"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


"a modern Wonder of the World"

I am laughing so hard I'm almost crying.



"We ordain women because we baptize girls." A sermon.

Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the link.


off to the big time

Well, I'm somewhat nostalgic about this, but it appears that we won't have Selvin Young playing for the Longhorns as an eighth-year, 32-year-old senior come this fall. I joke, but seriously, he's been around forever. But now Young's gotten a free agent deal, so it's off to Denver. Congrats and good luck, Selvin.


precious freedom

Things are hectic. The semester is coming to an end. There's grading, students who are panicked that they are going to fail, luncheons, receptions, end-of-year parties, and, in an encouraging trend, parties for friends who successfully defended their dissertations. Tonight I ended one of my classes. I gave the last lecture, reviewed for next week's final exam, had them retake the citizenship test, and closed with my standard end-of-semester speech.

When an introduction to American government class ends, what really can you say? I start by acknowledging that most of my students aren't there because they want to be there, but because the university and/or the Legislature forces them to be there. I tell them that I understand, that American government isn't really my thing either, but that what I know about Africa makes me appreciate what we have in the United States all the more. I talk about the citizenship test they just took; how immigrants memorize 100 difficult questions in a language that isn't their first, all in hopes of attaining citizenship. I talk about people who walk across the desert, hoping against hope that they will get to be part of this dream called America.

I talk about the men and women who are their ages, who leave their homes to fight and die on our behalf, all so we can be free to choose not to vote. I talk about how few of us can be bothered to vote, how ridiculously low voter turnout is in our wealthy, developed country. I show them the famous picture of the 1994 South African elections, of the lines in which some people waited for two days to cast their ballots, and talk about how precious the chance to vote was to my Congolese friends last summer, how people walked for three or five days just to have the chance to mark their choice on a ballot.

And I talk about my belief that politics can't solve everything, that only God redeems us, but that God also ordains political order, and that we need to take that gift seriously. I talk about how grateful and blessed I am to live in a country where I know that calling 911 means the police will respond, that if I get sick, the hospital will be well-equipped. I talk about the fact that politics really does affect our day-to-day lives, what we can do, what we can say, what happens to our money.

I finished my speech and said thank-you, and the students filed out as they always do, happy that I let them go early. One student stayed after to thank me for the class, and to ask about the Congo. She left and I turned to erase the board, and there was another student, one of my quietest kids. She almost never says anything, and I've frequently wondered if she was understanding the course material, if I was speaking too fast for this non-native English speaker to get the information.

She was almost in tears when I said hello, and, because it's the end of the semester and these things happened, I wondered if she was about to ask about grades. She apologized for crying, and then said, "I wanted to thank-you. Because I just passed the citizenship test two weeks ago, and they changed the questions, so they were different from what we studied, but this class helped me." I congratulated her, she went on her way, and I sat down in her empty desk and wept.

So often you just don't know if it matters, if your work makes a difference, if they'll remember anything they learned from you at all. But this year, this class, I know. Thanks be to God for that amazing gift.



This is the Best Merlefest Picture Ever (scroll down to the bottom of the page). Via Blue Ridge Blog, which, as always, is featuring some amazing pictures of Western North Carolina.



Hello, Captain Obvious.


this is awful



peaceful Caanan

My Sunday school class is, shall we say, not your standard Baptist young adult Sunday school class. We don't follow a set curriculum, and we don't have a teacher. Instead, we decide what we want to study (usually a book or a theme), and then someone volunteers to lead either the whole study or we take turns. We all like to debate and discuss, rather than being lectured to, and we share pretty similar senses of humor, so we have a good time. And we learn a lot.

Right now we are studying Judges, and next week it's my turn to teach. Now. Normally, this would not be a big deal. I would read the book we're using, do a little outside research, maybe talk to my sister or a minister, and be good to go.

