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