Friday, November 30, 2007

Rooting for the American Peso

I just got a new laptop computer (Sony Vaio) that runs Microsoft Vista. (I looked at Mac, but Mac is just too flipping weird.) Anyway, the features of Vista that I'm really digging most are the desktop gadgets you can put up. Currently, I have a clock (the flower clock, because it is way girly-girl), weather reports for Renton, WA, St. Louis, MO, Sioux Falls, SD, and Dublin, IRE, and the currency converter, which continually updates me on the worth of the U.S. dollar to the Canadian dollar.

I hear tell that our friends to the North have begun referring to our currency as the American peso. Oooh, that hurts! I remember back in 2002, when Jason and I went up to Victoria, BC for a weekend getaway, one U.S. dollar bought around 1.30 Canadian dollars. We lived like king and queen that weekend, ordering room service in our swanky hotel. Those days are sadly -- hopefully temporarily -- gone, as, currently, the American dollar is valued below the Canadian same.

As we are expecting some superb Canadian musical artists at our church next weekend, I am really keeping an eye on this currency converter. Two nights ago, 1 U.S. dollar bought .987 Canadian dollars. Yesterday, it was up to .998. This morning it is .999. One more thousandth, and we are at least back on par with our neighbours. Come on, dollar, you can do it! Get revalued! Up that worth! I'd like to see it back up above the Canadian dollar in time for the concert next weekend, because these particular Canadians are not at all shy about teasing us(with gentle love) as much as they can. We've already tipped a canoe up north, thus showing our American ineptitude with slender watercraft; and we were shown up as not knowing "Oh Canada!" when all the Canadians sang a lovely a cappella version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" last summer, so the last thing we need to be gibed about is our currency.

Let's all band together and root for the American peso!

As of 3:28 PM (PST), the currency converter is showing that $1 U.S. will buy you $1.001 CAN!! Whoo-hoo! Now, we just need to keep this up until after December 9 to stave off any "American peso" comments I might personally receive as part of good-natured cross-cultural ribbing from my Canadian brothers and sisters.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Too Good For The Likes of Me

Do you have any friends who are too good for you? Unfortunately, I think all my friends are. I have been dubiously blessed with the most thoughtful, inspiring, gifted, talented, delightful, and generous group of friends ever to have been assembled on this earthly plane. Oh, and they all seem to be endowed with that decorating and craft-making gene I sorely lack. And they do it all with such subtlty and quietness and finesse, that my sad attempts to return their abundance always feel so lumbering and clumsy. I feel like such a schmoo.

Take my friend, Kadie, for instance. I just finished writing a thank-you card to her for a lovely and thoughtful gift that she gave me for my birthday. Behold! This gift was exquisitely wrapped and carefully selected so as to maximize fully my pleasure in receiving it. And she wrote a card, too, that was as expressive in art as it was generous in nature.

Or, take Sabina. Here's another one who makes the very wrapping of a present into a work of artistic merit. She flipping made me a necklace for my birthday. She made me a necklace! It is gorgeous. How in the world do you equal that? How can you, if you are such a boob that even an Oriental Trading Company craft kit exasperates your meager abilities, ever hope to give something as meaningful and unique? You cannot. You simply fall back and gnash your teeth and murmur against the God who put such wonderful people in your life; and then accept it with gratitude.

Of course, nothing is coincidental. God put these lovely women into my life for many reasons, surely. But one of those must have been to hammer home into this stubborn skull of mine the meaning of grace. Now, every day, I have constant reminders about me of gifts that I do not deserve and can never hope to repay. And what greater gift do I have, ultimately, than the one given to me on the Cross by my Redeemer? Who is the original Creator of beautiful gifts I can never attempt to equal; Who gives with a heart free of "keeping score" and seeking reciprocation? And what else can I do but accept it with gratitude and tears of joy?

Thank you to my gifted and giving cadre of friends who are living, breathing examples of the grace of God in my life. You have blessed me beyond belief, and He has blessed me with belief, and my heart overflows with the wonder of it all.

Feed The Lake

Some of the most thoughtful artists and best music gathered, for your convenience, at one site on the world wide web: Feed the Lake
(Soon to include, as well, inspiring books by exceptional authors.)

Friday, November 09, 2007

Themes Revisited

So far, we have read Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Henry IV, Part One, Macbeth and Othello.

I was thinking just this morning -- about five minutes ago, really -- about the themes of these plays. Shakespeare had a wonderful way of revisiting themes with entirely different results.

For instance, take Much Ado and Othello. These two plays are written about trust and all of her cohorts -- vulnerability, suspicion, betrayal, redemption. Without a central theme of trust, these auxiliary themes would be meaningless. So, Shakespeare uses the theme in one play to create the lightest and most delightful of comedies (Much Ado) and then turns around and plays with the idea of trust in one of the most heartbreaking tragedies (Othello). Poor Desdemona could have used a Beatrice and Benedick pairing to come to her aid -- and, of course, the excellent sleuthing of Dogberry's men to discover the treacheries of Iago.

And then, as I've written of and posted before, Richard III and Macbeth were both portraits of ambition run amok -- the results of which in Richard were quite funny, while in Macbeth were absolutely horrifying. Richard's demons were all in his head, but they were a cheerfully depraved lot. Macbeth's demons were quite material -- whether witch or wife -- and their destructive force was most complete for they ravaged the man that was.

Now, Henry IV, Part I is in and of itself a thorough examination of the theme of honor. In the characters of Hotspur and Falstaff, Shakespeare has painted two opposite views of the importance and glory of honor. Prince Hal stands on the cusp of responsible adulthood and looks at the two -- his father's former favorite, the valiant, serious, and hot-tempered Hotspur and the jolly, drunken, thieving, but oh-so fun Falstaff. In the climactic battle scene, Hal wins his father's approval at last by coming to fight and then saving the King's life, and, eventually, he also kills the rebellious Hotspur; but has choice between honor and roguery really been made? For, when Falstaff counterfeits death to escape completing a duel and then later claims that he was the one to kill Hotspur, Prince Hal agrees to further his deception and falls back in with his disreputable buddy.

Ambition, honor, trust . . . I look forward to seeing what other themes Shakespeare will address as I finish the plays required for this class and continue to read the rest of his work on my own.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Up to My Armpits in the Bard

I've been taking an on-line Shakespeare class, and the pace is extremely fast. We read a play a week, and write a paper bi-weekly (i.e., one half of the class writes on one play one week, the other half on the next play the next week). So far, we have read Much Ado About Nothing, Richard III, Henry IV, Part One, and Macbeth. Every one, with the exception of the Scottish play, has been an absolute pleasure, and I think my favorite to date is Richard III. I found it unremittingly hilarious.

Of course, since I am nothing if not obsessive when on the trail of a new, enriching study, I have been steeping myself in other Bard-ish delights when not reading his plays. I have read Bill Bryson's excellent and compact contribution to the Eminent Lives Series by Atlas Books, Shakespeare: The World as Stage. First of all, Mr. Bryson is a writer in whose work I almost always delight. Should you wish to treat yourself at some time and haven't yet done this, I want to encourage you to read any or all of A Walk in the Woods, In a Sunburned Country, or The Mother Tongue. Then, proceed on to his other books, and stop when you've enjoyed them all. But, do try to spread them out -- my father OD'd a year or two ago, and now he is uninterested in reading Bryson's Shakespeare bio. That is a shame, because it captures so succinctly the mystery and magic of the Man from Stratford (and, no, Bryson does not buy into any of the anti-Stratfordian garbage -- his final chapter of this book is dedicated to putting those loonies (one of whom was named "Looney") in their proper place: the fringes). Bill Bryson was a good fit for writing this biography, because his authorial voice is just about perfect: humorous, inquisitive, reflective, and not at all worshipful, mystical or academic. What a readable book! If you are interested in getting an overview of Shakespeare that you can read in about a day, you will, almost without one doubt, value this book.

Another Shakespeare book that I've just started and that promises to be a great ride is Becoming Shakespeare by Jack Lynch. This is a story of his afterlife -- that is, it tells the fascinating tale of how (from the introduction) "Shakespeare, the provincial playwright and theatre manager [turned into] Shakespeare, the universal bard at the heart of English culture." I'll be burning the itty-bitty booklight to finish this one.

