Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Confessions of a Hopeless Geek

This morning my mother-in-law expressed concern that I would go hungry if I did not accompany the family to the Amish restaurant for lunch, but I assured her I would find food if I grew faint while spending the day writing in the Wooster Public Library. My mother-in-law gets anxious if she thinks someone isn’t being well-fed, and we are all the happier (if a bit plumper) for her exquisitely successful means of coping with her anxiety. Today she put her anxiety to rest by directing me to an American-style diner and a Greek pizza place, both directly across the street from the library.

I have just returned from the American-style diner, where I had two eggs over easy, hash browns, bacon, wheat toast and coffee at two o’clock in the afternoon, for five dollars ($7.50, including the fifty percent tip I left for the very lovely waitress who brought my food before I’d even stirred the cream and sugar into my coffee). While I ate, I read Julie and Julia, which I can’t decide if I like, but I most definitely love in that I’m-on-vacation-and-I-just-dripped-egg-yolks-on-my-book-because-I-don’t-want-to-put-it-down-even-for-food sort of way. (Book review to follow shortly, in which I promise to offer a more nuanced opinion.)

And now I’m back at my spot by the sky-filled cathedral windows in the library. In addition to lunch, I have taken a few breaks from writing the latest installment in my Welfare of the City series, in order to flirt on-line with a couple of men I’m particularly fond of (both pastors no less! One gay, one happily married – “non starters” as Julie likes to say about the hopeless innocence of my flirting). And here is my geeky confession: Is it possible that a day could be any better than this? With only the very fewest of exceptions, I’m pretty sure the answer is “No.” Shameless geek, that’s me.

But I do want to leave you with a passage from Julie and Julia just to spice things up a little. If you are a regular reader of mine, you may recall that to my mind, food and sex are really just two sides of the same coin. If you are a regular reader of mine, you may also recall that I love to write about sex, but in the interests of my very private wife, not to mention her father-who-reads-my-blog, I will only ever write about sex in mostly abstract ways which offer very, very little in the way of detail about my own actual sex life. Here I offer just the tiniest deviation from that rule, in an effort to allay any concerns the following excerpt might create; that deviation being an assurance that I am not, in fact, a practitioner of polyamory (not that there’s anything wrong with that!), but, in point of fact, I am quite the boring, geeky, middle-aged, blissfully married lady. Such assurances, however, are prelude to a further confession, which is that blissful monogamy notwithstanding, I find erotic energy in all sorts of experiences and relationships. My friend Gordon, founder of my book review group, recently reviewed a book by George Steiner called The Lessons of the Masters. In his review Gordon wrote, “The essence of the master-disciple relationship, according to GS, is loving trust, in which the entire soul of the student is opened to new knowledge. The mode of exchange is always speech (never writing), and it is somewhat erotic, though usually not actively so.” I replied to Gordon’s review with such enthusiastic virtual head-nodding that it occurred to me after impulsively hitting “send” that perhaps I had not been entirely demure and lady-like, as befits a middle-aged married lady such as myself. So be it. This middle-aged married lady loves her teachers, and totally gets what George Steiner was talking about. This middle-aged married lady also loves to feed people, and totally gets what Julie Powell is talking about in this passage from Julie and Julia (pp. 216-17 in the hardcover edition):

"Somewhere along the way, I discovered that in the physical act of cooking, especially something complex or plain old hard to handle, dwelled unsuspected reservoirs of arousal both gastronomic and sexual. If you are not one of us, the culinarily depraved, there is no way to explain what’s so darkly enticing about eviscerating beef marrowbones, chopping up lobster, baking a three-layer pecan cake, and doing it for someone else, offering someone hard-won gustatory delights in order to win pleasures of anther sort. Everyone knows there are foods that are sexy to eat. What they don’t talk about so much is foods that are sexy to make. But I’ll take a wrestling bout with recalcitrant brioche dough over being fed a perfect strawberry any day, foreplay-wise."


Monday, December 28, 2009

More on Truth and Fact in the Bible

Michael's sermon from this past Sunday. We are on vacation, so I didn't hear it (which is a shame, because Michael is nothing if not a preacher, and he writes to be heard), but I think it's quite nice.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Guest Sonnet and Sermon for a Belated Conclusion to My Advent Blogging

The Christ-child has arrived again, and so ends my Advent daily blogging challenge to myself. I count this Advent discipline to write (almost) every day a perfect success in that it really got me writing again; and while I most certainly won't be writing every day through Christmas and Epiphany, I do plan to be focusing more on my writing this winter. So stay tuned. And thanks to all of you who are my faithful readers (and an especial welcome to any of you who became faithful readers during my Advent blogging!) It still feels like a bit of a paradox to offer one's writing with humility, on the one hand, yet to be so eager to be read on the other. All of you smart, kind folks out there who read me and say thoughtful, generous things make it somehow feel like less of a paradox.

But enough of my sappy reflections. I know I punted several days in Advent, and failed entirely to post on Christmas Eve, so I offer a couple beautiful things as penance.

First, you may have noticed on the right a link to my Facebook profile (I have SO drunk the Facebook cool-aid; if you are inclined, please send me a friend request letting me know you're a blog reader, and it would be my pleasure to "befriend" you!). There is also a link to Old First's Facebook fan page (go ahead, become a fan -- you'll find a delightful mix of silliness and seriousness! But please note you can read the page even if you're not officially a fan.) Here I offer you a link to Michael's wonderful Christmas Eve sermon called Isn't It Ironic? about the dynamic tension between tradition and change at Christmas time. I loved it; I hope you will too. So, I hope that makes up for my absence on Christmas Eve.

And, for those two or three (four or five?) lame days in Advent when I technically posted but not really anything worth reading, here is a sonnet more worth reading than any that I've noodled around with this Advent (though I have to say thanks to Shannon for getting me hooked on writing sonnets; it's been super fun, and I doubt I'm done!) This is written by a friend at Old First, highlighting once again what an insanely talented and thoughtful bunch we are. Marjorie and I are are not, as far as we know, related, though we do share a last name and a Michigan birthright (among other things), so who knows? I hope you enjoy her Advent Sonnet as much as I do:

Advent Sonnet

The hurried mind is kin to Advent dreams

And darkness does to ghost’s what angels hope

Would be their mission; crafting fear, it seems.

Ghouls hearken now and meld their lifeline rope

To spirals, hoping errant sheep might wind

Along its tendrils; some might lose their way.

Preoccupied is Gabriel; her find

Is pure, while others’ load is apt to sway

Beneath the burdens of this season’s press

Archangels’ work is frantic in the stars

And shepherd’s crook is gentle herd’s redress

The infant’s cry is fertile balm for wars

If lamb were general and ghost be pawn

Then angels’ charge is nothing more; ‘tis dawn!

