Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Brown Revolution?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I happened across this video lecture last night, and am glad I took the time to watch it. If you have an hour and are interested in the environment/climate change – and are ready for a new perspective on the whole thing – check this out. BN has been reading Collapse by Jared Diamond, about the rise and fall of civilizations through history with regard to environmental and social factors. He’s shared tidbits from it with me here and there, and it’s raised my awareness of problems such as deforestation, desertification and soil erosion. This video has a lot to say on that.

As a side note, it came to mind that a while ago there was this big shift in nutrition – it’s not fat that’s making us fat, it’s all the sugar. (The low-carb craze.) This is kind of that level of paradigm shift, except in environmental health, not individual human health…


Saturday, May 1st, 2010

My sister HN came to visit this week. She flew in to Portland on Friday and we picked her up in the late morning. We went to Hoyt Arboretum and walked around – it was a windy but mostly sunny day. After tacos for lunch, we walked around a lot and then crashed in Starbucks until it was time to board the streetcar to go see Cirque Du Soleil!

Cirque Du Soleil

Cirque Du Soleil

KOOZA was a totally amazing show. They definitely take Circus to the level of art. Under the “Big Top” on a circular stage we saw beautiful and death-defying feats. I really liked the unicycle duo – carrying on a flirtation with more elaborate balancing tricks. At one point he got going really fast while swinging her around on his shoulders – sort of an in-motion fireman’s carry – wow!

Two on a Unicycle

Two on a Unicycle

Just before intermission were the tightrope walkers. It was so nerve-wracking I could barely enjoy it – So. Much. Tension! And one guy slipped and caught himself by grabbing the wire. It was a relief to stand up and walk around a bit.

After intermission we saw that they had installed a huge shiny structure that consisted of a gerbil-wheel see-saw contraption. This was during the “underworld” themed portion of the show and two burly guys with horns on their heads came out and started vigorously running inside the two wheels, causing the whole thing to spin. They went faster and faster, and each would jump at the point when his ring was highest, appearing to levitate within it. THEN, one of the men got onto the outside of the ring and started running on it like a treadmill. He would jump, right when he was at the highest point, and I couldn’t help screaming – he had no safety wire, there was no net, I was convinced I’d see him fall to his death. It was the most insane stunt I’ve ever seen in my life. (In person. I’ve seen YouTube footage of those squirrel-suit nutters who jump off of cliffs…)

Wheel of Death

Wheel of Death

Women of the World

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

Last night I went to another really fun and unique event at LS’s house – she throws the most wonderful themed parties. This time each person chose a country of the world to represent. We dressed up as a woman from that country, someone famous, historical, or an everyday citizen; and also brought a dish from the region. I was representing Morocco (inspired by my Arabesque cookbook by Claudia Roden).

Couscous with Spring Vegetables and Sweet Potato Salad

Couscous with Spring Vegetables and Sweet Potato Salad

We enjoyed a lovely “cocktail hour” and as each “ambassador” arrived she was announced with her character’s name and nation. This was an automatic conversation-starter, along with the various costumes we had assembled for ourselves. Dinner was a buffet of all the ethnic dishes we had brought, and we were seated at a long, elegantly decorated table with the appropriate flag at each delegate’s place. After we’d all been seated and begun eating, LS kicked off the speeches. Each of us had prepared a short monologue about our characters – facts about her life and her native country. This was so amusing and educational. We had a Welsh housewife, a warrior princess from feudal Japan, a French author, a Scottish immigrant to Canada, Helen of Troy, Queen Esther, an American Suffragette, the president of Costa Rica, an English Quaker quilter who was responsible for spreading the art of quilting to Australia by sending supplies with female prisoners, a Muslim woman from Western China, Grace Kelly (Princess of Monaco), Corrie Ten Boom, and many more.

I decided to invent a character for myself, using information from Claudia Roden’s book and the interwebs, and talked about running a Moroccan restaurant with my family in the city of Fez. I explained the basic elements of Moroccan cuisine – its many influences from surrounding regions, the spices commonly used, and the traditional process for making couscous by hand-rolling ground semolina in order to coat it with flour.