A Shakespeare book that I picked up at the same time as the two previously mentioned but will return to B&N as soon as I can is Filthy Shakespeare by Pauline Kiernan. I had purchased it without looking it over thoroughly because a) rarely have I found a book with no redeeming qualities, b) I like a bawdy romp through Elizabethan and Jacobean sensibilities and protocols as much as the next girl, and c) how bad could it be? Well, it's pretty bad. Jason laughed at my disappointment and said, "What in the world did you expect from a book called Filthy Shakespeare?" A fair question, and the answer, I guess, is that I was expecting something more, well, subtle and witty and British than what simply reads as crude and artless attempt to shock. Ms. Kiernan is a Shakespeare scholar, and I certainly am not, but I just wasn't buying every sexual pun she cited. She couldn't convince me that other interchanges in the plays were quite so graphic as she claimed. Wm. Shakespeare was certainly sly and multi-layered, and not above heating things up on stage with naughty bits for the delight and appeasement of the groundlings, but, it's hard to imagine that he could have gotten anywhere with the plots had he spent so much time churning out the sex jokes. So, back to B&N it goes -- the first time in my life I have ever returned a book because I did not like it.

I'm off to read Othello!

I Respectfully Submit

Words mean things. Using language correctly is important, because how you use (or abuse) words can make or break your credibility in an argument. When lives are at stake, the cost of misuse is devastating.

I can only hope that Rep. Chris Smith's (R-NJ) words, delivered October 31, at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting, were transcribed incorrectly by the NRLC. He is too eloquent and valiant a persuader for the cause of human life to be saddled with this linguistic aberration:

I respectfully submit that the term "unsafe abortion" is the ultimate oxymoron.
All induced abortion, whether legal or illegal, is unsafe for the baby. It is also unsafe for the mother, who is at risk not only of physical injury, but also of long-term psychological damage including severe depression.

I think he must have said, "The term 'safe abortion' is the ultimate oxymoron." "Unsafe abortion" is a good example of redundancy or reiteration, but it is certainly not an oxymoron (unless you're one of the Weïrd Sisters of NARAL).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Quote Archive

I'm going to use this post as a place to store for posterity all of my "Quote of the Weeks." Look for it later under "Musings from the Vault" on the sidebar. It will be updated weekly with every new quote. Thanks for stopping by!

March 14, 2005:
You can argue with your Maker, but you know that you just can't win - alrightokuhuhamen.
You can argue with your Maker, or know the joy of saying "yes" to Him - alrightokuhuhamen.
--Rich Mullins, "alrightokuhuhamen" from the album Songs.

March 21, 2005:
There are 10,000 books in my library, and it will keep growing until I die. This has exasperated my daughters, amused my friends, and baffled my accountant. If I had not picked up this habit in the library long ago, I would have more money in the bank today; I would not be richer.
--Pete Hamill, "D'Artagnan on Ninth Street: A Brooklyn Boy at the Library"

March 28, 2005:
Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Anybody can say "I've got cancer" and get a rise out of a crowd. But how many of us can do five minutes of good stand-up comedy?
And worrying is less work than doing something to fix the worry. This is especially true if we're careful to pick the biggest possible problems to worry about. Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.
--P.J. O'Rourke, "Fashionable Worries" from All the Trouble in the World

April 4, 2005:
In the beginning the word was with God; all explanations, physical and moral, rested on the divine. And now for storytellers, even though those patterns of explanation are strictly human, the word has not lost a superhuman power to connect young and old, writer and reader; to connect us with each other and with the causes and consequences of what we do.
--Jill Patton Walsh

April 11, 2005:
If you love the language, the greatest thing you can do to ensure its survival is not to complain about bad usage but to pass your enthusiasm to a child. Find a child and read to him often the things you admire, not being afraid to read the classics.
--Robert Macneil, Wordstruck: A Memoir

April 18, 2005:

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of humans are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then, with the quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains, hooks and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!
And, now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.
--Frederic Bastiat, the thrilling denouement of The Law

April 25, 2005:
People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and, yet, they pass by themselves without wondering.
--St. Augustine

May 2, 2005:
A tax-supported, compulsory educational system is the complete model of the totalitarian state...The most vindictive resentment may be expected from the pedagogic profession for any suggestion that they should be dislodged from their dictatorial position; it will be expressed mainly in epithets, such as "reactionary," at the mildest. Nevertheless, the question to put to any teacher moved to such indignation is: Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you to pay you for teaching them? Why do you have to extort your fees and collect your pupils by compulsion?
--The Inimitable Isabel Paterson, "Our Japanized Educational System" from The God of the Machine (1943)

May 9, 2005:
Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
--G.K. Chesterton, as quoted in When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett
(I have also seen this quoted thus: The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.)

May 16, 2005:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
--C.S. Lewis, as quoted on Rebecca's blog, doxology.

May 23, 2005:
A sign above the main exit door of Hope Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD:
You are entering the mission field. Go in peace. Serve the Lord.
To which I add: Amen.

May 30, 2005:
We are His daughters and sons. We are the colorful ones. We are the kids of the King. Rejoice in everything!
--Keith and Melody Green, "Stained Glass"

June 6, 2005:
"Miss Bingley," said [Darcy], "has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke."
"Certainly," replied Elizabeth --"there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise and good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can."
--From Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Volume I, Chapter XI

June 13, 2005:

The greatest gift a man can give his children is to love (and honor and respect and marry*) their mother.
--Anonymous (*words in parentheses my [Justine's] enhancement, because looooooving the person with whom you create a new life just ain't enough!)

June 20, 2005:
Keely Smith (singing): "Never treats me sweet and gentle the way that he should - I've got it bad and that ain't good . . ."
Louis Prima (cutting in): "I've got it good and that ain't bad!"
--From the recording of "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)" (Ellington/Webster) on the new CD Live from Las Vegas: Louis Prima and Keely Smith

June 27, 2005:

A lot of American principle is contained in the two words: "Just don't." Much of the rest is encompassed by the suggestion of minding one's own business. The whole is summed up in the word "liberty."
--Isabel Paterson

July 4, 2005:

Away on vacation - the I.M.P. quote from above is excellent enough to suffice for two weeks, especially in the week that Americans celebrate our nation's birthday.

July 11, 2005:

I will be as harsh as truth and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject, I do not wish to think, or speak, or write with moderation. No! No! Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm; tell him to moderately rescue his wife from the hands of the ravisher; tell the mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which it has fallen--but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest--I will not equivocate--I will not excuse--I will not retreat a single inch--AND I WILL BE HEARD.
--William Lloyd Garrison, from the editorial of the inaugural issue of the abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, published January 1, 1831. A wonderful rallying cry that applies today to the pro-life movement. May we be as stalwart in proclaiming the truth about abortion.

July 18, 2005:

Society in every state is a blessing, but government, even in its best state, is a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
--Thomas Paine, 1776

July 25, 2005:
We are battered and torn from the day we are born, in a world that has blinded and bound us.
Is it any surprise we don't open our eyes to the truth that's disguised all around us?
Like the secrets we keep, and don't know we're keeping, from before there was time, before there were lies.
Can we find You again, this far from the garden? Do we dare even try?
Do we dare pay attention - dare even mention - the mystery we find ourselves caught in?
And do we dare to remember all that we have forgotten?
--Carolyn Arends, "Do We Dare," Feel Free (1997)

August 1, 2005:
Democrats are . . . the party that says government can make you richer, smarter, taller and get the chickweed out of your lawn. Republicans are the party that says government doesn't work, and then they get elected and prove it.
--P.J. O'Rourke, from Parliament of Whores (1991)

August 8, 2005 - September 6, 2005:
Dead computer. No new quotes.

September 7, 2005:
She's my wife, so she stays home and takes care of me. Maybe that's the way you tell the ladies from the broads in this town.
--Humphrey Bogart of wife Lauren Bacall

September 13, 2005:

There's enough good in the worst of us and enough bad in the best of us, that it never behooves any of us to talk about the rest of us.
--Mary Chapman, mother of singer/songwriter Gary Chapman

October 3, 2005:

Right now it is a terrible thing to be a rugged individualist; but we don't know what else to be except a feeble nonentity.
--Isabel Paterson

October 11, 2005:

God does not have grandchildren.
--Gloria Grant

October 18, 2005:
Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger.
--Keith Green

November 2, 2005:
Man hurts man -- time and time and time again. And we drown in the wake of our power -- Somebody tell me: Why?
--Amy Grant, from the song "Lead Me On"

November 10, 2005:

[The Politician] has developed a sixth sense
About living at the public's expense,
Because in private competition
He would encounter malnutrition.
. . .
Some politicians are Republican, some are Democratic,
And their feud is dramatic,
But except for the name
They are identically the same.
--Ogden Nash, the greatest poet of the 20th Century, from "The Politician"

November 18, 2005:
Chris: You know, there's a word for people who think that everyone is conspiring against them.
C.W.: I know: perceptive.
--From the movie, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion

December 1, 2005:

Do not be afraid! I bring you good news of great joy. It is for all the people. Today, in the Town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.
--Luke 2:10-11