Marjorie Rose

December 24, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Menu: A Sonnet

Of brie and gouda, comte, let us sing!

Of marinated mozzarella balls!

Oh kalamata! Ascolano calls!

For French baguette our peals of joy shall ring!

Oh turkey stuffed with Cajun pepper bread!

Bring potch* and corn and roasted Brussel sprouts!

Pour wine and cider, winter ales and stouts!

Come one, come all, that none shall go unfed!

Rejoice! Key lime -- oh cranberry delight!

Corn muffins, macaroni and (good) cheese!

This tart with pear and frangipane will please!

Let cream puffs, coffee, tea round out the night!

Oh glorious day! Oh silent night of joys!

Upon the island of the misfit toys!

edited to add: *potch (not sure if this is how it's spelled) is mashed potatoes and rutabaga, which Aunt Beth brings every year

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"If you're afraid of butter, use cream." ~Julia Child

Last summer we made our second -- and hopefully annual -- trip to New Hampshire to visit Suzanne and her family at their vacation home where they spend the summer. We swam across beautiful clear lakes, we kayaked, we hiked, and of course we ate lots of really good food. We also went to see Julie and Julia, which Suzanne and I just loved. We loved it so much, in fact, that we made a date to cook Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child on my birthday in September.

It was perhaps the best birthday ever. We watched an old episode of Julia Child cooking Boeuf Bourguignon, and then started cooking. While the stew simmered in the oven, we watched Sense and Sensibility, because another of our projects together is to work our way through all the Jane Austen movies (I know, it's a hard life, but someone's got to life it! As Suzanne noted when she posted these photos on Facebook, it's a shame you can't upload the aroma! You'll just have to take my word for it -- this was one divine meal.

We promptly decided we needed to cook together regularly, and chose Italian for our next adventure: pan-fried thin beef steaks cacciatora style with zucchini risotto (also divine, if I do say so myself):

This meal was a little more labor intensive than the beef stew was, so we didn't have time to watch a whole Jane Austen movie. Instead we watched several episodes of Jacque and Julia, including an episode on desserts that featured ice cream filled profiteroles. Our next meal was conceived: a simple tomato soup that would leave plenty of room for the main course:

cream puffs and ice cream filled profiteroles

cream puffs served on a bed of creme anglaise and raspberry jam (below)

fried apple pies

and raspberry souffle.


edited multiple times to deal with stupid formatting issues (sorry!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Photos to Follow?

I'm a frustrated idiot when it comes to technology, and right now I'm especially frustrated because I don't know how to capture photos from my friend Suzanne's Facebook album and post them here. Can anybody tell me how to do that? Because tonight, I wanted to tell you all about my cooking adventures with Suzanne, but by the time I figured out that I had not, in fact, saved the photos to my desktop, and therefore could not, in fact, post them here, I was too tired to write anything worthy of our culinary exploits.

But if you tell me how to post the photos, I will tell you all about the three meals we have made so far (here's a preview: September's meal featured Boeuf Bourguignon a la Julia Child; October's featured pan-fried thin beef steaks cacciatora style and risotto with zucchini; November's decadence was an all-dessert meal of cream puffs in a bed of creme anglaise, ice cream profiteroles, fried apple pies and raspberry souffle. In January we're planning a whole meal of hors d'oeuvres including Julia Child's country pate, gravlax, and maybe some savory puff pastry? We'll see.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Meaning and Metaphor (for Mark)

Do you remember back in high school English, when your teacher taught you that a simile was a comparison using “like” or “as,” and a metaphor was a comparison that skipped the “like” or “as”? So, for example, under the heading “Simile,” she might have written on the blackboard (back in the olden days, when we still had blackboards) the phrase “cool as a cucumber,” and also the sentence, “The storm raged like a bull.” On the other hand, she might have written in the “Metaphor” column, “Ted Kennedy was the lion of the Senate,” though that’s probably not one Laura Baker, my high school English teacher, would have written, because she was a staunch Republican. She might have thought, rather, that Ted Kennedy was a jackass, though she probably would have refrained from writing it on the board. But if she had thought it (and she probably did), she would have been using a metaphor. Because Ted Kennedy was, in reality, neither a lion nor a jackass, but rather a human being who had certain qualities of lions … or jackasses, as the case may be. Get it?

So another way of explaining the difference between a simile and a metaphor is that a simile tells the truth, and a metaphor tells a lie. Right? I mean, you could say that, right? To say that someone is “cool as a cucumber” might literally be true, I suppose, and to say that “The storm raged like a bull”? Well, I suppose.

Metaphor, on the other hand, is never literally true, or, to put it another way, factual. On the contrary, it is a fact that Ted Kennedy was neither a lion nor a jackass, no matter what you thought of his politics or his political skill. So you could say that a metaphor does not tell the truth, because it is not factual. And if you care about the truth in that way, you could try to rid your language of metaphor, though you’d have a really hard time. Because most language is highly metaphorical, in ways we often don’t even register.

For example, when a political race is described as being “neck and neck,” it is being compared to a horse race; and if you’ve ever said you could “see the light at the end of the tunnel,” you’re comparing your situation to a train ride. But a political race is not really a horse race, and no matter how relieved you are about the end of a difficult situation, it usually doesn’t actually involve a ride through a tunnel. For that matter, most of the time our kids don’t literally “bounce off the walls”; and even when they do, it doesn’t actually make us “go out of our minds”; and when we’re bored, the minutes don’t literally “creep by”; and when we speak of “the root of the problem,” we’re usually not talking about potato blight. If you’ve ever used the expression “home run,” or “slam dunk” or “knocked it out of the park” outside the context of an actual ball game, then you have used a metaphor, and I suppose you could be accused of being less than truthful. And I suppose you could be accused of telling a lie if you have ever called someone a “straight shooter” who is not, in fact, a hunter; or if you’ve ever thought someone other than a carpenter “hit the nail right on the head”; or if you’ve ever thought that a grown person was a “babe” or that someone who is not, in fact, running a fever is “hot.”

But I would never accuse you of telling a lie in any of those situations, because I think that metaphor, rather than telling a lie, can actually tell a deeper, more evocative truth. When we place two images or situations next to each other that are not, in fact, the same, we can get at a truth that no amount of factual description will ever uncover. Often putting the two images or situations together creates a meaning that can touch us in a more profound way than straightforward reporting can. And in that way, I would argue, through metaphor we often get at the most important truths … even if it is by way of a little white lie (which is not, in fact, white … see? Metaphor is everywhere.)

I offer this scintillating discussion on metaphor as prelude to my answer to Mark’s daily Advent blogging question: “How can the Bible be true if it’s not factual?”