To prepare today’s comercially-produced couscous, Roden describes how to steam it in the oven. I ran a little short on time getting ready for this party, so I just did what I usually do – throw the couscous into boiling liquid, remove from the heat, and let stand 5 minutes. It was a bit clumpy so at some point I will try the approved method and attempt to get it lighter and fluffier. I’ve noticed that the recipes in Arabesque call for a LOT of olive oil and/or butter, so I’ve reduced that by half in both of these recipes. For the sweet potato salad, I made it before as instructed, by simmering the potatoes in liquid, but they simply turned to mush. I personally feel that roasting vegetables is the best way to get maximum flavor, so I tried that this time and it was delicious.

Couscous with Spring Vegetables
Adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden

2 1/2 cups couscous (I used whole-wheat)
4 cups chicken broth
14 oz fava beans (shelled weight) (Note: I had trouble finding these, either fresh or frozen, so I used frozen edamame/soybeans. Not very authentic but still delicious and protein-rich)
12 oz pkg frozen artichokes
14 oz frozen petite peas
4 green onions, sliced
4 T butter or extra-virgin olive oil
A generous amount of chopped fresh herbs: flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, and mint
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the frozen artichokes, and set a timer for 6 minutes. After 1 minute, add edamame. Stir. When the timer goes off, add the peas, turn off the heat, and stir well to thaw the peas. Place a colander over a large metal bowl, and drain the vegetables, reserving the broth. Move the vegetables to a covered dish, add 1 T butter, the green onions, herbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well to combine, until the butter is melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover the dish, and set aside.

Measure the broth and add water if necessary to get 3 3/4 cups. Return the broth to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, cover the pot, and move it off the stove. Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in 3 T butter and fluff with a large fork or wooden spoon.

To serve, pile the couscous on a platter, and top with the vegetable mixture.

Sweet Potato Salad
Adapted from Arabesque by Claudia Roden

1 onion, finely chopped
3 T olive oil
2 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (aka “Yams”)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
8 – 12 green olives
1 preserved lemon
Juice of 1 small (fresh) lemon
2 T chopped fresh parsley or cilantro

Saute the onion in 1 T olive oil until deep golden-brown. (I cook them over medium heat, stirring often, until they start to color, and then turn the heat down and let them gradually brown, stirring occasionally, while I’m preparing the other ingredients.)

Preheat the oven to 400.° Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into diagonal wedges. Place in a large bowl, drizzle with 1 T olive oil, and sprinkle with the spices and a generous amount of salt. Toss to coat, and spread in a single layer on a foil-lined or non-stick baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes or until tender. Move to a covered dish and set aside.

Chop or slice the olives, and place in a small bowl. Rinse the preserved lemon well to remove excess salt, chop finely, and add to the olives. Add the fresh lemon juice, 1 T olive oil, and herbs. Stir to combine, and add to the dish of sweet potatoes along with the sauteed onions. Stir to combine. Serve at room temperature.

Dark Side of the Moon

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

Last night we got tickets from a friend to go see Eugene Ballet’s interpretation of the Pink Floyd classic, Dark Side of the Moon – with live music provided by the Floydian Slips.

I’ve always enjoyed watching ballet, but I hadn’t been to any performances since I was a kid, and those were mostly the holiday, kid-friendly type of show.

A year or so ago, BN and I went to a “laser light show” of Dark Side of the Moon, at our local childrens/science museum. It was ultra-lame. BN had seen other laser shows of DSofM and said they were much better. But this one was just cringingly awful.

So we went into the Hult Center wondering what we were in for. The “opening acts” were 2 contemporary ballets, the second one preferable to the first but both pretty cool. Then, after an intermission, was Dark Side of the Moon. It was totally awesome! BN said after, and I agree, that all rock concerts should have dancing. The band was on the back part of the stage, partially hidden from our view because we were so high up in the auditorium, and the ballet happened on the front half of the stage. I thought they did a great job of balancing some abstract dancing with some characters/storytelling. I mean it was all dance, but there was a great personified “money” character, a girl in a splashy green outfit with a team of male dancers chasing her around. The “Lunatic” sequence sent chills down my spine – a woman dressed in bandage-colors, mixing nervous tics – somehow gracefully – into her movements, and 4 dark-clad men carrying her bodily around the stage as she tossed and turned.