December 30, 2005:
This will be my resolution: Every day is New Year's Day!
This could start a revolution: Every day is --
One more chance to start all over.
One more chance to change and grow, oh!
One more chance to grab a hold of grace and never let it go.
--Carolyn Arends, "New Year's Day" from the album Feel Free (1997)

January 6, 2006:
Some people seem to think that the answer to all of life's imperfections is to create a government agency to correct them. If that is your approach, then go straight to totalitarianism. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $200.
--Thomas Sowell

January 20, 2006:

I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever.
--Thomas Jefferson

January 31, 2006:

The world is sleeping in the dark that the church just can't fight, 'cause it's asleep in the light. How can you be so dead when you've been so well fed? Jesus rose from the grave -- and you? You can't even get out of bed!
--Keith Green

February 20, 2006:

God is in control. We believe that His children will not be forsaken.
God is in control. We will choose to remember and never be shaken.
There is no power above or beside Him we know -- oh, God is in control.
--Twila Paris, "God is in Control"

March 6, 2006:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
He hides a smiling face.
--William Cowper

March 16, 2006:
Almost all intellectuals profess to love humanity and to be working for its improvement and happiness. But it is the idea of humanity they love, rather than the actual individuals who compose it. They love humanity in general rather than men and women in particular. Loving humanity as an idea, they can then produce solutions as ideas. Therein lies the danger, for when people conflict with the solution as idea, they are first ignored or dismissed as unrepresentative; and then, when they continue to obstruct the idea, they are treated with growing hostility and categorized as enemies of humanity in general.
--Paul Johnson, "The Heartless Lovers of Humanity" (1989)

March 30, 2006:
Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.
--Blaise Pascal

April 16, 2006:
Fundamentals of Christian tolerance and fellowship: In essentials, Unity. In non-essentials, Liberty. In all things, Charity.
--Anonymous, as quoted by Pastor Kevin Day, Calvary Chapel South

April 28, 2006:
All I ever have to be is what You've made me. Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan. As You daily recreate me help me always keep in mind: that I only have to do what I can find. And all I have to be -- all I ever have to be -- is what You've made me.
--Gary Chapman, "All I Have to Be"

May 15, 2006:
There's nothing so rude as a gift you don't use or a life that you choose not to live. 'Cause you're blessed to bless and the best of possessions is having something to give.
--Carolyn Arends, "Something to Give," from Pollyanna's Attic, 2006

June 12, 2006:

Be Like the BirdBe like the bird who,
Resting in his flight
On a twig too slight,
Feels it bend beneath him
Yet sings,
Knowing he has wings.
--Victor Hugo

June 29, 2006:
Picture to yourself, O fair young reader, a worldly, selfish, graceless, thankless, religionless old woman, writhing in pain and fear, and without her wig. Picture her to yourself, and ere you be old, learn to love and pray.
--William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, "Miss Crawley at Home"

July 17, 2006:
The only people I truly envy are those who can play a musical instrument and those who can eat anything they want without gaining weight.
--Thomas Sowell

August 3, 2006:
You need to learn humility so that you can be awesome like me.
--My Humble Husband, Jason

September 5, 2006:
You can tell how good a kid's summer has been by counting up all their bruises and scrapes and cuts at the end of it.
--Mark Arends

September 15, 2006:
[I]n the long run the aggregate of decisions of individual businessmen, exercising individual judgment in a free economy, even if often mistaken, is less likely to do harm than the centralized decisions of a government; and certainly the harm is likely to be counteracted faster.
--John Cowperthwaite, British colonial officer, former governor of Hong Kong

October 12, 2006:
The therapeutic ethos of recent years has encouraged each of us to get every thought off our chest, lest we suffer from the ordeal of civility.
--Wall Street Journal Editorial, "Survivor Strategy," September 1, 2006

November 1, 2006:
[A]sk yourself whether you think God ought to have been content with the cruelty of cruel ages because they excelled in courgage or chastity. . . . From considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get an inkling of how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how both must look to God.
--C.S. Lewis, from The Problem of Pain
December 27, 2006:
Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.
--G.K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy

January 8, 2007:
From "A Brief for the Defense"If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,we lessen the importance of their deprivation.We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must havethe stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthlessfurnace of this world. To make injustice the onlymeasure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
--Jack Gilbert, The New Yorker, November 15, 2004

February 12, 2007:
"Taking joy in life is a woman's best cosmetic."
--Rosalind Russell

March 30, 2007:"We are to regard existence as a raid or great adventure; it is to be judged, therefore, not by what calamities it encounters, but by what flag it follows and what high town it assaults. The most dangerous thing in the world is to be alive; one is always in danger of one's life. But anyone who shrinks from that is a traitor to the great scheme and experiment of being."
--G.K. Chesterton

June 4, 2007:"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized."
--Daniel H. Burnham, Chief Architect of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893

August 2007:"All the world is my Jordan, someday I'm gonna cross. Ain't nobody gonna look and say my soul is lost. So I'll do my best; try to tell all the rest. And when the lion roars I'm gonna hide behind the cross. 'Cause it's the peace that passes all understanding in a world crazed with fear. They say that I am much too demanding to want a better place than here. "
--Jennifer Knapp, "Visions," from Kansas (1997)
November 19, 2007:"No matter if you're young or old, no matter if your story's told or if nobody knows your name, to Him it's all the same. He sold Himself to buy your life, and He wants to make it right. He sold Himself to buy your life, and He wants to make it right."
--"Say Once More," by Brian Carr and Gwen Moore, from Amy Grant's Never Alone (1980)
"Give thanks to the LORD; for He is good; His love endures forever."
--1 Chronicles 16:34

January 1, 2008:"For to us Trinitarians (if I may say it with reverence) -- to us God Himself is a society. It is indeed a fathomless mystery of theology . . . Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and as open as an English fireside; that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart. But out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world. For it is not well for God to be alone."
--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Romance of Orthodoxy"

March 27, 2008:"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio/Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."
--Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5

May 19, 2008:"Let mercy lead; let love be the strength in your legs. And in every footprint that you leave there'll be a drop of grace. If we can reach beyond the wisdom of this age into the foolishness of God, that foolishness will save those who believe. Although their foolish hearts may break they will find peace. And I'll meet you in that place where mercy leads."
--Rich Mullins and Beaker, "Let Mercy Lead," Brother's Keeper (1995)
June 5, 2008:"You are not long for this world; So do not long for this world. Have a good look around, Take joy where it's found, But you are not long for this world."
--Chris Jonat (The Clumsy Lovers), "Not Long for This World," Smart Kid (2005)
September 16, 2008:"Of a sane man there is only one safe definition. He is the man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head."
--G.K. Chesterton, "The Travelers in State," Tremendous Trifles
December 12, 2008:"If the shepherds were not wrong/If there was an angel song/If God planned this all along/Then everything changes at Christmas.
'Cause if that was the Savior's birth/That means God thought we were worth/Whatever it took to bring love down to earth/And everything changes at Christmas."
--Carolyn Arends, "Everything Changes at Christmas"

February 15, 2009:There are some refusals which, though they may be done what is called conscientiously, yet carry so much of their whole horror in the very act of them, that a man must in doing them not only harden but slightly corrupt his heart. One of them was the refusal of milk to young mothers when their husbands were in the field against us. Another is the refusal of fairy tales to children.
--G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles, "The Dragon's Grandmother"

January 2010:If . . . you are ever tempted to think that we modern Western Europeans cannot really be so very bad because we are, comparatively speaking, humane--if, in other words, you think God might be content with us on that ground--ask yourself whether you think God ought to have been content with the cruelty of past ages because they excelled in courage or chastity. You will see at once that this is an impossibility. From considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get some inkling of how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how both must look to God.
--C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chapter 4, "Human Wickedness"

April 2010:
She was not in the least afraid of loneliness, because she was not afraid of devils.  I think they were afraid of her.
--G.K. Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, Chapter XI, "A Scandal in the Village"

Thoughts on Richard III and Macbeth

Here are two discussion papers I've written for my on-line Shakespeare class. I'd be interested in hearing what any of you think about these two plays.