I do not believe every word in the Bible reports in a straightforward and factual way things that actually happened. It seems likely to me that some things written in the Bible are “factual” in the sense that they really did happen pretty much the way the Bible says they did, and that some things are not “factual” in that way; indeed, there’s a group of scholars called The Jesus Seminar who get together to consider the evidence for which among the Gospel stories can actually be attributed to the historical Jesus, and which cannot. That seems sort of interesting to me in the way a logic puzzle can be interesting, but it feels pretty irrelevant when it comes to my faith, because whether something really did or really didn’t happen, its power for me is in the story as metaphor for how I might live my own life. The metaphor is the powerful part for me; whether it’s also factual is sort of beside the point.

So, for example, maybe Jesus really did feed 5000 people with a few loaves and fishes, and maybe he didn’t. But let’s just say for a minute that he really did; let’s just say that story is straight-up, factual reporting of something that happened around 2000 years ago, and that as fact, and not metaphor, it tells us some truth. What is that truth, and what does it mean today? I guess the truth it tells us is that Jesus had supernatural powers. Maybe it tells us that he liked to feed people. It might tell us that 2000 years ago, some fisherman were convinced that he was the Messiah because he had these supernatural powers and used them to feed a lot of people. But what does that do for me, in Philadelphia, in 2009, even if I believe that Jesus had supernatural powers, and that he liked to feed people? Maybe, like those fisherman, his supernatural powers convince me that he is the Messiah, but it seems just as likely to me that I might come to a different conclusion, even if I accept his powers. I mean maybe I believe lots of people have supernatural powers; why should that convince me that Jesus is the Messiah? Or maybe it tells me that I ought to feed people too. But I don’t need Jesus to convince me of that, because I already love to feed people. Or maybe it’s telling me that with enough faith, I too might some day be able to feed a multitude of hungry folks with literally a few loaves and fishes …. but you know what? I’m not so much holding my breath, you know? So I’m just not sure where this story gets me if I treat it as straight-up factual reporting.

On the other hand, if I treat this story as a metaphor for life – if I put this story next to my life, and ask myself what meaning I can glean from the relationship between the two – then suddenly this story is speaking to me (but not literally; that’s a metaphor!) Because this story seems to be about faith and abundance, you know? It seems to suggest that out of our faith in God, we can live abundantly; that we can share what we have, no matter how small, and still have enough; that we can care extravagantly for others, even folks who are strangers to us, without fear that the good things in life will run out. Does this mean that if I literally give away all the food in my house, I can with good faith still expect to feed my kids tomorrow? No. And I would be foolish and irresponsible to do that. But it does mean that I can orient my life toward faith and abundance, rather than toward fear and scarcity, and in doing so I can know that my life will be pleasing to God. To me, that is a far greater truth than the “fact” (if indeed it is a “fact”) that Jesus multiplied a few loaves and fishes half way around the world, several millennia ago.

I know a lot of folks disagree with me about my reading of the Bible. I know a lot of folks, especially fundamentalist Christians, are really committed to the notion that the Bible is “true” in the most literal, factual sense. I think such a reading is not only dangerous, but also probably not what Jesus himself intended. If Jesus had wanted us to have “just the facts, nothing but the fact,” I kind of doubt he would have spent all his time telling stories and talking in metaphors. Right?

I could be wrong. But I’m willing to take my chances. (Which is, of course … yup, a metaphor!)

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I’m sitting on Michael’s red leather sofa, in the lime green room of the parsonage that I painted for him before I really even knew him, back in the heady days of summer when we were fast Facebook friends but had only ever spoken in person for twenty minutes, about paint colors. The first time I really spent any time at all with Michael was the day shortly after he moved in when I drove him to Ikea in the mini-van to pick up this red sofa. I hadn’t eaten all day, and we had lunch – meatballs for me and a Philly cheese steak for Michael, and across the table there in the Ikea cafeteria, he told me stories about his ex-boyfriend and was perfectly charming but also perfectly scandalous and I couldn’t quite believe our luck to have called him as our pastor.

Tonight I’m sitting on Michael’s red sofa, waiting for the apple pie to finish baking, watching a snow storm rage outside. Julie just excused herself to Michael’s bedroom (pale yellow – too pale, in my estimation, but it’s not my bedroom, except for tonight); Micah is upstairs, finally fast asleep, in one of the two twin beds in Michael’s guest room. Michael will sleep in the other one, once his sermon is done. Trixie is a few blocks away at Aunt Beth’s.

Tomorrow church will happen, just like every Sunday. But really? This is it, right here.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Lapeer, Michigan?

Someone is reading me in Lapeer, Michigan! I was born in Lapeer.... what are the chances? Wanna introduce yourself?

I know this doesn't really count, but it's all I've got. Six more days ...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On Suffering (for Ellen)

My mom used to say I could bring anyone home except a Republican or a born-again Christian (by which she actually meant fundamentalist Christian). And the truth is that she would have very much welcomed both, if they were one of the many college friends I used take home with me for the weekend, because extravagant hospitality was kind of the basic organizing principle of my family. She would have given them a hard time – all in good fun, of course – but she would have welcomed them, and they would have loved her, because everyone loved my mom. She got along with everyone except idiots. (She really couldn’t abide idiots).

But as it turns out, I didn’t have any born-again or even Republican friends in college, and what my mom really meant, anyway, was that she’d rather I didn’t fall in love with one. But anyone else? That would be just fine. And she really meant it. I think she loved reliving her own youthful exuberance vicariously through me. Having come of age in the 60’s, she understood perfectly the sort of ardent conversion experience young adulthood can be – even if, as in my case, you’re not converting away from anything, but just passionately embracing your world and your values as your own, and not just as an inheritance, even if a welcome one.

So when I announced, after taking Intro to Philosophy: Food Ethics, that I was a vegetarian, Mom thought that was fine, especially since I could explain why. I got her a copy of The Moosewood Cookbook, and she discovered that you don’t really need meat at every meal. And when I brought home a black boyfriend, she loved him (he was pretty lovable, I’ll admit). Next was the Cuban girlfriend – she didn’t blink. Then the Methodist minister’s daughter (not Julie, the one before Julie) – even that didn’t phase her (but only because she was not a fundamentalist).

So when I announced that I was going to be majoring in Peace and Global Studies, I wasn’t anxious that my parents might suggest that I get a real degree, for all the money they were spending to send me to the most expensive liberal arts college in the state, for heaven’s sake. And I was right. My mom thought Peace and Global Studies was a splendid thing to major in, and she even got sort of intrigued. My mom had, among many other wonderful qualities, one of the sharpest intellects of anyone I’ve ever known, and a deeply curious mind, so there wasn’t much she wasn’t intrigued by. Everything I was studying was fair game for long conversations on the green couch by the wood stove in our big farmhouse kitchen.

