everyone's different so you should just search yourself and make your own decision. I look forward to your next set of questions.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Michigan to Palestine


Many of you know Nate Dannison, or, as my mom calls him, "your friend who rides the train." Nate is a friend, brother, and CTS colleague, and he's doing an FTE summer ministry program in Palestine this summer. He's about a week into his Palestine time, and he's posting some pretty incredible stuff over on his blog,

He was originally planning to build a playground while he's there, and he's still going to that, but he's added studying Arabic, investigating the architecture of the church of the nativity, and serving as an emt with the Red Crescent. (True to form, Dannison, true to form.)

Check it out, and keep him and his new friends in your prayers.

Friday, June 20, 2008

God and Suffering

What I've been doing for a month and a half: Moltmann.

From The Trinity and the Kingdom, p. 49:

God and suffering beyond together, just as in this life the cry for God and the suffering experienced in pain belong together. The question about God and the question about suffering are a joint, a common question. And they only find a common answer. Either that, or neither of them finds a satisfactory answer at all. No one can answer the theodicy question in this world, and no one can get rid of it. Life in this world means living with this open question, and seeking the future in which the desire for God will be fulfilled, suffering will be overcome, and what has been lost will be restored. The question of theodicy is not a speculative question; it is a critical one. It is the all-embracing eschatological question. It is not purely theoretical, for it cannot be answered with any new theory about the existing world. It is a practical question which will only be answered through experience of the new world in which 'God will wipe away every tear from their eyes'. It is not really a question at all, in the sense of something we can ask or not ask, like other questions. It is the open wound of life in this world. It is the real task of faith and theology to make it possible for us to survive, to go on living, with this open wound. The person who believes will not rest content with any slickly explanatory answer to the theodicy question. And he will also resist any attempts to soften the question down. The more a person believes, the more deeply he [sic] experiences pain over the suffering in the world, and the more passionately he asks about God and the new creation.

This summer at Block quotes from Jurgen Moltmann! Yay!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

the name of jesus

an excerpt from my draft christology paper, for my womanist & feminist christologies class:

I’ve been saying “Jesus” more lately. It’s not necessarily that I’ve been talking about Jesus more lately, those this might also be true. It’s become what I say under my breath, whenever I hear about or see something awful. The chimes that rang in chapel every six minutes to remind us that in the US, a woman is sexually assaulted every six minutes. The police officers that shot that unarmed guy 51 times getting acquitted. All the little kids in my church knowing that polar bears are going extinct. Jesus.
I always resisted saying it, even though a lot of people do it. For me, it was always in that dim “Lord’s name in vain” category, which started out as profanity and has moved into more nebulous regions of sinfulness.
In chapel, my friends were talking about sexual assault, and they hung a torn and tattered t-shirt on the cross. They talked about the radical need for presence through the awful, presence through the silence into speech, presence through the broken into the beginning of healing. I am convinced of this radical need for presence. And when God shows up, radically, I name that as Jesus. In thinking more about the cross, in thinking more about the power of/in the blood of Jesus, I have become more ready to call on Him, more ready to invoke him or name the ways that he is already present in the horror.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

saving jesus by carter heyward

from p 22:

"What I have suggested previously, and will again in this book, is that the connecting threads among justice-making, erotic power, and the JESUS story is the struggle toward "right" or "mutual" relation that meets us in each of these human experiences that can be powerful conduits of the divine. In this project, however, I go a step further in suggesting that our sacred power in mutual relation is so deeply the root of our yearning for right relation that we honestly can describe God as the yearning, God as the desire for justice and compassion, solidarity and friendship. Indeed, not only is God "in" the depths of our longing for mutuality and justice-love, God is the depths."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

invisibles vol. 2, issue 19

general: "Which side are you on?"...
jack frost: "I'm on the side that's got butter on it, I am."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

We are All Starbuck

I’ve been reading Moby Dick in preperation for class tonight. It’s not really a literature class, but it’s about colonialism and empire, and Moby Dick is also very much about Moby Dick and empire. I was fortunate to have a reason to read it (the assignment), otherwise I migth have let myself be intimidated by its weighty reputation and heft.