But. This time, the gauntlet of creativity has been thrown down. People are incorporating games into their lessons. For example, a couple of weeks ago when we learned about Ehud (and WOW is that a story), before the actual lesson started, we played Judges Mad Libs. You know, Mad Libs. Where you insert particular types of words (in this case, "a firey verb," or "really difficult-to-pronounce name") to make a story. The point being that the stories in Judges, especially in the beginning, are a little bit formulaic.

Today we tried to match the twelve tribes of Israel to their geographic territories. C and I tied for first place, but that's only because I got a bonus point for knowing that the Levites were the tribe without a country, as it were. C is definitely the best Tribes of Isarael map-guesser in our class. Then we all had to be a character in the story of Deborah. I was Deborah and the Attorney was Barak, C was Yael, I can't remember who the Librarian was, but it was important, etc., etc.. (Let's just say that wasn't necessarily a good decision. At one point, this arrangement resulted in the Attorney and me attempting to sing Deborah's song to the tune of "The Yellow Rose of Texas.") It was a great way to teach the story, which, let's face it, has some bizarre twists and turns. And it was fun.

So this is all to say that I am feeling the pressure to come up with a good activity for next week's story, which is Abimelech. Anyone out there have ideas? Really creative, silly-yet-point-driven ideas? Yet not in somewhat questionable taste. You know, it's Sunday school.



This is so depressing.

why would you do this to yourself?

This is insane. Totally, completely, certifiably insane.



nothin' like a guitar

"I've been down a lot of roads
Seems like everywhere I go there's blues
Miles and miles of blues.

The Delta ain't the only place
You might find sorrow on some face.
There's blues
Miles and miles of blues.

Chicago to St. Louie, and down to New Orleans
Trouble has no trouble finding everywhere between
You might be in the country, you might be in the town
Might be 'cause the news just came: the factory's shutting down.

Up in West Virginia, in the cold coal mines, they've got blues
Miles and miles of blues
From Buffalo to Baltimore, talk about hard times
They got blues
Miles and miles of blues.

There ain't just Kansas City or Memphis, Tennessee
Take the time and look around, I guarantee you['ll see
The blues are in Miami; the blues are in St. Paul
From dirt roads to the L.A. freeway, the blues'll find us all.

The good news is, there's music
To ease your worried mind
When you've got blues
Miles and miles of blues.

There's nothin' like a guitar
Cryin' in the night
When you've got blues
Miles and miles of blues.

Everywhere there's blues
Miles and miles of blues."

-Kate Campbell, "Miles of Blues"


congo watch

Here's a totally depressing article about child soldiers in the Congo and in other wars in Africa, and the relationship between the changing nature of armed groups in Africa and the use of child soldiers. Quoting political scientist Will Reno, the article points out that, after the Cold War, "the political landscape opened up to well-armed opportunists, no longer inconvenienced by state regulations, state security or moral principles. 'When there isn’t that big barrier anymore,' he said, 'all these weird things start to happen.'” "'Weird things'" including child soldiers.

Check out Lionel Healing's excellent photography with the story. Healing works for Agence-France Presse, and he is one of my favorite photographers in the field of journalism. Healing posts pictures on his photoblog here. The current frontpage picture on his site is of the acrobatics program in Goma. It's a pretty amazing shot.


oy vey

So of the four classes I teach every week, one of them is particularly fun. Of course I love them all, but this class is extra-enjoyable. Most of the students in the class are preparing for vocational ministry. They are enthusiastic and fun. They are also young, and a little bit naive about the ways of the world. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But sometimes I worry about their response to what I say. My approach to controversial issues (of which there are many when one is teaching about politics) is to present both sides of the argument with as little bias as possible, to explain the resasoning behind a court decision, and to be very explicit about the fact that I am not endorsing a decision, but rather just explaining it.