I remember in particular a conversation on the couch about the concept of “structural violence.” I used the phrase and mom immediately perked up: “What does that mean, ‘structural violence’?” I started to explain, but she already had it figured out. “That’s the way oppressive structures – like racism, or poverty – do violence to people, right? And it can be really explicit violence, like lynching, but it can also be slower, or less direct violence, like the way a child’s mind and spirit and opportunities get more and more and more hemmed in by living in poverty.”

Exactly. Yeah, she was pretty awesome.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation with my mom a lot lately, in part because I’ve been thinking about suffering a lot lately. I’m thinking about suffering these days because I’m holding several friends in prayer who are suffering a lot right now. I’m also thinking about suffering these days because when I solicited topics for my daily Advent blogging (what was I thinking?), Ellen suggested I tackle the question, “Why is there suffering?” Ellen knows too much of suffering lately. I am quite sure I am entirely inadequate to the task of explaining suffering to her or anyone else. Indeed, the only sort of cosmic answer I know to that question is, “I have no idea.”

But still, I know a little bit about suffering, especially of the sort Ellen is experiencing right now, the suffering of losing someone very dear to you, way too young. For Ellen it was her brother, who died just a couple of weeks ago; for me it was my mom, who died almost twenty years ago.

I used to think there was a pretty clear distinction between the sort of suffering that stems from, well, life, you know? And the sort of suffering that stems from structural violence. I remember making this distinction to my mom in that conversation on the green couch, when she immediately got it about structural violence: “Yeah, and you know, it’s not like the world would be without suffering if we ended structural violence. People would still leave their lovers, and break each other’s hearts, and there would still be earthquakes and people would still die of natural causes. But war and poverty and racism? Seems like that sort of suffering is worth fighting against.” My mom, of course, entirely agreed, and enthusiastically endorsed my plan to be a Peacemaker (“A Profession for the Future,” remember Earlham friends?)

The more I learn of the world, though, and the ugly horrible ways that human structures work on it, the less I am convinced that such a stark distinction is meaningful. Cancer may not be a violent human structure, but industrialized agriculture certainly is, and so is toxic waste, and probably both contribute in ways known and unknown to many cancers. Hurricanes may not be violent human structures, but if they ramp up because of our addiction to fossil fuels, is the suffering in their wake an act of God, or the result of human structural violence? And if they wreak greatest havoc on the poorest and most wretched of the earth, what is the cause of that suffering? Mental illness may not be a violent structure created by human society (though I could be convinced otherwise). But if a brilliant and talented young man suffers from mental illness and turns to drug use to cope, and if our society maintains an absurdly ineffective and vindictive public policy around the sale and use of certain drugs, then is his death by overdose at least in part a result of structural violence?

I don’t know.

Why is there suffering? I just don’t know what the answer is. I’m pretty sure that even in a world entirely free of structural violence, my mom still would have collapsed one day while weeding the asparagus patch, and the aneurysm in her brain still would have killed her a couple of days later, just a few weeks short of her fifty-first birthday. I’m pretty sure that when I got around to trying to get pregnant at the ripe old age of thirty-four, my ovaries still would have been old souls that were no longer going to produce viable eggs, because in the law of averages, someone has to be an outlier, and that just happened to be me.

But I am also pretty sure that a whole lot of suffering in the world – so very much of it – is caused by structural violence. Which is another way of saying that a whole lot of the suffering in the world is caused by sin. That, of course, is a word which is sort of out of vogue these days, among progressive intellectuals at least. I think it’s a shame that it’s been so co-opted by the fundamentalist religious right-wing. Indeed, now that I think of it, “sin” has itself become a form of structural violence. But I’m comfortable reclaiming it, because I do think there is such a thing. I probably prefer Michael’s formulation (and I’m loosely paraphrasing here because I don’t know how to find this particular conversation on his Facebook page) – that sin is anything which takes us out of loving relationship with each other and God. Structural violence, sin, broken relationship …. however you want to define it, or whatever you want to call it, it seems to me that a whole lot of suffering is caused by it.

And where is God in all this? I think for a lot of folks that’s the hardest question when faced with inexplicable suffering. I know such suffering can cause some to lose their faith, or at least to question it. For me, actually, the opposite is true. For me, if sin is that which pulls us out of loving relationship, then God is that which puts us back together. And I know that even in the face of so much suffering in the world, there is also so much goodness and beauty and abundance. I know too, though I surely don’t understand the mystery of it, that somehow that goodness and beauty and abundance often flows right out of suffering, even the sort that results from sin. My God is the God of that goodness and beauty and abundance, even the kind that is forged in a crucible of suffering. Why God isn’t bigger than sin, why God can’t just vanquish sin and suffering in one fell swoop, I don’t know. Maybe God isn’t all-powerful in that way. Maybe God needs us as much as we need God. Maybe the more we’re in loving relationship with God – which is the same thing as saying the more we’re in loving relationship with each other -- the less power sin and suffering have over the world.

I surely could be wrong. But if faith is being sure of what we hope for*, then my faith in that God is like a rock, even in the face of inexplicable suffering.

edited to add: this is from Bart Campolo.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Well Gosh...

Many thanks to Thorn (motherissues), SEB (Long French Dinner), and Dr. Charrier (Exploration of Self) for outing themselves and leaving me such thoughtful comments. I have a lot of friends -- like IRL friends -- who read my blog, so I sometimes forget that they're not the only ones ... it's kind of a nice funny feeling that there are folks out there I don't even know who are also reading my blog. So thank you all for letting me know who you are and what's interesting to you.

edited to add: Beth (Terribly Unfashionable: Tales of a Geeky Librarian) and Nancy (who is apparently blogless, yes?). Thanks to you both for leaving a comment!

Today was supposed to be a whole glorious day of nothing but writing. I even made plans to go to my friend Cory's house -- he's a single childless gay man with terrific taste and not a lot of stuff and big windows and 1000 more square feet than the four of us live in, so his place pretty much feels like writing nirvana to me. Alas, I forgot that I had volunteered to help with the HINI boosters at my kids' school, and then a couple of other things I needed to take care of neatly dissected the day into tiny portions of time with which I am completely incapable of accomplishing anything. So it was a sort of wasted day. Well, other than the volunteering, and some important church work ... but writing? Not so much. So here's another lame post, with the hopes that I will have something real tomorrow....

For what it's worth, I'm thinking about suffering. Just too much of that going around my circle of loved ones these days. If you're the sort that prays, won't you pray for Claire and her boys, Sarah and her boys, Ellen and her family, Liz and her girls.

Thanks friends. And if any of the rest of you want to come out, I really do think you'll feel so liberated -- come on, what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Come Out, Come Out, Where Ever You Are!

Okay, so today? I've got nothin'. Sorry. Yesterday and today I'm ticking my way through a long list of small, nagging things that have piled up long enough to feel like huge, anxiety-producing things. Tomorrow, calm once again, I will set aside time to write. I'm not promising much, but I am promising something, okay?