Sympathy for the Devil – Shakespeare’s Seductive Villain, Richard III

It would only take a very few changes in dialogue to change Shakespeare’s Richard III from a tragedy to a comedy. Never before – and so rarely since – have treachery, betrayal, hypocrisy and plain, old villainy been so fun. When Richard, Duke of Gloucester, first steps, as one imagines, far down to the front of the stage, dead in the center, and looks unflinchingly into the audience, there is an electric authority in his words. He begins with a sardonically mocking tribute to his elder brother, who has – offstage – just been crowned Edward IV of England. He then mocks his own bitterness at his physical inferiority. Then, without warning, he declares that he will “prove the villain and hate the idle pleasure [of these ‘summer’] days [of York’s ascension]” (I.i.30-31). All of a sudden, the audience itself is in too deep – an unwitting group of conspirators who are the only ones privy to his dastardly plans. As Phyllis Rackin wrote in her essay, “A Modern Perspective,” that was included with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s edition of Richard III, “Confiding in the audience, flaunting his witty wickedness, and gloating at the weakness and ignorance of the other characters, [Richard] draws the playgoers into complicity with his wicked schemes” (p.343). Why does Shakespeare take a historical figure thought utterly reprehensible in Tudor England, and give him such a commanding presence on the stage – making him charismatic, seductive and, even, lovable?

First of all, it makes for good theater. For a title character to carry a play, he must be captivating. Otherwise, the groundlings will start chucking their oranges at him. Shakespeare had so many areas of genius, but one of his greatest surely must have been in establishing character. Right from the first soliloquy, the audience is clued in that Richard is no good, rather vain about his conniving capabilities, and will take them on a wild ride to the throne of England, whether they are willing or no. With a wink and a nod, he betrays his brother (I.iii.365-376), makes an inexplicable play for Anne Neville (I.ii.72-244), condemns Rivers, Grey and Vaughn (II.i.184-188), frames Hastings (III.iv.75-80), and commits many more foul deeds with a self-possessed air. Playgoers in Tudor England would not have been surprised that Richard was such a vile character (after all, the Tudors had had their historians hard at work to paint him that way), but they may have been surprised by how much they liked him despite his myriad depravities.

Secondly, Shakespeare may have been “over plumming the pudding” for a merrily subversive take on the end of the War of the Roses. He certainly does not “over egg” his concoction, for the outcome is never ruinous, but he throws plum after juicy plum into it, until the onlooker is left in euphoric disbelief. “Oh no,” the viewer or reader might say in his mind, “He is not really going to go there, is he? Oh goodness, yes, yes! He went there!” Whether it is the highly comedic accusation against Hastings’s mistress of witchcraft (III.iv.77), or the unconscionable callousness with which he kills off his beleaguered wife Anne (IV.ii.53-62), or the mock religious humility with which he rebuffs the offer of the crown (III.vii.96-249), Richard always gives his complicit audience a reason to intake their breath sharply. With every soliloquy given after each heinous rung in his climb to power, Richard gives more and more evidence that he is the most calculating of fiends. Actions this evil are usually, in the real world, clouded by blinders of idealism – the perpetrator truly believes that his deeds serve some greater good. Such self-delusion is never practiced by Shakespeare’s Richard, who never mentions the good of England or the wrongs of his enemies with anything other than hypocrisy.

In a time without any ability to record history objectively, and where a theater could be shut down by censorship, Shakespeare found a way to make received ideas about the Tudors’ claims to the monarchy a sly joke. Truly a tyrant like King Richard III, as portrayed on the Globe’s stage, deserved to be dethroned. But, can such devilry really have existed? By making a character so over-the-top, Shakespeare seems to question the accepted doctrine of the last Plantagenet’s fall. From his constant cries of “Off with his head” (III.ii.196, III.iv.77, V.iv.366), to his seduction of both Anne Neville and Queen Elizabeth (to woo her daughter on his behalf) in spite of their entirely justified reasons for hating him, to his staged reluctance to accept the crown, Richard oozes with cartoonish rage, smarminess and affectation. Is this possibly how a historic king might have behaved? Shakespeare leaves that question open for the audience to decide. Though he is vanquished in the end, the wicked Richard outshines the valiant Henry (Earl of Richmond) to the last, and Richmond’s speech at the end is a dull conclusion to an exciting romp in an amoral universe. In creating the prototype of the lovable, despicable rogue, Shakespeare, perhaps, poked a little fun at how history can be twisted by the victors and how implausible many historical perceptions can seem when taken to their logical extremes in a dramatic presentation. It is easy to become quite fond of that homicidal megalomaniac. Maybe the greatest tragedy of Richard III is that its anti-hero meets his death in the end and lives on in no future plays.

“Vaulting Ambition:” The Reluctant Rise and Dark Descent of Macbeth

Shakespeare’s Richard III and Macbeth share some striking features. Both are highly prejudicial dramatizations of historical figures and events. Both are almost bewilderingly bloody, as the body count rises with each scene played out. Both culminate in the eponymous characters’ defeats in battles against rebel forces. Both are called tragedies in their complete titles. And both are about over-arching ambition.

There the similarities stop. The characterizations of Richard and Macbeth could not be more different. In Richard III, the Duke of Gloucester swaggers (despite a proclaimed deformity) onto the stage and takes command of all the action proceeding thence. He charms and beguiles his friends and enemies alike; and, perhaps most importantly, he completely seduces the audience and makes them complicit in his evil schemes. His ambition is, to his captivated conspirators, a flagrant and flamboyant triumph of cunning over dullness and sheer guts over banal morality. Prophecies and curses abound, and Richard heeds them not. He carries off his power grab with panache; and he loses neither heart nor spirit, even unto the last battle scene.

Macbeth, on the other hand, opens not with a charismatic soliloquy from the title character drawing the audience into his plans and gaining their sympathies, but with the dark, mysterious powers of prophecy, witchcraft, and fate in the form of three unnerving hags. They converse briefly and end the scene with the telling phrase, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through the fog and the filthy air” (I.i.12-13). The fog and the filth never seem to lift throughout the play, putting 11th Century Scotland in a perpetual mist of turmoil, blood, and betrayal, and the character of Macbeth himself in a downward spiral of ambition satisfied, but at the cost of his soul and, eventually, his life.

In her essay, “Macbeth: A Modern Perspective,” Susan Snyder writes helpfully of the history upon which this play was based. It appears that Shakespeare used as a reference Holinshed’s Chronicles of Scotland[i]. In preparing the dramatization, though, Shakespeare trimmed away some of the moral ambiguities to leave a clearer cut sense of black and white. This editing led to a greater illustration of ambition’s corrupting influence. With Duncan’s goodness and Macbeth’s complete acknowledgement of that goodness, Macbeth can think of no other reason to commit regicide than his own “vaulting ambition” (I.vii.27). But, unlike the amoral Richard, Macbeth seems to possess an ambition not wholly his own.

Not only do the three witches accost him and burden him with predictions of future sovereignty, when Macbeth mentions their eerie proclamations in a letter to his wife, Lady Macbeth immediately seizes the prophecy and begins to concoct a means of bringing it to fruition (I.v.1-33). She, too, calls upon dark powers to steel her resolve and “unsex” (I.v.48) her so that she may compel her husband to his fated position. Moments later, when Macbeth enters the room, his wife begins at once to coax him to regicide. In Macbeth’s demure, there is little of ambition and much discomfort. This man, despite the choices he will soon make, is no sociopath. He has a moral compass.

Lady Macbeth’s manipulation of Macbeth in Act I, Scene 7, when the thane has decided against murdering Duncan (at least for that night), is terrifying to witness. She questions his manhood, his constancy, and his valor, and she speaks such a brutal metaphor of how her resolve would never waver in such a situation (I.vii.62-67), that it is astonishing to turn back and read their previous interchange (I.v.63-86), and discover anew that Macbeth promised no more to his wife than that they should discuss further this noxious plan. He is carried along on her traitorous stream, a passive vessel receding into moral ambiguity.

Duncan’s murder nearly destroys Macbeth (II.ii.47-81). Banquo’s subsequent assassination further plunges his sanity (III.iv.59-141). His troubled soul seeks reassurance that he is, indeed, in line with his fate, so he returns to the Weird Sisters (IV.i.48-151). The apparitions that the witches summon, with their seemingly impossible predictions and exhortations (other than that Macbeth should “Beware Macduff”) build up a false sense of security for the precarious king, but also serve to remove the last vestiges of fear (hence, morality) from him. He returns from that sojourn emboldened, bloodthirsty, and dehumanized.