This week I taught about civil liberties, civil rights, free speech, and privacy rights, aka, the Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll lecture. I'm pleased to report that I successfully managed to explain the history of legislation and court decisions about flag burning, cross burning, birth control, abortion, and sodomy to a classroom full of future pastors and youth and children's ministers without offending their sensibilities. Here's hoping this week's lessons don't make it into their course evaluations. :)

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a ray of hope

Late April is the middle of what we here at Texas in Africa refer to as the Long, Dark Season. We're about halfway between the end of bowl season and the first home game (126 days and counting), and there's not even college basketball to distract us. (Note that we could Care Less about the NBA playoffs.) It's rough.

But, today is draft day, so at least in the midst of muting all the yapping on ESPN, we occasionally get to see a highlight or some stats. It's the bone the NFL throws the fans to keep us going through the Long, Dark Season, and to remember that there's a reason we'll be willing to shell out the cash for season tickets in a couple of months.

So far, there aren't any big surprises in the draft, except for the fact that the NFL is clearly less enthralled with Brady Quinn than ESPN has been for the last two years (ESPN: you loving a player who is admittedly adorable doesn't make him "great." Also, you should probably actually talk about Ted Ginn, since that's the player the Dolphins just took.).

No Texas players have gone yet, but that's not surprising. We're expecting most of our boys to go late in the first round or early in the second. It'll be okay.


good land

You know, in this age of terrorism and would-be abortion clinic bombers who are allegedly dumb enough to purchase their bombmaking materials using a personal debit card, it's good to know that the Austin American-Statesman isn't afraid to all but print directions on how to build a pipe bomb. Or to point out that one can apparently buy most of the necessary equipment at Wal-Mart.

My word.

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now you know what i think about all day

Top 100 words in Chapter 2 of my dissertation*:

created at TagCrowd.com

*excluding de, du, le, including, and throughout


this is kindof fun

This is really cool. These are Texas in Africa's top 50 most-used words for the month of April:

created at TagCrowd.com

I guess you really can tell what a person cares about from her words. Except when it comes to Boris Yeltsin.

song goes out to all the earth

I have had a long, busy couple of weeks. Grading essays, Congo travel plans, a doctor's appointment, luncheons, meetings with new students, office hours (another matter entirely), and of course, my usual load of teaching responsibilities, dissertation writing, church activities, and trying to keep up with friends and family.

This week brought two new experiences to my ever-growing body of teaching experience. The first was good: dealing with students' parents. On Tuesday night, I attended an end-of-year recital for one of my student's dance/gymnastics group. He organizes the group and invited all his professors, so I thought I'd attend. And I'm glad I did. It was a fun evening, with lots of laughter from a group of students who clearly care about one another.

I ended up sitting next to my student's parents. Although I've been in many situations of introducing my family to my professors, I've never had to have a conversation with the parents of one of my students before. Luckily, he's a great student, and I didn't have to stretch the truth to tell them that they should be proud of their son. It was fun. Also, I now have a standing invitation to visit Peru, but that's another story.

The other thing I learned this week was not nearly as much fun. Last weekend while grading, I noticed something that didn't seem quite right. After much research, I realized that I would have to confront a student about my suspicions of academic dishonesty. (Academic dishonesty, unlike cute things like this, is a serious issue that can result in a student being removed from a course.)

Now. I have been teaching on and off for seven years, and I teach at a large state university. I counted awhile back, and I think that I have taught, graded for, and/or advised close to 1,000 undergraduates over the years. I am quite certain that in all this time, someone has probably cheated on an exam or a paper.

But I've never caught it until now. And it made me absolutely sick. I like to believe the best of people, and it really disappoints me when someone does the wrong thing. I really didn't know what to do. Luckily, there are procedures for these things, and my colleagues were willing to share their experiences.

Also luckily, this happened in a class at the Christian university at which I teach. The directives for dealing with academic dishonesty are quite different than those at the large state university at which I also teach. Instead of automatically failing or penalizing the student, I was instructed to follow Matthew 18 by approaching the student with my concerns. This left room for redemptive action that punished the student for making a poor choice, but that also didn't destroy the student's academic record.