In the meantime, let's say it's your turn today. Why don't you leave me a comment that answers the following questions:

~ Who are you? Where are you? How'd you find my blog? Tell me a little about yourself!

~ I'm thinking about changing my blog description -- you know, the part that says "Essays on life as a lesbian housewife, an urban homesteader, a race traitor, a doubting Thomas, an occasional political theorist and recovering bleeding heart, and always, always, a promiscuous lover of books." How would you describe my blog? What in particular is interesting to you?

Hasta la vista babies! (Also: Go ahead, make my day.)

Monday, December 14, 2009


warm bread dough rises

woman’s breast, milk and honey

baby, comfort food

Crusty French Bread (for Ellen and Greg and Chris)

Yesterday I meant to bake loaves of crusty French bread for communion, like the women in Michael’s consecration prayer, God and her sisters, sharing their power through the miracle of bread. I planned to bake the loaves at church, filling our sacred space with the aroma of fresh bread, setting the table with bread so fresh from the oven it would still be warm.

As is often the case with lovely, deep spiritual intentions, real life barged in. Late Saturday night I realized I had no flour, and had to make a quick Sunday morning trip to the grocery store. Then the perfect, smooth, elastic ball of dough did not rise, not even in a proofing oven.

Somewhat uncharacteristically, I choose not to stress, and decided to trust that the bread I ended up with would be exactly the bread we needed. I cranked the temperature on the proofing oven and let the dough rise some more, but by then I was clear we would not have triple- or even double-rise crusty French loaves.

Julie, as usual, had a brilliant idea. “What you’re really going after is not loaves, but bite-sized pieces of bread and a lovely smell, right? Why don’t you just roll the dough out like a pizza crust, let it rest for ten minutes, and bake it? You can skip the second rise entirely and the church will smell just as nice.”

So that is what I did. And as with most of Julie’s great ideas, it turned out so nicely that I think we will make this our practice for baking our communion bread. (Serendipity, right Michael?)

But still, I promised the secrets to crusty French loaves, so they are:

1. With Brother Juniper (Brother Juniper’s Bread Book is my bible; here is a review), I am a true believer in the triple rise. Mix your dough, put it into a bowl, cover with a damp tea towel, and leave it to rise – in the winter, I set the oven for “proof,” which is 100 degrees. Let rise for an hour and a half, then punch down and repeat. Got that? Two rises in the bowl, for a total of about three hours, plus the mixing and kneading time. Then you make your loaves and let them rise too, for a total of three rises.

2. Mist the loaves with a spray bottle of water right before they go in the oven, and then three more times, every two minutes.

3. White flour. If you want a good crust and you’re devoted to whole wheat bread, use half white and half wheat for your dough. If you want a great crust? All white flour all the time. That’s just how it is.

4. Your crusty French bread will never be as good tomorrow as it is today, so eat up!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

get to know me

The care and feeding of introverts is not really all that complicated.

edited to add: One of the things I love most about Julie is that being with her is just like being alone. Another of the things I love most about Julie is that when I told her that once, she immediately understood.

hail mary

before dawn, i rise
flour, water, yeast and salt
bread of life. thank you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Not Come to Church Tomorrow? You Might Be Surprised!

If you live in Philadelphia, think about coming to church tomorrow at Old First Reformed, United Church of Christ! Here's what Michael says on Old First's Facebook fan page:

I am preaching on Mary (the mother of Jesus) this Sunday, and I wonder why the tradition has so stripped her sexuality; it seems we'd almost deny her gender if the church didn't need her womb... maybe as redemption of this inhumane bias, we need to bear Christ to the world, yes, with humility and in service, but also in our whole bodies and with the solace of great physical pleasure... Come Light the Third Advent Candle... for Mary who so graciously bore the Child. And see where I end up on this sermon.

4th and Race Streets. Sunday School at 10:00, service at 11:00. Street parking with a parking placard that you can get inside. Communion with bread baked by yours truly.

A Purpose Driven Sonnet

The Rev’rend Doctor Warren, seems to me
would like to have his cake and eat it too
regarding homosexuality.
Alas, his fork-ed tongue is nothing new.
“Let me be clear what God’s own Word intends:
that sex outside of marriage is a sin.”
And marriage as a union he defends:
no other than a man and woman, kin.
But killing gays perhaps does go astray;
let’s not forget what Jesus did command:
that dignity for all be his new Way,
upon that rock the church must take a stand.
Um, Rick? My sexuality is ME.
Shut UP already ‘bout my dignity.


edited to add: This is my second submission to Shannon's InSoWriMo (International Sonnet Writing Month) challenge.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Feeling Needy and Blue ... and Grateful (though there outta be a better word)

Awhile ago I wrote about some of the reasons I stopped blogging at the wide tent. In part, I felt like my writing created a false sense of who I am; that in trying to write with craft and wisdom, I worried that I lacked humility, and I was creating an on-line persona that was not quite honest, because it did not share all of my messy, complicated, needy self. I don’t know if my on-line writer persona here at my goodly heritage matches my real-life persona very well at all, but it’s something that I care about and strive for. If I have any wisdom at all to share, and any beauty, I suspect it is more true and more accessible if it’s coming from a real live human being, warts and all.

What I really want to write about today is gratitude, and not just gratitude in general, but a very specific gratitude for which there should be a word, though I’m not sure what it is. But before I can even get there, I have to let you in on a bit of my messy self, which in the past couple of days, has been feeling kind of blue and needy.

But maybe before I get to my blue and needy self, I should back up even further, in the interests of full disclosure and truth-in-advertising, and let you know that I have in my life suffered from pretty serious depression and anxiety. Not completely debilitating – I’ve never experienced a real breakdown, though in the past couple of years I came pretty close, twice. You’ll get more of that in my “Welfare of the City” series, which, come to think of it, is probably why that series is progressing so slowly…. But now I offer up my experience of depression only to assure you that “blue and needy” is not that, and I will most certainly be fine.

But still, blue and needy is, well…. blue and needy, you know? Yesterday in particular, by the end of the day, all I really wanted was a good cry. But by the time the chores and errands were finished, the dropping off at swimming and the picking up done, the stories read and the snack fixed and the teeth brushed … well, I was too tired to even indulge myself in a good cry, so I just went to bed. And the thing is, every Thursday night I’m on my own, because Julie has choir practice. Julie has had choir practice every Thursday night since before we had kids, so I’ve never known any other sort of Thursday night parenting. It’s no big deal … it just is. But last night it just felt like too much.