So: Moby Dick is an awesome book. I don’t necessarily recommend it to everybody… if you don’t like the first three pages, it’s not going to get much better until the last fifty pages. But I loved the wry humor, the setting, the rich characters. So maybe you should check it out. The Dover Giant Thrift Edition (biggest dover edition ever, let me tell you) is five dollars. You might want one you can mark up.

But the point of the post is this: one of the major characters in the book is Starbuck, whose name you might recognize. For those who came in late, and hit themselves in the face with a rake on the way in, there’s an international coffee corporation named after him. I kept wondering why one would name a coffee corporation after him, and I never figured it out. I did, however, come to a new appreciation of having Starbuck’s name strewn so thoroughly and insidiously throughout the land.

You see friends, we are all Starbuck. Starbuck is the second in command of the Pequod, behind Captain Ahab. I read Ahab as representative of the West’s insane lust for power, the mad and maddening drive to categorize, control, and consume everything that is other, everything that is wild or different. Starbuck is a pious, good man, a guy who just wants to do his job well, to serve the Lord, and to return home safely.

And: Starbuck is perhaps the only one who ever has a chance to stop Ahab. There’s a moment, when Starbuck is alone, outside Ahab’s quarters, when it’s become clear that Ahab’s rage and drive will likely lead to the deaths of all aboard. There, outside of Ahab’s quarters, Starbuck takes a rifle from the rack on the wall, and considers ending it all there, by smashing through the door and destroying Ahab. But he doesn’t. After a moment of consideration, he puts the rifle back, and the Pequod continues on its fateful errand.

Sisters and brothers, we are all Starbuck. I believe that if we look carefully, we all can see the deep trouble in our nation and our world. We can see the way our violence and imperialism, our destruction of the earth and our deeply ingrained racism, are driving us slowly to destruction. And we have the power to derail it.

Like Starbuck outside Ahab’s cabin, we suspect that this system can only function with our consent. When we begin to object to it, to drop out, to resist, to throw our bodies and words and passionate hopes under the iron wheels of the Empire, we can destroy it. We can derail the insane lust for domination. I’m talking especially to you: white people, rich people, straight people, US citizens, men, non-disabled people. We have a measure of power that our fellow global crewmates might not share. We are like Starbuck, with access to the power that can stop Ahab.

We stand outside the cabin and wonder.

May you consider this, as you walk by all those coffee shops…

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Data Entry Job

Technically I'm an administrative assistant through a temp agency, but most of what I do is data entry. I just wanted to put the following out there: some tidbits I've picked up in this line of work.

1. I can type "<0.05" SO FAST!!!!!!!!
2. The detection limit of Mercury is <0.0002 mg/L
3. The abbreviation for boron is just B, making it my favorite.

Maybe I'll add more later.


So, everyone, David and I got engaged! It's great! Please see the youtube video below. You will now be the insiders on the fruit stand joke. Years ago, in the space of two months, David made two unrelated comments to me.

I was telling him the story of when I was about 6 years old and left my still-beloved stuffed dog, Shep, at a fruit stand. I had my parents drive back when I noticed Shep was missing, and Shep was still there among the fruit! So one day I was appreciating still having Shep, who would have been lost to me 18 years ago if we hadn't gone back, or if there had been a stuffed-dog-napper while we were gone. So I told David this story and his response was to point out the silver lining in being left behind at a fruit stand. He said, "Rachael, if you ever break up with me, that's how I want you to do it. Drive me to a fruit stand, make me get out of the car, and drive away." Since then he has made up good reasons to support this idea, but at the time I believe he just thought it would be a relatively positive place to find oneself after a sad event.

Some weeks later he (I think randomly?) told me how I should propose. That's how David rolls, I guess, keeping me on my feet. When he first told me he loved me it was right after telling me he didn't always feel like kissing me (we were easing slowly into the whole dating thing) (five years ago). I do admire his comfort level for ambivalence. Anyway, he said I should propose at a baseball stadium or other public place, in a ridiculous way like dressed as a mascot. He said, don't worry, I would want the wedding to be sentimental, but make the proposal ridiculous. Also he wanted his friends present, and he wanted it to be a surprise.