In the end, neither Richard nor Macbeth can escape his fate. Richard, who was told by a “bard of Ireland” that “[he] would not live long after [he] saw Richmond” (Richard III: IV.ii.109-110), who was plagued the night before battle with visitations of his vengeful victims (Richard III: V.iii.124-183), and who lastly notes that the sun, despite the calendar, refuses to shine on his battle to retain the throne, blithely notes that “the selfsame heaven that frowns on me looks sadly upon [Richmond]” (Richard III:V.iii.303-304), and cheerfully charges off toward his death. Macbeth, who was told to “beware Macduff” ((IV.i.82), was assured that “none of a woman born shall harm [him]” (IV.i.91-92), and had been promised that he would not be vanquished until the Great Birnam Wood would march up Dunsinane Hill – a fanciful, improbable, and, therefore, highly reassuring pronouncement (IV.i.105-110), still stands to meet Macduff and the rebel forces when they come up Dunsinane Hill under the guise of Birnam Wood’s branches. Even, when Macduff declares that, instead of being born, he was “from [his] mother’s womb untimely ripped,” (V.viii.19-20) Macbeth overcomes his initial reluctance to run from the fight, and submits to fate and his destruction. Ambition so over-reaching that it blinds and deafens the conscience seems always to end, at least in Shakespeare’s plays, in devastation.

These two plays present a fascinating study in human nature of what all-consuming ambition can do to two very different men. Whether flowing from the wellspring of an amoral perspective, as was Richard’s, or bursting through the dam of morality by chiseled cracks of persuasion, manipulation, and fatalistic machinations, as was the unfortunate Macbeth’s, the outcome is drowning. And, while Richard’s ambition is presented in such a way as to make it almost a parody of the corrupting nature of power and a comedy of sorts, Macbeth’s is real enough to keep it firmly ensconced in the genre of tragedy. Not even the Porter of Act 2, Scene 3 can alleviate the gravity surrounding the Thane of Glamis’s decision, and even Nature herself turns black with despair (II.iv.8-12) as the winds howl their pity (I.vii.21-22) and the invisible steeds of heaven blow the horrid deed in every eye (I.vii.24).

[i] “Macbeth: A Modern Perspective,” Susan Snyder, in Folger Shakespeare Library: The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine (New York: Washington Square Press, 1992), p. 198.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

"If You Want to Make God Laugh, Tell Him Your Plans."

I barely caught that little throw-away line from the end of the trailer for Bella. Please visit their website.

We all need to go and see this movie when it hits our markets. From what I've read and heard, it could be one of the most important movies ever to have been made.

I have long thought that what we need to wipe out abortion in America is a work of art so culturally relevant and unexpectedly persuasive that it changes hearts and then minds that had had no intention of being changed. We need an Uncle Tom's Cabin for the pro-life movement. Uncle Tom's Cabin isn't even that great of a book, but it gave a voice to the abolition movement that was cloaked in entertainment and storytelling. Tell a good story, and people will listen. There was a book released in 2005 called Emily's Hope by Ellen Gable that was about, among other things, abortion, but it lacked something in wide-spread appeal -- it was, in my opinion, too Catholic to meet with a broad readership -- and too artless in its approach to the subject. I really appreciated the author's effort, but knew that it would not reach much further than Catholic readers and those who, like me, read reviews in Gilbert Magazine.

Bella, though, may be the turning of the tide. I pray that it will be. Again, I have not seen it, and it has not even opened in the Seattle market yet, but it looks like in all aspects it will reflect its name: Beautiful. It reads on paper as a simple story that is deceptively deep and touches those most veiled places in the conscience that know -- as I believe everyone knows in their hearts -- that life at all stages is something to respect and celebrate. This is film making with a purpose, and, yet, without any sacrifice of vision or integrity. And who would not want to read an interview like this with the star of every motion picture released?

Art can reach people who are unmoved by rhetoric, theology, or science. Art goes someplace within people that is the mysterious center that remembers the Creator. The more we learn to love the Creator, the larger the space within us that can be filled by art; but, no matter how small or how denied, that place is there. I do not care how much of an atheist you think you are, when you have been touched by a work of art, your soul has just acknowledged its Creator.

I was at a Chesterton Society meeting this past spring at Seattle Pacific University, and Jeffrey Overstreet from Christianity Today's movie site was the guest speaker. He has written an excellent book about finding spiritual relevance and reflections of holiness in even the most purportedly secular or even atheistic movies called Through a Screen Darkly. He spoke most entertainingly about the latest push by studios to capture the newly-discovered "Christian market," and then lamented that most of the offerings from these studios so far have been steeped in banality and oozing with saccharine sensibilities. He said that he "longed for the day when a movie with Christian themes would be made in which everything didn't turn out peachy keen for believers in the end,"* and yet would still be redemptive. I wonder what he will think of Bella. Above all, this movie simply looks real -- gritty, messy, tense, glowing, raw, beautiful, unexpected, brilliantly alive.

I can hardly wait to see this film -- a labor of love and a work of art.

*This is not an exact quote, but I think you get the gist.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are You Being Summoned?

You've seen those grim pictures from the Great Depression of people waiting in bread lines. The air of tight-lipped suffering, the shuffle of resignation caught even in photographic stillness, the downcast visages ashamed to show the eyes of human dignity to a world of indifference . . . you know them well, right? In every text book read in middle and high school you have seen them -- overwhelmingly men -- in their shabby coats and dipped-down fedoras, steeling themselves for an activity they despised in a setting they had disparaged.

I have seen the modern day bread line, and it is jury duty.

In our stylish, but not too stylish*, Pacific Northwest autumn garb we stood, men and women in disgruntled solidarity, to serve a function for which we did not care and claim a privilege we would rather have forsaken. Our bleary eyes distant, our faces blank, we shuffled forward through security into both the King County Superior Courthouse and the Great Unknown. How long would our tenure last? How many dull hours of waste would we contribute to the grinding wheels? Would we ever breathe the sweet, sharp air of an October afternoon again this year?

At least, that is what I hoped I was projecting, and that was certainly what I read on the impassive faces surrounding me. It was Monday morning at 8:00 AM, and I was in Seattle. Normally, Seattle is a beautiful and exciting city -- one of my favorite places on earth -- but not at 8:00 AM . . . oh no, not then. Smarter jurors than I (or at least ones that did not need an hour to commute that morning) were coddling lattes in their chilly hands, and I looked hopefully, but in vain, up and down the street for a Starbucks. The KC Superior Courthouse must be on the only city block in Seattle not to have one.

As I looked from face to face, my eye noted another observer of the human scene. She stood, tall and alert, her eyes darting around, a small smile of inward amusement on her face. She, too, had several books clasped in her hands to help her while away the day. Our gazes locked for a brief second, and her small grin widened and my caffeine-deprived frown disappeared into smile of spiritual recognition. Just seeing her there helped me immediately understand that this was, in fact, a very hilarious situation, and one that I ought to be drinking in and enjoying fully. I lost sight of this young lady in the sea of the Juror Assembly Room -- and, I'll confess that, hunkered down in my book, I did not look too hard for her -- but she gave me strength to turn this civil burden and unpleasant inconvenience of jury duty on its head. At least, she did for a little while.

When I was not a mom and a nanny with the needs and nurturing of two little girls foremost in my mind, and I had a job that paid me full salary while I served on a jury, I longed to be summoned for jury duty. My innate sense of curiosity was itching to see the inner workings of our fine judicial system. For years and years (and I did not have Sadie until I was 28 -- ten years after becoming eligible to serve on a jury), I waited without fulfillment for that calling to come. Then, last year, it came. I have no idea now why I did not serve last year. I was not nannying Little Pumpkin then, and Jason was working his same old job, and life was pretty even-keeled. For some reason I cannot remember, I requested the "one time only" delay, and postponed my service for a year. Then, I blithely forgot all about it.

Lo and behold! This year the summons came again, this time without any offer of a one-year reprieve. Now, to serve, I had not only to interrupt our family's life, I had to interrupt Little Pumpkin's family's life as well. To top it off, Jason had recently gotten a new job at work and was mired down with multiple hassles. This turned out to be the least easily accommodated point of my life to serve on a jury. And I had to drive all the way into Seattle during the morning rush to the courthouse. Like the teenager I once was, I whined to myself and Jason (lucky man) about how "unfair" this was. Like, so totally unfair (to the max). But, I went. What else could I do?

And I sat. And I sat. And I finished Henry IV, Part I. And I finished Heritage of Ireland: A History of Ireland and Its People. And I finished The Claddagh Ring: Ireland's Cherished Symbol of Friendship, Loyalty and Love. And I went to the vending machine and got some Nutter Butter Bites. And I shyly chuckled at the exasperated witticisms of my fellow jurors. And then, I got called for a jury.

I'll admit: As inconvenient as it was for me to be there; as much as Jason was at home with Sadie, gnashing his teeth at the thought of the work going undone at the office; as much as Little Pumps was disobliged by hanging out with her little-seen Aunt Diane for the day; the process of being taken by a bailiff into an actual courtroom and seeing, for the first time in my life, a real judge, was an awesome thing. I was number thirty-four out of thirty-five jurors called, so the judge waved off my protests of hardship in light of the fact that it was unlikely jury selection would even get down to where my position was. So, I rather relaxed and began to enjoy the show. And, nobody puts on a show like a weaselly trial lawyer.