Who knows why? There are little things … the days are getting shorter, it’s finally gotten bitter cold, peri-menopause sometimes feels like it’s kicking my butt. Then there’s the way bigger stuff … a friend of mine, a young mother, was in surgery yesterday for a recurrence of cancer; another young mother I know is undergoing chemotherapy; one of my oldest friend’s younger brother died; Julie is struggling with stupid school stress and sad family stuff. In the midst of all that, my own desire to be present and kind and helpful sometimes leaves me instead feeling inadequate and petty and, worst of all for me, needy and vulnerable.

But that’s really all just backdrop to what I want to write about, which is not the blues, but rather gratitude. And not just the sort of gratitude such moments certainly call for, the I’m-grateful-for-my-health-and-my-family-and-the-roof-over-my-head sort of gratitude, though I certainly am grateful for all of that. But what I’m thinking about is more fortuitous? Providential? Neither of those words is exactly it, either, but it’s as close as I’ve gotten for that out-of-the-blue kindness, which is usually small, and often unaware of the context that makes it so needed, but precisely in its smallness, and in its lack of intention, it is just the thing. Breathtaking. Grace maybe. I’m feeling grateful for instances of grace, and the friends and strangers through whom God has visited them upon me.

Like the time I went to a family wedding in New York when Micah was just a baby. I had been nursing him since he came home with us at 15 days old, and though I never produced a full supply of milk, I had amassed a huge stash in the freezer of my own milk, from months and months of pumping before we ever even knew about Micah. By the time this wedding rolled around, though, I had pretty much worked my way through my stash, and was almost through the donations from Rachel and Cate who had, with the most exquisite generosity, pumped and donated their milk to the cause of teeny-tiny Micah-boo.

So I went off for about six hours to this wedding – the longest I had ever been away from Micah -- and Julie went off with Micah and visited Ansley, who lived near-by. It was a lovely, lovely wedding, full of people I adore, but for some reason I’m not sure I can adequately explain, I just felt so out of step. My breasts ached and I had to excuse myself to the bathroom and try to hand express milk so I wouldn’t leak all over my borrowed party dress. Because I had been ambivalent about leaving Micah, I had been late in RSVP’ing, and so was seated with folks I didn’t know at all – a middle-aged single man, a widowed neighbor of the bride’s parents, a couple of family friends and business associates, none of whom really know each other. From this vantage point, somehow, all the young, beautiful, normal people – the young friends of the bride and groom who were so effortlessly and unselfconsciously themselves at this most hetero-normative of all celebrations – it was just overwhelming. I felt like a freak, and all the ways that I have had to invent my life suddenly were just too, too much.

And then, when I finally got back to Julie and Micah, he smelled overwhelmingly of formula.**

On the way home from New York, I just couldn’t stop crying, keening almost. I was completely inarticulate, even to myself. My grief felt profound, yet inexplicable. Somehow the smell of formula on Micah’s breath had become the symbol of all the ways my life lacked normalcy – ways that, for the most part, I cherish, and wouldn’t trade for the world. But in that moment, I just wanted to feel normal in some sort of way that most folks – like the dear ones at that wedding – get to take for granted, but that mostly eludes me.

Certainly at the very least, I wanted to have breasts full of milk and never need a stash in the freezer, but short of that, I most desperately wanted a stash in the freezer. I hated what formula represented, the failure of normalcy that seemed to extend into so much of my life, right down to my ovaries and my breasts. In that moment, I hated formula with a passion, yet that’s what I was going home to: no more of my stash, no more of Cate’s milk or Rachel’s, just a can of baby formula to make up the difference that my breasts couldn’t provide.

When we got home, there was a message on the machine from a total stranger. She had heard, from a mutual friend, that I was looking for breast milk. She had a bunch in her freezer that she was not going to use. Did I want it?

The gratitude I felt in that moment … why isn’t there a word for that? She didn’t know, she couldn’t have known, but her gesture was exactly, exquisitely, profoundly what I needed at that moment. My gratitude to this woman was just as inarticulate as my grief had been just hours before. There ought to be a word for that, for the sort of gratitude you feel when someone totally unwittingly, through just common decency and kindness and generosity, becomes a channel of God’s grace in exactly the way you needed it at exactly that moment.

Which is a very long and round-about way of saying that I feel that sort of gratitude a lot. And believe me, it’s not lost on me how lucky I am.

So this morning, for example, I was feeling better – a good night’s sleep goes along way, not to mention a lot of kindness on my Facebook page yesterday – but still, I was a little punky and blue, feeling needy and vulnerable and inadequate to the task of being present and giving in the face of so much suffering around me these days. I was on my way to yoga with Jen across the street when Pat called. She couldn’t have lunch as we had been hoping, but she just wanted to tell me that my writing lately has given voice to some things – big things – she has been mulling, but has been unable to articulate herself. And she said a lot of other really nice things that I won’t bore you with, but that were just the right thing – making me feel not just needy and vulnerable, but also helpful, present, effective.

I ran across the street, late but with a smile, and then Jen did it all over again: first we could barely get through our practice for all the giggling, and then we fell into a conversation about her experience of pregnancy and impending motherhood that was so open and honest and affirming of my place in her life and her family.

Now I will say that Pat and Jen are probably the two most intuitive people I know, bar none. Both of them have this intense insight, like they see right into your soul and get it right every time. Now that I think of it, I don’t know anyone else quite like them, but they are very much like each other in this way. Which is to say there is no point, ever, in trying to bullshit them. And which is also to say, both of them probably knew that I was feeling a bit punky. But certainly, my gratitude is no less, nor is my awe at not only their kindness, but their willingness to make themselves vulnerable in order to lift me up. What a gift. Am I one lucky girl, or what?

** Please let me here assure you that I do NOT believe formula is evil. I did NOT breastfeed Micah because I think formula is evil, and if you formula-fed your baby, I do NOT think I am better than you, nor do I think Micah will have any sort of advantage over your child. I DO think breastfeeding is a powerful experience, and I’m awfully glad I was able to do it, and if you ever want support I’m your gal. But I think there are LOTS of good reasons to feed formula to a baby, and I’ve said as much while leading a La Leche League meeting. Okay?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

You Must Not Know 'Bout Me (if you thought i was done talking about sex)

To the left, to the left, to the left….

I guess that’s where you could say I come down on the spectrum of Christians who think about sex. And these days, sadly, many Christians are positively obsessed with sex. Indeed, many Christians these days have made their sexual obsession – especially their obsession with homosexuality – almost a fetish, a fetish that has lost sight entirely of the good news of Jesus Christ.

That good news is that people matter -- not abstractions, but real, live people, and their lovely, messy, complicated relationships and their yearning, passionate desire to know and share the love of God. Classes and categories don’t matter – Jew or Samaritan is irrelevant, man or woman, sick or well, rich or poor, prostitute or wife, tax collector … centurion … servant…. thief.… Everyone matters. Everyone can be in relationship. Everyone can love everyone else as a blessed child of God. In the same way, rigid rules – about what you can or can’t eat, about whom you may or may not touch, about how and when and where to worship God -- just dissolve if they don’t foster dignity, love and relationship, among people and with God. A formal system of purity is set aside in favor of a more intentional purity that asks, “Is this good for people? Does this free people to love one another and God more closely? Does this require that people be intentional about the way their lives and actions affect the human dignity of others?”