I've suspected I would marry him for years, so I filed this information away in my mind and he forgot all about it. Then when I started contemplating engagement, I meditated at length on all the possible proposal ideas that would fit his casual request years ago.

To make the proposal ridiculous, I wanted to strike a little fear into his heart by proposing AT a fruit stand! How ironic! But I couldn't wait til warm weather; I was way too excited! The paradox of it is just like the Trinity and other theological concepts. And the fact that he came out through an unexpected security exit is like the unexpected surprises of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

HOWNOTTO: Name Your Band

Corrigan and I have been getting up before dawn for Morning Activity. While our significant others engage in gainful employment, we do some sort of... activity. Recently, we tried our best to come up with bad band names: the opposite version of one of my favorite activities.

So, we then did some analysis of the final list, of about fifty names, and found some general principles that one should avoid in naming one's band.

Here goes:

HOWTO: Name your band.

a) Incompleteness, superfluous suffixes. Example: "Distinctiveness."
b) Terrible puns. Example: "The Tree Tenors."
c) Narcissism. Example: "Welcome to My Mind."
d) Un-clever Imperative Verbs. Example: "Question Authority."
e) Trying too hard, over-exaggerated silliness. Example: "Day-Glo Waffle Monkeys."
f) Using more than one gimmick/ clever play per name. Example: "Budget Rent a Kar."
g) No. Just, no. Example: "I have AIDS, Please Hug Me."
h) "Songs R Us." Example: "Songs R Us."

There are a lot more bad band names where this came from. Many are on a piece of paper in my bedroom. The rest are on

PS- We also came up with some bad band names for Christian rock bands specific. The following two fit both in this category, and in the category of really good names for Christian rock bands made up entirely of gay men: "All Out for Jesus." "Fishers of Men."

Friday, April 04, 2008

forty years.

As most (both) readers will know, today is the fortieth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Two weeks after Good Friday, marking the violent death of another hero, who knew that if he kept going the way he was going, he was likely going to get killed. And he kept going anyway.

In the year or so before he was killed, Dr. King was being more and more public about his opposition to war and economic injustice. I think it's appropriate for me to post the lyrics to "Joe Hill", one of my favorite songs, in his honor today. In some ways, Joe Hill and Dr. King were in different struggles; in some ways not.

Here are the lyrics; the song is by Alfred Hayes and Earl Robinson. I'll sing it for you sometime if you don't know it.

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
Alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

"In Salt Lake, Joe," says I to him,
him standing by my bed,
"They framed you on a murder charge,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead,"
Says Joe, "But I ain't dead."

"The Copper Bosses killed you Joe,
they shot you Joe" says I.
"Takes more than guns to kill a man"
Says Joe "I didn't die"
Says Joe "I didn't die"

And standing there as big as life
and smiling with his eyes.
Says Joe "What they can never kill
went on to organize,
went on to organize"

From San Diego up to Maine,
in every mine and mill,
where working-men defend their rights,
it's there you find Joe Hill,
it's there you find Joe Hill!

I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
alive as you and me.
Says I "But Joe, you're ten years dead"
"I never died" said he,
"I never died" said he.

now with reader links

Hey, I found out that it was easy to post links to things I like from various rss-feeds automatically to this blog, so that now happens in the little box on the left there. Yeah, that one. Alternatively, you could just read boingboing and Garfield Minus Garfield yourself.

This mini technological grooviness is facilitated by Google Owning Everything (tm), which is a great policy. Until they turn evil.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

good news

Happy Easter.

Speaking of English teaching

In my last post, back in September, I mentioned that I would be coming to France to teach English, and that I hoped that this situation would inject some purpose into my posts here.