It was a civil case. There was a car accident in 2002, and the plaintiff was charging that the defendant was negligent in his driving; therefore, she was looking to have him found liable for damages. Of course, this lady was very lucky that I wasn't chosen to be on the trial, because I had immediately and unreservedly decided in favor of the defendant. He was a nice-looking, old hippie guy, with long hair and a beard. The plaintiff could obviously stand up and sit down without assistance, her face and body looked fine (i.e., as good as nature intended), and she had wits about her to hire an attorney (in my jaundiced view, this was probably just before the statute of limitations was most likely set to run out), so I had little sympathy for her. Plus, I was rear-ended in a car accident back in 2000, and I chose not even to collect insurance money for damage done to my car, because I felt so sorry for the young kid who hit me. In car accidents -- unless the person is criminally liable (i.e., drunk or under the influence of drugs) -- I tend to think that forgive and forget is the best policy; and showing gratitude for yet being alive is also best done by not bringing lawsuits.

That said, I do believe that both tort laws and tort law reform are necessary. We cannot have a free society without some means of redress for wronged parties. But, we also cannot have a truly free society when everyone is running scared because of lawsuits. There must be balance.

Anyway, the questioning process of the two attorneys was fascinating. Watching them reject and approve jurors was too. I was glad that I had the chance to observe American justice in action; and I was just as glad when the jury was picked, and I was dismissed to go back the the Juror Assembly Room. I waited there a couple more hours, and then -- ah bliss -- I was dismissed again to go home. My jury duty was fulfilled for at least two more years.

I could easily see myself serving on multiple juries when Sadie is old enough to drive me into Seattle and trip around the city by herself all day while I perform my civic duty. I could see its becoming a unit in our homeschool curriculum: The American Judicial Process or What Mom Did While I Lurked for Eight Hours in Elliot Bay Bookstore. Until then, though, I'll look to avoid it whenever I can. The Bread Line/Jury Duty Shuffle is a dance best done rarely -- and, when possible, with a Pumpkin Spice Latte in one's hands.

*I include this notation because of something very funny I recently heard: My friend, Holly, who is considering moving up here from Los Angeles was talking to another L.A. transplant about life in the PNW -- somebody a little less rah-rah about Seattle than I -- somebody who had actually found some redeeming qualities in Southern California, and yet had chosen to move north. This friend of my friend was sharing her views on the cultural vibe of the city (excellent), the surrounding environment (stunning), the character of the citizenry (exemplary), the weather (well, you know), and the fashion sense of the general public (mediocre, at best). That amused me to no end. I would never have thought to look at fashion as a factor in making a move . . . but, I guess, that's why my modest, sensible, and classic clothing sensibilities fit in so well in my beloved northern home. Viva Eddie Bauer!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mortify Me! Scandalize Me!

Have you ever indulged in something that you know is simply going to tick you off, merely to enjoy a sense of outrage? I have that personality quirk in abundance, and I have just seen it rear its lovely little head again today. For, you see, I have just requested Constructing the Little House: Gender, Culture and Laura Ingalls Wilder by Ann Romines from our inter-library loan system.

I came across this title innocently enough. I was trying to find that beloved and oft mentioned volume in the Ingalls Family's petite library, Millbank. What was it about this novel that provoked the emptying of a slender purse for its purchase, I had often wondered. And why not Pride and Prejudice instead? So, in dabbling a bit over at, a search turned up the aforementioned scholarly treatment of the LIW books by one Ms. Romines. Fascinating! Then I read the reviews. And that's when the real fun began!

An excerpt from a review by Jennifer Smith in California: The major problem with the book, and the deal breaker as far as I was concerned, is that Ms. Romines leans heavily on the current academic "women's studies" line of woman as victim of patriarchy and outdated Freudian concepts of feminine and masculine. When Ms. Romines discusses such topics as the Oedipal undercurrents of Farmer Boy, or the "intensely romantic", "potentially incestuous" relationship even the very young Laura shares with her Pa, one wonders what sort of imagination Romines has. Ma is presented as little more than a woman beaten into submission by male dominance and her repressed feelings of resentment. Pa is presented as a pervert, haystacks become phallic symbols... it goes on and on like this.
[I knew a girl at Vivian Webb in Claremont, CA named Jennifer Smith who was particularly brilliant -- could this be she? Of course, there were a million Jennifers born in the 1970's and "Smith" is the stereotypical common last name: "A Mrs. Smith. A widow Mrs. Smith -- and who was her husband? One of the five thousand Mr, Smiths whose names are to be met with every where." Thus spoke Sir Walter Elliot in Jane Austen's Persuasion. Still, this seems to me an especially insightful and skillful review -- one that could have easily been penned by the Jennifer Smith of my memory.]

Another review, this one from Denise Shearer in Maryland, points out: For example, in LHITBW, on the trip to town, Ms Romines would have her readers believe that Pa's motives in urging Ma to buy some cloth for a new apron, and teasing her that he will pick out the pattern if she doesn't, is somehow his way of exercising his 'male' control over his wife, rather than what clearly comes through to the reader of LHITBW as his desire to make Ma happy by buying her something she doesn't expect - a surprise gift! There is nothing in Wilder's narrative to imply that his motives are anything less.
[Charles and Caroline Ingalls always seemed, to me, to have an ideally balanced and sweet and loving marriage. What woman would not want to be married to a "Pa"? And what man would not want a help-meet like "Ma"? Whether this relationship is the product of Laura's sentimentality in her old age or is accurately represented in the "Little House" books seems to me irrelevant. You cannot infer from the books themselves anything in their marriage that was dysfunctional or aberrant -- and if that was Ms. Romines sole source for this claim, then I cannot see how she has a leg upon which to stand.]

The other reviews were scalding and indignant and scintillating, too. And I started to think to myself, "I have to read this book!" But, of course, I did not want to buy it. So, since our library system does not carry it -- surprising, considering the subject matter -- I requested an inter-library loan.

Will this book disgust and enrage me? Probably. But, there is something very fun in raising one's own hackles in response to the rampant slaughter of cows held most sacred. It is an intellectual challenge to re-evaluate my own positions and reactions to a piece of art or literature or theology or music in light of desecration, and I have always found my original appreciation of beloved masterpieces strengthened after witnessing the assaults upon them. For instance, after viewing the cinematic atrocity of Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park (1999), I was better able to articulate why the original novel matters so much to me. Being able to know exactly why I rejected Rozema's portrayal of what is arguably Jane Austen's greatest novel has made me a more worthy reader of it. It is almost as if I now deserve its splendor more, having had the gut-wrenching, yet ultimately cathartic, experience of seeing its themes and heroine ripped to shreds on the big screen.

There are some things that are so inarguably good and wholesome and wise that it seems inconceivable that anyone should see anything twisted and dark while prodding the deeper layers. I see the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder as one of those things. No matter how many times I read those wonderful books of my childhood, I can only marvel more at their strong spirit of determination, family love, indomitability, rugged individualism, optimism, and dogged humor in the face of privation. Of course, these themes are the ones most likely to be frowned upon in this miserable age of defeatism, fractured families, submersion in stress, weak-kneed blame-shifting, pessimism, and cruel humor in the suffocating embrace of material wealth. So, it is really no wonder that someone out there just couldn't resist applying today's skewed lens to a vision of the past. It is sort-of a shame, but also sort-of very funny, and I look forward to reading the copy my intrepid librarian will round up for me (perhaps from Frederick MD, where Ms. Shearer vowed to donate her copy to the public library).

Monday, September 03, 2007

Pa's Fiddle

It would have been worth the trip just to see the fiddle. There was much more to see, of course. The white wooden farmhouse that was custom-built by Almanzo and suited so charmingly for the small stature both of him and of his wife. The stone house that their daughter, Rose, tried to move them into with every modern convenience of the 1920's. (As soon as it was polite to do so, her parents moved back to the farmhouse they loved, and Rose lived in the stone house.) The fenced pasture that my father decided was the exact location where Almanzo threatened to fill a nosey Department of Agriculture agent with buckshot. The two grave markers, side by side, on the outskirts of town, telling us their birth and death dates, while their real history was written in the wind that blew through the trees at Rocky Ridge Farm and in the books that had fed countless imaginations for nearly seventy years. But, it was the fiddle that brought tears to my eyes and constricted my throat.

Somebody must dust it daily, I thought. It gleamed at me, rich and brown and alive. I bowed my head and paid it the homage it was due. And I thanked the Creator who so lovingly thought of music and gave it to man as a part of that sustaining force that bread alone cannot provide. And I thought of the man who used that very fiddle to coax hope from despair, peace from anxiety, and fulfillment from deprivation. This unassuming instrument had played the soundtrack of life for a stalwart family of American pioneers, and it was resting before me, wanting only trained fingers to tune its strings and rosin its accompanying bow.