Teaching is a learning process. And while one of the lessons I learned this week was harder to learn than the other, I'm glad to know that I can do it. I'm grateful for the advice and support of friends and colleagues. And I'm thankful that the vast majority of my students really are good kids whose parents I'm glad to meet. I am lucky to have a job that I love.


oh, waco

Oh, my. This is terrible.



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in the world a heart of darkness

"I don't believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I'll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill

"We run like a river
Runs to the sea
We run like a river to the sea
And when it's raining
Raining hard
That's when the rain will
Break the heart."

-U2, "One Tree Hill"


congo watch

Bad news from Congo: 64,000 people have fled their homes in North Kivu in recent weeks.

Goood news from Congo: Congolese women working to help Congolese women who have survived rape.


reasonable doubt

The Supreme Court threw out death sentences for three convicted Texas felons yesterday. It is unclear whether 44 other, similar, sentences are still valid.

Because life without parole was not an option in Texas (as it is now) at the time these people were convicted, their sentences revert to life in prision, with the option for parole. I seriously doubt that any will be paroled, but it is a concern.

What is more important about this case is that it points to our state's very real problem: our criminal justice system isn't guaranteeing beyond all doubt that we aren't executing innocent individuals. Our justice system isn't always guaranteeing that evidence is correctly obtained and presented in court, and that federal law is correctly being interpreted by Texas judges. If the state is are going to be in the business of taking away a life, the state needs to be absolutely certain on every count. We need a moratorium on the death penalty in Texas. Now.

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your kisses are wasted on me

Excellent news from the Pipettes.


the myth of redemptive violence

The Statesman's breaking news reports that the package found at an Austin womens' clinic last night contained an explosive device. Another report says the contents were, quoting law enforcement, "'consistent with an explosive device.'" This clinic provides abortion services. It is also located about two blocks from the other university at which I teach.


crank it up to 11

Must. Get. Self. To London. July 7.

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oh, right

It's Africa Malaria Day. This is a much better explanation of how it all works than anything I could give you.

I've luckily avoided infection with malaria thus far (Who knows what else the anti-malarials are doing to my body?), so my firsthand experience with malaria is limited to witnessing Wilco Ben's experiences in Goma last year. Let's just say that it's the disease that keeps on giving, and that it is NOT a good idea to climb a volcano when you're still recovering from your first bout. There's a reason malaria kills 1-3 million people every year, most of whom are children. I'm glad to know that many people are working to help prevent malaria infection, and hope that our government will fund efforts to do more of the same.


oh, the memories

This is an awesome photo of the 9:30 Club.


baptist life

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a luncheon hosted by Baptist University of the Americas. BUA will soon celebrate 60 years of educating pastors and other leaders for service to the church and the world.

I have known of BUA for many years, as a longtime friend of my father's is a vice-president there and because my church endowed the first scholarship to BUA in honor of one of our members. But until yesterday, I had not understood the vital role that this institution plays in Baptist life, and in preparing students to minister in cross-cultural settings in Texas, the United States, and the world.

Formerly known as the Hispanic Baptist Theological Seminary, BUA has been providing theological training Spanish-speaking ministers for six decades. Students come from all over the world, most especially from Latin America. We had the opportunity to hear from a current student, a young man named Cesar. Cesar is from Guatemala performed two wonderful worship songs in Spanish and in English, and shared his testimony of how God is calling him to serve as a music minister.

How important is the work of BUA? In Texas, we know that in the next fifteen years, Latinos will become the majority ethnic group in our state. How many of our pastors are fluent in Spanish? How many are prepared to minister cross-culturally to this growing population? This isn't just an issue on the border; the population of Hispanic citizens and immigrants is increasing throughout the United States, in places like Nashville, Charlotte, and Kenosha, Wisconsin, where a recent BUA graduate planted a church that (after a year!) runs 500-600 in attendance.

V.P. for Advancement Arnie Adkison also told us that BUA is currently educating 229 students. Every graduate of the school's programs is in high demand by state Baptist associations and missions groups that understand the need to reach out to Spanish-speakers in their communities, and to others around the world. Adkison told us that for every student who graduates, there are five jobs that need to be filled.