Now when those songs come up on iTunes I have beautiful thrilling mental images to replace the cheesy laser graphics I had previously.

Two words: Rock On!!!

Stuck in the Middle

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Last night BN and I went to Gutenberg College to see their production of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven: a Walking Tour – a dramatic retelling of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I haven’t read this venerable classic, but I will have to pick it up now that I’ve gotten a taste via this modern “exerpt.” The group did a wonderful job with this production, I was very impressed. Gutenberg is housed in a big, old-fashioned building and the play was “staged” in various rooms and hallways, with the 30 or so audience members walking from scene to scene along with the main actors. (We watched the last of 6 performances.)

We started out in the office of psychologist Dan Taey, who appears to be somewhat losing his grip. Virgil, the renowned ancient Roman poet appears and, struggling with the modern doorknob, summons Dr. Taey to go on a journey.

In Hell, a very dark and scary place, the occupants did not seem at all happy but they insisted they wanted to be there because they were free to do what they wanted. A series of characters, each a bit more mentally unstable than the last, talked about their experiences among the living. Finally the Biochemist convinced Dan Taey to put all his trust in science and logic and then introduced a clone, named Kid A, a sort of Frankenstein’s Monster, who was in need of a few vital components. Bio pulled out a knife and was going to harvest these necessities from Taey but Virgil reappeared and rescued him.

Back on the main floor, we entered the dismal realm of Purgatory. Here each character explained what penance he or she had to do to make up for the sins committed in life. One of these, Envious, was played by our friend, MK. In life she had been a client of Dr. Taey, and he reminded her how much progress they’d made on “her issues.” She didn’t seem to care much for that, now her focus was on gathering alms for the poor and she repeatedly asked “dear Virgil” to pray for her. In spite of her blind eyes she was quick to notice Dr. Taey’s watch and perked up significantly – “ooo – is that a Rolex?” Another of his clients, Corina, is hesitant to tell Dr. Taey that she is doing penance for failing to listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit, dismissing it as a hallucination – as Taey had told her to do. Informed that her penance is complete, we followed her up another flight of stairs to the gates of Heaven.

Someone followed us up there – Kid A from the Inferno. She tried to run into Heaven on the heels of Corina, but Saint Peter gently called her back and explained that only one at a time may enter. But, all will be well for Kid A because the Lord of heaven is her advocate and has identified 3 ways in which she is like him – they were each conceived outside of the normal way; each were created for the pleasure of others, he for those in Heaven, she for those in Hell; each spent time in Hell but were not destined to remain. All that was required of Kid A was answering the question – do you want to come in? She said, her one line in the play, “Yes.”

There is very little, if any, biblical basis for the concept of Purgatory, but apparently it was well-established by Dante’s time in the early 1300’s. That actually doesn’t surprise me, because I believe it’s a human tendency to create our own Purgatory right here on earth. We’re control freaks, all of us, and we want to run our own lives like the inmates of Hell who’d deluded themselves into thinking they’d never been happier – or the penitent souls who were unable to give up their heavy burdens and futile quests because they’d have to give up the only thing they had control over. I need to be aware of this, and not live in my self-created Purgatory. I take my cue from Kid A, acknowledge that I am missing vital components, and just say “Yes, Lord.”

Ordeal By Jury

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I’ve had a drama-filled week so far (for me, anyway, I guess it’s all relative.) I gradually came down with a really bad cold during the course of last week. Tuesday night I had a sore throat, very sore Wednesday, Thursday a persistent headache, and stuffy/runny nose on Friday. By Saturday I was pretty sure I would be “fully” sick and Sunday I was miserable. The worst of it was I had social plans with several friends that I had to cancel.

My plans for Monday were sit on the couch and knit, and my friend CO was going to come over and bring lunch. My work was in a holding pattern, waiting for client response. I was picking up a few items of clutter around the house before CO arrived and found a slip of paper with something I’d wanted to enter into my computer calendar so I went to do that and remembered that I was scheduled for jury duty that day! My heart sank but I realized that I still had an hour and a half before the time to report, 1:30pm, so I called the phone number to see if I could find out if my juror number had been called. On the second try the jury clerk said they’d called everybody in. So called CO to cancel for a second time and pulled together myself and my stuff to drive to the courthouse. I just had enough time to fill out my juror questionnaire while I scarfed down the last dish of leftovers we had in the fridge. Thank goodness for those leftovers, I can’t function without lunch!