Well, it certainly hasn't been for lack of spare time that I haven't posted about my experiences. I practically have nothing but spare time in this twelve-hour-a-week job, where half my time is spent simply proctoring practice oral exams. It's just that I've gotten lazy and kind of depressed and it's taken a lot of willpower to do just about anything lately.

Let me start over from the beginning.

I arrived here in late October. The first thing that Christine, one of my supervising teachers told me was that the students were mostly from low-income families (I live in the Ardennes, which like much of northern France and Belgium, has suffered from a sort of deindustrialization in the last few years), and that working abroad or with foreign companies was a distant and foreign idea to them, but that they were generally eager to learn.

"Eager to learn" immediately smelled fishy to me as a generalization, because let's face it: how motivated are high schoolers, as class units?, but I was more concerned with the first detail. I realized that I was undertaking something I simply wasn't up to doing. My job would be more than just improving their English. It wasn't enough for me to simply show them how to use the language; it occurred to me that I needed to give them a reason why it mattered whether they learned it or not. I, the stereotypical rich (well, relatively) WASP American who appeared out of nowhere and would be disappearing to whence I came; it occurred to me how little I was prepared to identify with these students. Things didn't look easier when I first met them; every group asked me what I thought about different American TV shows, whereupon I was forced to admit that I was a bad American in that I don't watch TV.

The job got easier, though. It took me a while to get used to the actual teaching part; some of the few classes that I actually teach, I overwhelmed with exercises that were a little above their heads. I still occasionally find myself choosing documents for my other students to report on that are too hard for them to grasp, but it's getting easier. Another important problem was coming back to high school after I'd just graduated from college; I'd forgotten that the high school teacher has to be the one to motivate the students instead of leaving it up to them to be interested in the subject. It doesn't make it any easier that some of the actual teachers I work with aren't much better at this than I am, and some of them quite clearly don't care. Hervé, who is technically my immediate supervisor, asks me how things went in his class and I tell him about the difficulties one of his students had with the exercise; he shrugs and says, "Oui, mais c'est qu'il est nul, lui" ("Yes, but that's just because he's no good").

Part of the problem with evaluating my students is that the criteria are generally limited to their ability to express themselves in English, and not to the content of their expression. That is, they can make an eloquent exhibition of their ignorance or their total lack of understanding of the subject they are describing, and it counts as good enough according to the rubric as long as their English is good. I don't like being a tough grader, so this suits me pretty well, but it's been hard at times not to let the things they say get to me.

One girl, when giving me an oral report on the famous picture of the guy standing in front of the tanks to stop them from going to Tien An Men Square, presumed that they were American tanks in a recent picture, not even leaving room for doubt, and said something to the effect of "I presume this picture is from the war in Iraq because these are American tanks and the United States is always the first to wage war". I struggled to keep my poker face after hearing that one. Not all of the things they say are upsetting, but they can certainly be baffling: one girl told me, and convinced her partner to tell me as well, that a coffin draped with the American flag was probably that of Lady Diana because uniforms of the soldiers carrying it apparently reminded her of the Royal Guard. Ehm,... not quite, but she explained her reasoning clearly in English, so I gave her the credit. One boy, while explaining to me a passage from Frankenstein while reading from his partner's notes (they had to analyse both the extract and a picture, and one of them just did the text and the other just did the picture and they simply traded notes for the presentation; I decided to let them go with it if they could BS well), continually referred to Frankenstein's description of his monster has having yellow skin and eyes, without making it clear that he actually knew why he was talking about them. I asked him what the significance of the yellow skin was, and, after a very brief pause, he answered, "Because he looks like a Japanese". I couldn't help myself; I laughed out loud at his answer. Luckily, he didn't get upset, because he knew that I knew he was just making it up. These were the same two boys whom I caught making fun of my goatee right in front of me because they didn't realize I'm fluent in French (I'll grant that my whiskers may be somewhat laughable, but they could at least be more discreet). I'm not supposed to have favorites, but if I did, it would be these two, unless it's the small 12th-grade-equivalent class with the three boys who bicker and curse at each other in English.