It seems to me that if these are the questions that matter to Jesus (and I think they are), then much of Christianity’s current obsession with sex is nothing short of blasphemy. It seems to me that when Christian fundamentalists – whether they purport to be “progressive” or not – build an alter in front of a few passages of scripture, such as the first chapter of Romans, but turn a blind eye and cold heart to the blessed and beautiful desires and relationships and yearning of millions of actual human beings – well, it seems to me that is idolatry piled on top of blasphemy.

The blasphemy of much of Christian thinking about sex is that it starts with a set of formal purity rules of exactly the sort Jesus came to free us from. The Christian Right spews hate and damnation, “progressive” evangelicals kill us bit more softly, but even the liberal church does not really offer a paradigm shift, but merely a “kinder, gentler” set of purity rules.

These rules and how they shift, depending on where you sit on the spectrum from conservative to liberal Christian, remind me of a moralistic game of sexual Clue: definitely everyone is down with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, with candles (and maybe even sex toys?), in the bedroom; and maybe some of us can handle Mr. and Mr. White, also with candles (but please don’t tell us about the sex toys), in the bedroom; and possibly Mr. Brown and Miss Jones (though it’s probably better if they are someone else’s kids), but only with birth control, and only in the bedroom they share only with each other; and most definitely not Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones, with anything at all, anywhere; and obviously not Mr. White and Mr. Jones, even if they use a condom, at the rest stop; and ditto Miss Jones and Mr. Black, with alcohol, at a party where they’ve just hooked up.

Right? Isn’t that how it goes? We start with a formal set of rules – they might be about “the sanctity of marriage,” or they might be about “loving and committed relationships,” but always formal rules about relationships in the abstract – and then we plug in real people, without much thought to their actual relationships with other real people, and rarely with any thought at all about their actual desires or, horror of horror, their physical pleasure. Real relationships and real pleasure always seem subservient, at best, or even irrelevant, to these formal rules about sex.

What if, instead, we started with real relationships and real pleasure and built a sexual ethic from there? I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m having a difficult time understanding why that would not be pleasing to God.

How would such a sexual ethic change the way we think about sex? Well, first of all, it might problematize a lot of sex that no one ever questions under the current set of formal rules. Isn’t it funny how no one ever worries much about the ethics of sex within a heterosexual marriage? Oh, we hear all the time about the problems (that’s what Viagra’s for, right?) and the wonders (the Obamas are making marriage sexy again!) of such sex, but what about the ethics? So for example, what if Mr. and Mrs. Smith have an emotionally abusive relationship that extends to their bedroom? Is that ethical? Or what if Mrs. Smith has never experienced pleasure in her sexual relationship with Mr. Smith, and he doesn’t really care? Is that ethical?

On the other hand, what if Mr. Smith and Miss Jones really enjoy sex with each other, but they’re not at all romantically attached to one another? What if they’ve taken care to communicate to one another that neither of them is interested in a love match, but that they are both very interested in exploring sexual pleasure as a natural extension of an intimate friendship? Could that be ethical?

And what if Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones are married to other people, and for various reasons that aren’t all that difficult to imagine, all four adults have decided that a sexual relationship between Mr. Smith and Mrs. Jones is worth exploring, and everyone is being a grown-up and communicating, and it’s all pretty emotionally healthy? In a universe where relationship and pleasure are the foundation of sexual ethics, couldn’t that be ethical? It seems to me that such a scenario is inherently complicated – but in my ethics, at least, it is complicated because there are so many relationships to attend to, not because there are some formal rules that require certain behavior within the institution of marriage, everyone’s real relationships and pleasure be damned.

And what about Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones at the rest stop? Or what about Miss Jones and Mr. Black’s drunken hook-up at a party? It seems to me that these are the most ethically problematic. As with any form of conspicuous consumption, these sexual encounters are ethically problematic because they lack any sort of meaningful relationship outside of possibly healthy pleasure, and even healthy pleasure can’t be very meaningfully tended to when two people know nothing at all about one another, and even less so when judgment is impaired. It is difficult for me to affirm these encounters as ethical, but only because they do not seem to me to be intentionally concerned with healthy relationships or pleasure. Moreover, I should note, that much of our culture’s conspicuous consumption is unethical by exactly the same standard and every bit as sinful in my eyes.

A sexual ethic that begins with relationship and pleasure … does this seem complicated? But of course! Being a human being in relationship is complicated. Treating people as though they matter is complicated. Add sex to that mix, and it gets very very complicated, most certainly. A sexual ethic that begins with relationship and pleasure is NOT simply “anything goes” – indeed, it is quite the opposite. It is an ethic that requires intentional and careful tending to real relationships and pleasure, which is never easy, especially when passion is involved. It is not an ethic that promises to solve all the problems that inevitably will arise in sexual relationships. People will still get hurt, and relationships will still end, and even people acting with the most ethical intention they can bring to their sexual relationships will make a big old mess of things. Ethics doesn’t solve the dilemma of being human.

But all the pain and sorrow and alienation and shame that so many people feel about themselves as sexual beings, and all the violence and persecution and hatred that has been visited on so many for so long, all because of the rigid and merciless purity codes that so much of Christianity is obsessed by? None of that is intrinsic to being human. None of that is necessary. It is not good news, and it is not pleasing to God.

Christianity’s obsession with sex, and in particular homoerotic sex, is tearing apart the Body of Christ limb from limb. I would go so far as to say that this obsession is crucifying Christ all over again. May God have mercy on us all.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sexiest Words Poll

Assuming for a moment that "huntress" is one of the three sexiest words in the English language (Shannon thinks it is, and I tend to agree), what are the other two? Leave your nominations in the comments, please!