I stood in line with about 100+ people to check in at the jury assembly room. They were telling us that the trial might go for two weeks, but the only thing they could dismiss us for was if we had plane tickets purchased for travel during those weeks or a medical procedure we couldn’t reschedule. I should have said “I think I might have swine flu” and taken a deferral but my head was kind of foggy and I assumed I’d be out of there by the end of the day.

But no. We sat in the big room and the cheerful, friendly jury clerk (I do not envy her job one bit) talked to us, showed us an orientation video, and kept us posted on when the judge and possibly the lawyers might come talk to us. But by 4 they’d decided not to come so we got to go home but we had to come back the following day at 9am.

That night I wondered what was going to happen. My jury number was 22, and I wasn’t sure if that meant anything for the order in which they would process us, but I figured if they did it meant either I could be dismissed relatively early, or that I had a higher chance of being selected for the jury. No way to tell for sure. Meanwhile a new last-minute project came in at work and added something else for me to stew about. Would I be able to work on it, for delivery at the end of the week, or not? Again, no way to tell for sure.

Tuesday was the most grueling day I’ve had for quite awhile, even if I hadn’t been sick. They called my name in the roll just as I was coming down the stairs a bit before 9. Once we were all accounted for (91 people remained after those who took deferrals left the day before) they read off the names of 31 people who would stay in the jury room. The other 60 of us would go up to the courtroom. We had to go in small, elevator-sized groups because taking the stairs is a liability. One floor up, to the security gate. This was less time-consuming than the airport, because everybody had a lot less stuff, but it still took a while our first time through. Then onto the elevators again to go up to the courtroom.

Once we were up there they read off the randomly-generated list and we lined up in our official order. So my #22 didn’t matter after all. I was well into the second half of the group, but in the courtroom my seat was on the aisle of the first row behind the one reserved for observers (family, media…). The first twelve people were seated in the jury box, the rest of us were on hard wooden pews. We took a vow to answer questions truthfully and honestly.

This was a criminal trial. The judge read the charges. They seemed numerous, but it was my first time inside a courtroom and I don’t watch any of those TV shows that would give me preconceptions about court proceedings. (Not that the TV shows are always realistic, probably not in most cases.) In the orientation video that we were shown the day before, only 12 people were questioned in the scene, not 60. The other people present besides the judge were the prosecuting and defense attorneys, the defendant, the stenographer, and several law-clerk types who had shepherded us through the courthouse. There were a few folks in the observer pew and I’m not certain who they were. I overheard later that a few of them may have been relatives of a victim in the case. And I thought I was having a grueling day.

To start, we were read a list of people involved in the case and were asked if we were acquainted with any of them or with the major parties in the case. A few people said they were, and were questioned about that, and then the defense attorney began questioning each of us in turn. The first few people took so long that I wondered if we would be finished within the week, let alone within the day. The questions, besides asking if we had any connections in law enforcement, or had been, or had a loved one be, a victim of a crime, were mostly pertaining to the concept of “innocent until proven guilty.” Many people agonized over feelings, opinions, and experiences that made it hard for them to give the defendant the benefit of the doubt, especially since the attorney told us that the defendant has a criminal history including theft and drug use. The attorney emphasized again and again that jurors must be able to set aside those personal feelings and evaluate the evidence, apply the relevant laws as instructed by the judge, and if not convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, give a verdict of not guilty. She also put a lot of emphasis on the fact that the state (the prosecuting party) has the burden of proof of guilt.

My stomach was growling so loud that I was sure the judge could hear it at the top of the courtroom. At noon we recessed for lunch. They have a cafeteria at the courthouse but there was a long line and I had no reference on the food, so I walked out to a pizza place a block away or so. It was so cold outside that I stopped to grab a tall Chai but then I was really hot in the jury room waiting to be taken back up to the courtroom once everybody was back for lunch. I was also feeling anxious and tense up there all afternoon and I think the caffeine was a bad idea. I don’t think there was any danger of me getting sleepy. To me, the room was so tension-filled (and the bench so uncomfortable) that I couldn’t help but pay attention.