"I see it now, though I didn't then -- we never could have gotten through it all without Pa's fiddle," Laura recalled for her daughter, Rose's, essay, "Grandpa's Fiddle." And, as anyone who has ever read the "Little House" series by Laura Ingalls Wilder knows, Charles Ingalls's fiddle was the seventh member of the family. On page after page, Laura in her old age remembered for us the songs of long ago, when a fiddle could echo out over the silent prairie and not find another human ear to hear its cry. In fact, the tunes of Pa's fiddle mirrored the circumstances of the family. From the solemn hymns of Sunday worship to the rousing and comic folk songs of a young America; from the Scottish ballads he played for his wife to proud patriotic ditties; it was only when Pa's fiddle was silent that any hardship became too much to bear -- and then, with a spirit of rebellion, Pa would swoop the fiddle back into action to lift the spirits of his family with defiant anthems flung against the impassive and terrible forces of nature.

I wonder if my love of the fiddle were born in those nights spent reading in the forbidden glow of a flashlight the stories of the Ingalls family's trials and triumphs of a hundred years before. Just the sweep of the bow across the strings awakens my heart to furious beating and sets my spine tingling in anticipation of good things to come. Whether it's the music of Spencer Capier*, Andrea Lewis or the Charlie Daniels Band, the fiddle satisfies my soul in a way that no other instrument can match. It's too bad that I'm such a klutz with stringed instruments -- there's nothing on earth I'd rather play than the fiddle.

Charlie Daniels has a song called, "Talk to Me, Fiddle," that is on my exercise playlist. I actually ought not to have put it there, as it always brings tears to my eyes, which leads me to slack the pace of my workout. But, it comes right after "Orange Blossom Special" (which makes me step double-time) on his Greatest Hits album, and I'm always in the mood to hear it, blubbering and all. Basically, the lyrics reflect on the life of the fiddle he's playing; all the hands that his instrument has passed through -- from a Jewish immigrant in a New York tenement house to a Cajun living on the Bayou to a gambler who lost it to a Black man who taught it to play the blues, and so on. And while he sings that song into my headphones and plays the fiddle to the different types of music that it learned and lived, I think of seeing Pa's fiddle in Mansfield, MO back in 2002. How wonderful it is to think that, in the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, that fiddle really does get the chance to talk to us from out of the mists of time. How proud it must be for Laura to have said, years later, ""Whatever religion, romance, and patriotism I have, I owe largely to the violin and Pa playing in the twilight."

*Spencer's site will claim that he plays the violin -- technically true. But, having heard him jam endless times with Carolyn Arends and rock out on Jennifer Knapp's album, Kansas, I can assure you that he swings that violin fiddle-wise without blinking an eye.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

O Blogger, Where Art Thou?

Hey there! I'm not dead. I hope you find that good news.

I cannot believe how long it's been since I've posted a peep on here. Sorry to any and all who may have checked in occasionally.

For all of you who have more than one child and manage to post with some sort of regularity, I doff my cap to you (figuratively, of course). I nanny a wee one part-time (along with my rambunctious four-year-old), and can barely wrangle a moment to eat lunch, let alone write out anything coherent. So kudos to all the moms and dads who valiantly keep the blogging sphere spinning 'round.

I have the next two days off, so, hopefully I can dump out some of the swirling thoughts that completely absorb my shower-time and right-before-nodding-of-to-sleep time onto this keyboard and rid myself of them forever.

Blessings to all!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Summer Reading (Had Me a Blast)

The burning question on every mind this summer is, "What are the crazy libertarian types reading on the sandy shores of the countries where they keep their hidden bank accounts and sip Bahama Mamas?"

Well, I have at least a partial answer for you. Go and read what some contributors to Liberty magazine have slipped into their beachbags. Oh yeah, you'll see some recommendations from me there, too. Though, I do not have any off-shore accounts, I have been known to enjoy a drink or two containing tiny paper umbrellas in my time.


Mad Props for Mike

With Father's Day almost upon us, I would like to write a small tribute to one of my favorite dads.

Now, I could write a heap about my own dad. No one has had a better dad than I. He is King O' Dads -- a man who has unfailingly supported and cheered and loved me every step of my life. I have not left a footprint upon this earth that does not have the mark of his devotion upon it. He gave me wings and let me fly.

I could write volumes about the wonderful man I married, the father of our now and future children. He has been charged to love me as Christ loves the church -- that holy, sacrificial love nearly impossible to enact -- and he does a marvelous job of that. He loves his little girl, and my heart swells with gratitude to see them together. He gave me a nest where I can be safe.

The man I want to write about defies the bird metaphor. So, we're done with that.

One of my favorite people in all the world is my father-in-law, Mike.

Now, Mike and I have practically nothing in common. We've never shared a warm conversation over hot coffee. We've never compared notes on a book we've both read and enjoyed. We've never sat down and watched a movie together.

He thinks, I'm sure, that I am sort of a snob and rather spend-thrifty -- leading his son down a rose-strewn path of extravagance and away from those nose-to-the-grindstone Midwestern values. I think he's a gas; though, I cannot really relate to his interests or personality. He's about as opposite from my own treasured dad as can be; but he is beloved by me, nonetheless.

Mike has given me a gift so undeniably precious that I am forever in his debt. He has given me a husband who was raised by a father who cherished, respected, adored, protected, and delighted in his wife. By his example, he showed Jason what being a husband means -- in those real terms of sacrifice and love that too rarely are given more than lip-service. Because of Mike, I have a husband whose natural inclination is to cherish his wife.

It has been said that the greatest gift a man can give his children is to love their mother. And yet, there is much more at stake. The actions of parents have reverberations in eternity, as sins and sapience echo down through every subsequent generation. Because Mike loves Sheri well, I have a husband who loves me well. Because she had a father who loved her mother well, Sadie will (please God) choose a man who will love her well and show her children what that means. Should we have a son, he will have a model of a model of sacrificial love. These are the legacies that last.

So Mike -- lover of NASCAR and Wal-Mart -- is a gift, rightly treasured by his daughter-in-law -- lover of British literature and fine dining. What a man he raised! What a man I married! Blessed, blessed, undeservedly blessed am I! Thank you, Mike, and the happiest of Father's Days to you!

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Take Two Advil, and Comment in the Morning


If you ever want to induce a headache, I have the means:

1. Go to Christian Book Distributors' website and type, "Calvinism," in the search engine.

2. Pick a book like Debating Calvinism or Chosen But Free.

3. Read the reviews.

4. When your eyeballs start to smoke from the reflective glare of the computer screen and the vitriol hurled thereon, it's time to stop.

I cannot believe how wretched Christians can be toward each other. Come, let us reason together. How important is it, really, to know how little or how much our own faith plays in our salvation? This whole debate reminds me of Margaret Wise Brown's The Important Book: The important thing about being saved is that it is only through Jesus's sacrifice on the cross. The only proof of salvation through grace to us is our faith that is alive in Him. Our only proof to the world of His saving grace to us is the good works that we do in Him.

Once we have received the Holy Spirit in our belief, we are saved. Who cares how it came about? It is another paradox of a paradoxical God. God is sovereign. Period. Man has free will. Period. Embracing the mystical dance of mutually exclusive truths gloriously reconciled is one of the great joys of the Christian journey. Why muck it up?

Okay, so I just started reading up on Calvinism vs. Arminianism because of Brendt Waters of the Musings of Two-Sheds Gomer.

He is full of knowledge and interesting opinions, and maybe further reading will convince me that this back and forth of what seems to me now merely sophistry is actually the substantial issue that so many seem to find it. I cannot believe that brothers and sisters in Christ are calling other brethren heretics and unbelievers if they hold a point of view opposite to their own. How can their joy be full with this mindset?

Two-Sheds isn't like that. He mocks the mockers who would try to appropriate the Lord's job and read the hearts of men. But he's pretty passionate and committed to Calvinism. I worked once with a seminary student who was also a committed Calvinist. Predestination seems to me a cruel creed, though. Little babies marked from birth to spend eternity outside the loving arms of the Father? I cannot help but think that far too simplified and linear a way to view God's saving grace.

On the reviews of the books that I listed above, believers seemed unwilling to recognize the paradox of God's sovereignty and man's free will. Yet, I assure you they wholly accept other paradoxes of Christianity. Jesus's being fully man and fully God? God's presence both within and outside of time? One true God who is also triune? These they accept with alacrity, but then they stumble over this compulsive need to assert that divine sovereignty and human free will cannot be reconciled. Why?