All in all, I think I've gotten accustomed to the job. Life outside the school is a different story, though.

It takes a lot more than just speaking French to adapt to life in France. There is, of course, the never-ending bureaucracy to contend with, but that's really a fact of life in any country. One thing I can't manage to deal with is the level of conformism in French society; they take things like fashion and etiquette a LOT more seriously here. The former I have never cared about, and I've never been good with the latter even in my native culture, so I'm already set up to lose in that aspect. I've gotten used to the punk kids pointing and laughing at me in the street, though...

There's more to all of this, but I've been working on this post for two months (at least, I started it two months ago), and I need to post it. Funny story: I'm in my classroom right now, which happens to be a computer lab. My class didn't show, I think because their teacher is absent. I shouldn't be glad about that, but I am. I'm thrilled I don't have to teach.

[EDIT: The title made more sense when I started this post, because the last one before that was the one about "native American teachers".]

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cultural Imperialism

Update: Here are the accompanying photos for this post that I was just able to take...

I'm not sure that this title is the right description for the following, but I'll let you all interpret as you wish!

Context: suburbs of Guatemala City

I saw this sign for a private school which proudly proclaimed:

At the same school: Guatemalan Flag flying alongside the US Flag


Sunday, March 16, 2008


Yesterday I went to the Hindu temple in the morning, then I went to the public library downtown, and finished reading my Edward Said book in a Burger King. Then I went to the Day Labor Workers Center, and headed home to the co-op. Stopped at Mike's to play nintendo.

It's a good little life that I've got going here.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Repost: In Honor of Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax, one of the chief creators of the original Dungeons and Dragons, and hero to ten million nerds, passed away today. In his honor I'm re-posting a D&D post of mine from January 25, 2007.

Dungeons and Dragons Theology

I'm a little embarrassed (but not very) to say that I've been playing D&D again. However, it has recently given me a profound and powerful theological insight, and it's only fitting that I share it with the internet.

So, in Dungeons and Dragons, one person tells the story of what happens to you, and you decide what you want your character to do. It takes place in your imagination, and in your friends' imaginations, but you roll dice to see how well you do at a given task.

You get to roll a 20-sided die. When you get a "1", you do really, really poorly at a given task. When you roll a "20", you do really, really well. For example, I tried to hit a giant ant with my mace, rolled a 1, and knocked myself out.

So, our party of adventurers, "played" by myself and a couple of friends, found ourselves at the end of our two-night adventure. We were facing a huge monstrosity, namely "PRAETOR, TITAN OF THE UNDERDARK!" This guy was like, 25 feet tall, had crazy magical powers, and wielded a giant, flaming battle-ax. Whoa. I was pretty sure that we were all going to die. Which would've been a real bummer to finish a couple of nights of great adventuring.

In the first round of combat, my character ran madly towards the giant beast, foolishly trying to him him with her mace.

I rolled a twenty. It hurt him a lot. Huge, angry mace to the abdomen.

Then, my friend rolled a twenty as well, and it hurt him even more. Crossbow bolt to the face.

Then, it was his turn to attack. The first time he attacked, he took hurt us all with a magical wall of un-dodge-able fire. He tried to hit me with his fire-ax, which would have probably killed me.

He rolled a one. And hit himself in the leg.

We defeated him within, like, thirty seconds, and the crowd of rabble we brought with us surged over him with their pitchforks and hoes.

That was not supposed to happen.

So, here's the important theological point, and I think the reason why I woke up this morning feeling pretty darn happy.

In the struggle against the forces of evil and oppression and empire, it often looks like they have the upper hand. Indeed, it seems that when I and my allies go in against the forces of empire, we often, well, lose.

But sometimes.

Every once in a while.

When you dare to confront the forces of empire and oppression, on behalf of liberation and justice:

You roll twenties. And they roll ones.

And that's all it takes.

And things come together in ways you didn't expect, and your crazy ideas work, and their old ideas fail, and the Spirit moves, and walls crumble and people change, and transformation happens.

May you roll twenties.


posted by David Reese @ 2:08 PM