In the afternoon the defense finished questioning each person (some took a very long time and others were shorter, including me, because I don’t have close connection to anyone in law enforcement and I have not been a crime victim.) Then the prosecuting attorney took over. He had been allowed to question certain people before, when the defense attorney requested the judge to dismiss someone. When a person was dismissed from the jury box (such as a woman who was recently bereaved by a violent crime…) then the next person in line would replace them from the benches. A few people were dismissed from the benches (someone who felt she was unable to be impartial if drug use was involved in the case in any way) One person tried very hard to obtain dismissal for herself – I had overheard her while we were waiting in line saying that she was going to say what she could to make them dismiss her. She was successful and left the courtroom with a smile.

The prosecutor spent most of his short remaining time questioning those in the jury box regarding the concept of “aiding and abetting” in a crime. Apparently in Oregon the law holds accomplices as equally culpable. This was another thorny issue. 5 o’clock came and we had to disperse – with instructions to return at 9am on Wednesday. I was pretty well spent – I checked a few simple to-do’s off my work list when I got home but wasn’t able to produce a single drop of creative juice to help my project manager.

Wednesday morning was very similar to Tuesday – up in the elevators, through the security area, up to the courtroom. We had all memorized our seats by that time and things ran much more efficiently. The prosecuting attorney picked up where he had left off, and those of us in the overflow seats were given the opportunity to answer questions addressed to the group. There was more discussion of “aiding and abetting,” a difficult concept to wrestle with knowing so little about the specifics of the case, but we threw around some very hypothetical examples. Some people insisted, and I tended to agree with them, that providing the gun and pulling the trigger are different levels of guilt. It would have been nice to see the text of the law, because if it’s too vague I would probably say I don’t agree with that law. But for the present, we just had to decide if we were prepared to set emotion aside and apply the law to reach a verdict. The prosecutor was also very intent on finding out if anyone, if presented with enough evidence (beyond a reasonable doubt) to convict, would be unable to cast that guilty vote.

Even though the next phase was conducted with a very arcane (I suspect tradition-bound) procedure, it seemed to go by very quickly. The judge said that she would accept the first challenge. The law clerk walked to the attorneys’ desks, took a slip of paper from each, walked to the judge’s stand, and handed her the pieces of paper, then returned to her place, standing to the side. The judge looked at the papers, and one of 3 things would happen: the judge would dismiss someone from the jury box, and would call the next person in line from the benches to come replace them; or, she would simply request the next challenge; or once, she called both lawyers to confer with her up on the judge’s stand. In whispers of course. Now, I’m sure they were going in an orderly system through the jury seats, but once the replacements started getting dismissed and replaced again, I lost track of who was under consideration next. I’d love to know what they wrote on those little scraps of paper!

It was so nerve-wracking. My seat happened to be the first one of the second half of “extras” and I watched the other side get whittled down alarmingly quickly, but through a slow, suspenseful process. The last bench on the other side of the aisle started to empty and soon there were two men left ahead me. At that point, the judge said the 12 seated in the jury box would be the final jury. (I noticed that 6 of them were from the original group – I wonder if this is required, or happened by chance.) She called the last two men to sit in the alternate jurors’ seats – alternates are needed for a case that is expected to go for several weeks in case someone gets sick or otherwise needs to be replaced. One of these two had been in jail at the same time as the defendant, so no one was surprised when he was dismissed. I was called to sit in the alternate seat. It was definitely a change in perspective on the room – I could see the defendant’s face where before I was seated directly behind him. But it was not to last. The next slips of paper went by with no change but the following turn had me dismissed. The clock said 11:15 – we’d been in the courtroom less than 2 hours that day.

Out in the parking garage, I saw two women who had been seated behind me in the benches. They told me that one person had been dismissed after me, and then they kept the man who had been my second-to-the-left benchmate. So close! I’m very curious to know which of the attorneys wanted to dismiss me and what was written on those slips.