Book Review: Becoming Native to this Place by Wes Jackson

Becoming Native to this Place, Wes Jackson (1994)(*****). I read this little book in one day on the beach in Ocean City this past July or August; it’s short (118 pages) but dense, and I felt like I needed to reread it before I could adequately review it. But then I didn’t reread it, and the four or five months between reading and review will only serve to make my review even less adequate, I’m sure. Which is a shame, because I really loved this book a lot. Jackson, the founder of the Land Institute in Salinas, Kansas, argues that “We are unlikely to achieve anything close to sustainability in any area unless we work for the broader goal of becoming native in the modern world, and that means becoming native to our places in a coherent community that is in turn embedded in the ecological realities of its surrounding landscape.” (Prologue, p. 3) Jackson argues that if we are to become truly sustainable – meaning that we create lifestyles in which the outputs of our consumption do not destroy us and the world – we must make community (i.e. human-scale communities, not institutional/bureaucratic-scale communities) our organizing principle, and we must develop a science of sustainability with nature as the measure. He argues that much of the “prosperity” of the last several centuries has been fueled – literally – by an extractive economy based on fossil fuels that allows us to live far from the sources of our energy, but at devastating cost to our world. He calls, along with Wendell Berry (to whom the book is dedicated) for a resettling of the nation, a “homecoming” of sorts, in sustainable communities. This, he protests, is not “mere nostalgia. To resettle the country-side is a practical necessity for everyone, including people who continue to live in cities. To gather dispersed sunlight in the form of chemical energy in a fossil-free world will require a sufficiency of people spread across our broad landscape.” (Prologue, p. 4) His vision for such a new pioneer movement is unsentimental, politically astute, and – to this country girl, at least – very appealing.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

triple dog dare you

Edited again to add Myra's (my ... sort of.... what would you call yourself, Myra? My aunt-in-law?) sonnet (and oh be still my heart, how happy am I now??):

From festival to festival we yearn
To leave undone the many tasks that beckon.
Perhaps the earth, with every global turn
Grows weary of her solstice tasks, I reckon.

So if the leaves can put on different hues
When Autumn struts her stuff, I guess I can
Devise a new display, as I may choose
With green and gold and scarlet as my plan.

If stars can glow, as still the snowflake drifts
I'll add my contribution to the night.
If heaven can devise celestial gifts
I'll twinkle with a small domestic light.

So toss your list and fret not on your chores.
Here's wishing Love and Peace to you and yours!

Edited to add Jeff's response:

Sometimes when evening drapes it's fingers round
And squeezes thoughts and fears from someplace deep
When whispers of my spring cannot be found
And winter's snow so close now seems to creep
I watch my babies blankets rise and fall

And feel those fingers tighten harder still
As women's forms sleep soft on pillows tall
More beautiful than I could wish to build
Their faces speak of summers dreams and plans
The innocence of those living in spring
My winter's heart begins to understand
And slowly evenings fingers set me free
I lie back down contented in the fall
And winter doesn't seem too bad at all...

And now my happiness is complete....

My friend Jeff responded thus on Facebook to my challenge:

I can not write a sonnet
I will not wear a bonnet
Keep such dares inside your mouth
Before there's duct tape on it.

To which I respectfully reply to my dear friend, a talented photographer and father of some astonishingly lovely girls:

you can you can you can you can you can
a sonnet is not really difficult
please try and i will be your biggest fan
i do not fear it will lead to tumult.
indeed a sonnet could be just as fun
as taking photos of your lovely girls
okay well maybe not if there is sun,
or if their bonnets let peek raven curls.
but still and all a sonnet you can write
and i believe today is just the day
for such a form in you to take its flight.
duct tape is no defense from what i say
so put your bonnet on your pretty head
and send a sonnet 'ere you go to bed!

So if you're still not sure, here's a little tutorial I offered to another friend:

it's like a puzzle, because it has a really strict form. so first, there's the rhythm of the poem, which is written in what's called iambic pentameter. an iamb is what's called a "foot" in poetry, and it's two syllables, the first unstressed, the second stressed. so like "da DUM." pentameter just means there are five of these feet in each line.

da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM da DUM

so that's the rhythm of a sonnet. all the lines are in iambic pentameter.

next, there's a really strict rhyme scheme. well, actually there are several, but the one i used in my sonnet is the easiest and most typical. it goes like this (with the letters representing the rhyme at the end of each line; i've put the rhymes in my sonnet here too):

A (dog)
B (child)
A (agog)
B (reviled)
C (fear)
D (foreigner)
C (pier)
D (in her)
E (magnifies)
F (now)
E (clearer eyes)
F (vow)
G (then)
G (amen)

so the fun of a sonnet is making it all fit in the strict form, but still saying something meaningful. here's a really famous one from shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft' is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

cool huh? you should give it a try!

Triple dog dare ya, Jeff. I'm not afraid of your duct tape, but you should be afraid of the bonnet I'm going to make you wear if you don't send me a sonnet by the end of the day.

I Dare You

Mark has challenged me to write a post on how the Bible can be true without being factual, and whether it means anything at all if we start picking and choosing what is factual, as opposed to stories that can point to important truths. This is not a simple task, especially for someone as unschooled in the Bible as I am. But I would like Mark and others to understand how I read the Bible, and why. So I'm working on it.

I think this post will dovetail nicely with the question Suzanne has asked, which is how can rational people believe in a religious faith based on a tale of virgin birth? So I'm working on that too.

In thinking about both these posts, I asked Michael to send me a copy of his sermon titled "People Matter," because at the end of the day, I'm pretty sure that's the key to both questions. So last night, I was reading his sermon and thinking.

At the same time, and totally unrelated, I had asked Julie to write a sonnet for Shannon, who is writing a sonnet a week in the month of December, and has challenged her readers to do the same. I have never fancied myself much of a poet, but Julie is a bit of an idiot savant when it comes to sonnet-writing. I think she dreams in iambic pentameter. So in about thirty minutes, Julie whipped this off:

A “dona nobis pacem” frame of mind

eludes me and the world this time of year:

no peace on earth, no tranquil hope may find

free lodging absent stealth companion’s fear.

The bleak midwinter challenges my mood,

A dilatory penchant for stiff drink,

The promise of vast stores of festive food,

I cannot draw a breath nor even think

About the 40 thousand items on my list

of absolutely musts and shoulds and mights

…How is a girl to stave off being pissed

About responsibilities’ mad flights

through quantum realms of things still left undone?

I fear the race is o’er before ‘tis run.

Yeah, Julie's feeling a little cranky these days, but she was a sport to crank out a sonnet anyway. She made it look so easy, I decided to try my hand. Since I was reading Michael's sermon, I thought I would rewrite it as a sonnet. Almost three hours later, this is what I came up with:

Syrophoenician woman, like a dog

you wait for crumbs of bread to heal your child.

You break convention, touch the man, agog,

insist that no one should be spurned, reviled.

In you Jesus confronts the demon fear:

of woman, gentile, unclean foreigner.

Not just the food he shared beside the pier

is clean, but also now the soul in her

your child. Her soul, your courage magnifies

the Lord, expands his heart and shows him now

what love can make us see through clearer eyes,

and hearts can strive to make their solemn vow:

with no exceptions, never, now nor then,

all People Matter. Lord we say amen!

Julie points out that "Jesus" in the fifth line is not really an iamb, but that it's actually a "substitute foot" that focuses your attention on Jesus. And I just want to be clear that was totally intentional on my part.

I don't think I've ever written a sonnet before, but it was kind of fun. I might write another one soon. I double dare you to give it a try!