I am not learned enough to comment further on this age-old debate of Calvinism vs. Arminianism. All I know is that once I stopped trying to view God through human eyes and logic and embraced the higher logic of the Divine Paradox, my world became -- ironically and paradoxically -- a clearer, more joyful place; my faith was strengthened and my heart was more full of compassion and peace. I will pray for my brothers and sisters who will let the evil one hold sway as they strive against each other in matters best left to Providence.

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Writing in Paradox"

When I was hanging out with Flicka, the conversation shifted by design to my latest obsession: G.K. Chesterton.

In trying to explain why I admire his writing so very much, I used the phrase, "he writes in paradox." Because Flicka is a writer who understands that words -- in order to have any relevance or impact -- must actually mean things, she pounced on this throwaway expression and demanded an explanation. "How does one write in paradox?" she asked, "It is surely more of a literary device than a style."

This pop quiz flummoxed me, and I racked my brain, trying to get a handle on exactly what I was trying to say. Of course, in situations like this, my brain impishly takes a vacation and mocks me from the beach, Mai Tai in hand. Since no examples came to mind, Flicka kindly let me off the hook, and we continued onward.

On the airplane coming home, I turned again to the wonderful Chesterton novel, The Ball and the Cross, and immediately wanted to bang my head on the seatback tray table all the way to Seattle. For, The Ball and the Cross is written of almost pure philosophy and in almost pure paradox. How ridiculous of me not to think of it!

Now, I do not know if the phrase "writes in paradox" was ever a true match for my meaning; but, the way in which Chesterton is so comfortable using paradox goes far beyond a literary device. His mind is so well able to work a paradox into a just analogy and nimbly stretch and mold a paradox into such an illuminating truth, that it is rather inadequate simply to point out that he uses paradox well. He has embraced the vital paradoxes within the human situation -- and within Christianity specifically -- so wholly that it suits to say that his style is one of paradox.

For instance, the premise of The Ball and the Cross is the struggle to enact a sworn duel to the death between an avowed atheist, James Turnbull, and a devout Catholic, Evan MacIan. So far, a plot set-up rich with possibilities, but not breathtaking in scope. For, one would expect, this is the age-old battle between good and evil, darkness and light -- and the sympathies of the author could go in either direction, depending upon his personal philosophical bent. However, Chesterton makes a complete departure from the ordinary by binding the two arch enemies together with something greater than their epistemological differences, so that they become "in the oddest and most exact sense of the term, brothers -- in arms" (p. 35).

And here is where the master of paradox takes the reader on a fascinating divergence. A new antagonist is added to the plot that drives the two opponents increasingly together: A world caught up in moral ambiguity and plodding apathy toward the biggest issues -- those of light and dark and good and evil. In other words, lightness and darkness must battle the enveloping grayness, before they can battle each other. As Turnbull and MacIan roam across the countryside, trying to find a place to duel, they are continually met by others who would thwart them -- either through preventing their fight or belittling their cause.

Now, I am only about half way through this book, because I've been trying to read up on Chesterton's non-fiction, so I do not know how this will end. But, I can say that the title of the novel, The Ball and the Cross, refers to the decorative spire of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, which is a cross atop a globe. The ball represents the world, and the cross -- well, we all know what that represents. Are the two symbols irreconcilable or amenable? Can they coexist? Does one replace the other? Who deserves prominence? Which is more real? These are the issues that are at stake -- and these are the questions Chesterton dares to explore. And he does it in the way he knows best -- through the paradox of two men diametrically opposed and undeniably united. That is his particular genius.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Five Days of Bad Hair or My Kind of Town

Chicago skyline from the Ferris wheel on the Navy Pier.I do not know what it is about the Midwest. Any further east than the Rockies, and my hair goes pffft. Other than coiffure anxiety, though, my trip to Chicago last week was delightful. Thanks for asking.

Frank Sinatra sang that Chicago was "[his] kind of town," and I'm rather convinced that it is mine, too. More imbued with a feeling of history and significance than Seattle, more congenial and intimate than New York, Chicago has a lot to offer -- far more, in fact, than our five days of touring could encompass. But we tried our best, and we saw a bit, and it was all good.

Jason and my dad went to Wrigley Field.  Gum has brought much good to the world.  I was at Flicka's.It helped, I think, that the weather took a turn for the cooler when we finally hit the tarmac of O'Hare. Being as web-footed as we are, temps in the 70's were a trial for our packed wardrobes (which had anticipated a much higher degree on the thermostat), but a boon for our psyches. If you're going to be walking around outside the tender arms of air conditioning, an unseasonal cold front helps immensely.

I think my favorite thing about the city was the public transportation. I know; who chooses that? Well, for someone who hates to drive as much as I, getting around by walking and on the subway and the El and the buses was a fantastic dream come true. If there were a way to get into Seattle without a car from the 'burbs, I'd do it all the time. But, West Coast public transportation sucks.

The Museum of Science and Industry -- the only building left from the 1893 World's Fair.We saw some cool places, such as the Field Museum, the Navy Pier, and the Children's Museum. We ate cool food -- deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno and Chicago-style dogs from a vendor. Jason and my parents got to see more in the city than Sadie and I, because, as I hinted before, we went on a train out of town for a side trip to go visit Flicka Spumoni. That was the highlight of my vacation. And, yes, she's every bit as amazing in person as you would expect from her fabulous writing.

The Ferris wheel described to the right.Look at this picture Jason took of a Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier! Did you know that the Ferris wheel was invented for the 1893 Columbian Exposition, Chicago World's Fair? The original was far bigger than this one. Surprisingly, we saw a lot of U.S. Navy servicemen at the Navy Pier. I had thought that that was just an historical name.

All good things must come to an end -- except the best thing, which will never end. But this trip was not built for eternity, so we came home on Tuesday. It's just as well, for the treacherous weather was making another turn-around and getting rather St. Louis-y (i.e. hot and humid and double-dose-of-deodoranty). So, we're back in my lovely, homey, wonderful Pacific Northwest, and my hair is back to normal, and Sadie's sleep schedule is back to normal, and Rylee is here, and life is good.

Sadie: Homeschooled and Wild.For, as Frank Sinatra also sang, "It's very nice to go traveling, but it's so much nicer, yes it's oh so nice, to come home."

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah!

I have met, that's right, MET (!) Flicka Spumoni, and you haven't.

Or, maybe you have, too. I really have no way of knowing.

But I have, and that's enough for me!

More later on this momentous occasion -- I am on nanny duty and just heard my Meck-child running to the bathroom.

Thus spinneth the world another day!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Motherly Wisdom Gleaned From Experiences With a Monkey-Child: Volume 1

How to tell that your child has recovered from stomach flu:

1) Chart the firmness of his or her stools.
2) Make a timeline of what solid foods stayed down and for how long
3) Note the diminishing levels of vomit in the "puke bucket"
4) Watch your child run downstairs and fling open the door to the garage to demand from his or her mother -- who has just returned from running some small errand -- a cookie. Then, after he or she has downed peanut butter bread and one cookie, hear him or her meck on and on about wanting homemade spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

After these careful observations, it should become evident that your child has indeed recovered from the stomach flu and is well on his or her way back to the usual monkey shines.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Welcome to Adorable Trivialities!

Thanks for clicking over to my new address. I have long regretted using "sadiebugsmom" as the address and "The Musings of Justine" as the title, especially when it was printed in Liberty magazine. I just never really expected that anyone else would ever read this blog when I first set it up. It was always more for my own edification and exorcism than for the world at large.

But, now I want something a little more literary and less personal.

"Adorable Trivialities" is the new name of this blog, and it comes from the amazing novel by G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday. After a harrowing 155 pages (in my B&N Library of Essential Reading edition), this novel has the most comforting and burden-lifting ending of just about any novel of its kind (for the reader and the protagonist).

After Syme has been on the run from the anarchists he is trying to thwart, with the sides closing in from all directions and no one's being who Syme thought he was, there is this resolution:

(If you've never read the novel in question, I think this may be a spoiler of sorts, so please read no further and go read The Man Who Was Thursday. It's very short and will take you but a day. I'll wait here.)

[Syme and Gregory] were walking like old friends, and were in the middle of a conversation about some triviality. But Syme could only feel an unnatural buoyancy in his body and a crystal simplicity in his mind that seemed to be superior to everything that he said or did. He felt that he was in possession of some impossible good news, which made every other thing a triviality, but an adorable triviality. (p. 156)

I'm sorry to put you out, all you dear fellow bloggers who have linked to me. Please update your links, or, at least, delete the "sadiebugsmom" link.

Thanks for stopping by!