I was feeling a mixture of relief and disappointment. I was relieved that I would be able to continue my projects for work – to not let anyone down or have to burn any midnight oil. But, I had begun to feel prepared to perform my duties as a juror, and I know it would have been a challenging, even harrowing, experience to engage with a trial for crimes of this magnitude. It would have been a growing, learning experience to set aside my intuition – something I’m used to being my constant companion – and to be intentionally as objective, impartial, and reserving of judgment as possible. Also working with 11 others, some very different from myself, to make such an important decision would have been a valuable experience as well. Something I need to grow in, definitely.

I wonder if I will have another opportunity like this? I’ve been summoned for jury duty perhaps 4 times before, several times while I was a full-time student and begged off, other times when I my number was not called in. I learned so much, and it was quite fascinating to see how it all works (not very efficiently in some aspects!). I realize this particular situation was probably more intense than normal because it was a criminal trial, with a few extra plot twists. A civil trial would probably not have taken 3 days to seat a jury… at least I would hope not.

Another interesting thing was that I saw two people I know. GP was called in on Tuesday and I saw her in the hall while my group was waiting to be addressed by the law clerks. One of the sons of the B family, who I’m acquainted with at church, was in the group of 60. I didn’t recognize him immediately but when I heard his last name called I realized who he was. Eugene can sometimes seem a very small town!

Great Expectations

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

by Charles Dickens

I think this is my favorite Dickens novel so far. One reason for this might be that it’s more streamlined – not so elaborate with multiple character points-of-view plus narrator commentary. This is just “Pip,” telling us his story. There are still the over-the-top caricatures, minor characters that are meant to illustrate a certain personality trait (or character flaw) to the point of ridiculous. But even those seem more believable because we experience them along with Pip. (And it’s not that I dislike those folks in the other Dickens novels. After all, they are his specialty!)

I am impressed with the high level of pathos in the story; it’s just heartbreaking, really… but it’s not depressing or morose. It’s a gentle pathos. Just Pip, coming to grips with his regrets, sorting out what came about as a result of his choices, what things were beyond his control. So like life, that. Sorting out, what happened? How do I feel about this?

You know what I just love? Ghost stories without any actual poltergeists. The characters have all kinds of premonitions, dread, even visions – but no troublesome supernatural events actually happen. I was about to list a few books I’ve read lately that had this element, but so many came to mind that maybe this is just a quality that I see in most great books. Do you know what I’m getting at? It’s a haunting quality. It’s a recurring waking dream that’s woven throughout the story. It’s Pip, coming as an innocent child to a place of living death, where all daylight has been shut out and the clocks are stopped at twenty minutes to nine. It’s a young man saving an old woman from burning to death by ripping down the tablecloth from a wedding cake untouched for half a century. It’s that shiver of awe you feel when you see all the layers of the story that have been built up carefully and you just now realize their collective significance.

{ And now for a tangential story. On the first day or two I’d been reading the book, I strolled over to Dari-Mart (this is Oregonian for 7-11) to get a snack. The guy behind the counter saw the book under my arm and asked what I was reading. I said, “Great Expectations.” He asked me what I would consider a great expectation? I said, going to heaven. He said, what would you expect to happen there? I said, to live with Christ forever. Whenever one of these types of conversations comes up, where I get on the topic of God or heaven or prayer with a stranger, I always wonder afterwards if I should have said different things. Like in reply to the Dari-Mart guy, “to know and be known.” You know, something that’s still True, but more open-ended or “thought provoking.” But often what happens is the person will launch into an explanation. And I just let them talk. Like Mr. D-M, who started in about heaven, “regardless of what you do, being honest with yourself, about what you’ve done, what you believe, honest with “him” (God?)…” and I don’t know what all. Most of it was pretty close to what I would have said, maybe just in a different order and with different emphasis. And I realized it was all for his own benefit, thinking out loud as we all need to do at times. So I just listened, and smiled, and when another customer came in and I edged away from the counter, Mr. D-M wrapped up by saying, so, when you’re reading that book, you just think about that, OK? I smiled some more and said, I will. And I hope he will, too – will keep thinking about what it is he desires to expect from this life, and the next. }


Saturday, May 10th, 2008

Last night Barak Obama returned to Eugene to address the townsfolk at the U of O campus. He’d been there about a month ago, and we’d been amazed to see the line of people waiting to get into the basketball arena stretching clear around the entire sports area, a good city block. This time we were on campus again and decided to join the lineup and pack into the library quad for this second rally.

I felt very American, going to see a presidential candidate – never done that before. In spite of (or maybe because of) my lack of experience with campaign speeches, I was struck by Obama’s sincere and personable demeanor. The people there were excited and eager to throw their support behind his ideals of change. The idea of changing how the country is run, the idea of finally solving the problems that have plagued us for decades – the idea of bringing the war to an end. These are admirable goals. Is this “change we can believe in?” If we just believe it hard enough, wave enough “HOPE” signs, will it happen?

We had quite awhile to wait before the speech, packed together with lots of young Eugenians and a smaller number of middle aged ones. A youngish man sitting just in front of us had a Barak Obama campaign image sewed to his jacket. As he stood up, another patch became visible: a cross (Christ) crossed out, in the red “no-smoking” style. I guess that’s not the kind of hope this crowd is looking for. But I believe it’s the only real hope there is, the only kind that’s not just wishful thinking.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:1-5

It’s No Secret

Monday, April 28th, 2008

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

I think it’s a basic human desire to be “on the inside,” to have secret knowledge, to belong to the group of people who are “in the know.” Isn’t that what tempted Eve back in the garden? Since the time of Christ, devotees of attaining secret knowlege have been referred to as Gnostics.

I felt a little manipulated, reading this book. Dan Brown is a very cunning author. As the codes, secrets, connections and riddles converge, they reveal concepts that I found very offensive, twisting the truth that my life is built upon. But, one of the main promoters of these ideas turns out to be the unexpected villain, so you are tricked into transferring your disgust onto him while the other “insiders” seem pretty much OK by comparison.

The fact of the matter is, you don’t have to join a secret society to get access to the way, the truth, and the life: “… since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:19-20) No one group of people – whether intellectuals, governments, organized religion, secret societies – has a monopoly on the truth.

I also didn’t like how sex-saturated the book was, but not because I believe sex is dirty and sinful as Dan Brown accuses the Catholics of insisting. No… I believe God gave us sex as a gift, for men and women to enjoy in the context of marriage, as an earthly picture of the union we will eventually have with God in heaven. The church is intended as the Bride of Christ! (That’s the reason Jesus never got married – as the book explains, marriage was an integral part of the Jewish culture and a good Jewish man would always marry.)

“‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32


Saturday, April 19th, 2008

There’s a woman at my church, LS, who loves to throw elaborately themed parties. Last night, her home was transformed into “the Hip Kitty,” a beatnik cafe. In the invitation, we had been instructed to write a beat poem and wear our cool threads. We sat 4 to a table and sipped faux martinis and munched hors d’oeuvres. This is what I wrote for the poetry reading:

While We’re There

I declare and how to stare
my wild and more than mild extraordinary child
melt the walk and north to talk
from there to you on shore
what’s in store we’ll try some more if it’s enough we won’t fall short
of his last bale of wool to cushion the prickle
of southern pride and northern cold
before were old
the shortest life is one that took
awhile to save
and knights and knaves can’t solve the crime of misinterpretation
sweeping the nation
under the rug.
We feel unknown but it’s more obvious to seem methodious
and melodic like the tunes you know by sight without a name or a label
to force unstable
and while I’m able I’ll hawk your wares.

While we’re there let’s check the timetable
as we’re able the west was won by the cat’s curiousity.
There’s no you in curiosity
and curios are even farther from the truth.
In my youth I thought it uncouth when muddy dippers
would double dare and howl to scare.
Please believe I’m all that I seem and more besides
and I hate to see you cry.

When we’re through and so will you
show some style of colors dialed.
Drill in to the interaction of distraction come to roost
and must distrust what youth forsooth,
I swear the spare was all that’s there
on the left side of the dashboard mirror.


[Thanks to BN for encouraging me to just jump right in and try writing stream-of-consciousness. It’s not hard at all!]