Clearly, the school's mission is an important one, and something that Baptists everywhere need to support. What are some ways you and your church could help BUA? One is by giving money. BUA is supported by the Cooperative Program dollars through the BGCT, the Texas Baptist state missions offering, and by private donations. Because most students coming to BUA need significant financial aid, the university cannot rely primarily on tuition and fees as a source of revenue. Your church, like mine, might consider giving money for scholarships.

In order to serve more students, BUA is building a new campus across the freeway from its current campus, which the school has rapidly outgrown. This means that the university also needs donations for its capital campaign. The school would like to educate at least five times the number of students it can house now - and clearly the need is there. How neat would it be if Baptist churches could build support for BUA's capital campaign into our own capital campaigns - if, when we decide that we need a new parking garage or family life center or education building, we would also choose to support this vitally important program?

The most important way we can support BUA, of course, is to pray for the university's leaders, professors, staff, and students. The question we were asked yesterday, and the question I am asking you now is this: How can we help students like Cesar respond to God's call in their lives? I think supporting BUA with our prayers and our finances is a great way to start.


original sin

Elaine Pagels revisits an interesting question: could Judas be forgiven by God?

seeing red

I have much to blog about and nada time to blog, what with grading essays, all the end-of-semester meetings, recitals, and luncheons, my dissertation, and a rather unpleasant, unavoidable situation that is a major waste of time. Hopefully I will have a little time this afternoon to write something substantive.

Until then, here's an interesting announcement from the ONE Campaign. No one I know except Jess watches this show, but, hey, if they're drawing attention to the situation in Africa, I guess i'ts a-okay with me. I won't be watching because, depending on what time GA's ends, I'm hoping to get to a ONE-related event for the (red) project at the Christian university at which I also teach. Here's that announcement:

"On Wednesday night, April 25, Bono will appear on the most watched TV show in America, American Idol, to talk about the ONE Campaign and the fight against extreme poverty.

"His appearance is part of a two-night special called "Idol Gives Back" which will focus on extreme poverty in Africa. On both nights, the 24th and the 25th, Idol with air a 30 second TV spot about the ONE Campaign.

"The Wednesday night show will be hosted by Ellen DeGeneres and include appearances by Celine Dion, Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani, Earth, Wind & Fire, Il Divo, Keira Knightley, Hugh Grant, Josh Groban with the African Children’s Choir, Jack Black, Helen Mirren, Rascal Flatts, Quincy Jones, Carrie Underwood and Annie Lennox.

"In the last few months, ONE members have achieved a string of significant victories:

*In December, during the closing hours of the 109th Congress, ONE members played a pivotal role in the passage of critical Africa trade legislation (AGOA)
*In January, ONE members sent over 200,000 letters to help restore $1.45 billion for poverty funding in the 2007 budget.
*In March, ONE members worked to reverse a $2.2 billion cut in the 2008 budget."

Those are pretty remarkable accomplishments. Thanks to ONE for all they are doing to fight extreme poverty in Africa and elsewhere.

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go home, lassie!

Texas in Africa salutes the Best Prank of All Time. The details are revealed!

on yeltsin

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin passed away yesterday. This morning the BJC emailed out a remarkable story about an exchange between Yeltsin and Bill Clinton, during which Clinton shared his faith with Yeltsin and encouraged Yeltsin to keep the country open to Christian missionaries. It's interesting to think what might have happened had that exchange not happened; Yeltsin was apparently quite close to cutting off missionary access to the country because of the threat new Christian churches were posing to the Russian Orthodox Church.

I can't find the story on the BJC website, so I'm posting it here. Bill Clinton is so reviled in many Christian circles; I wonder if this story might cause some people to think again:

April 24, 2007
A reflection on Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and religious liberty
By Carolyn Staley

I have just read the news about the death today of Boris Yeltsin. It brought to mind a conversation that Bill Clinton related to me about a meeting he had with Yeltsin in 1994 -- a meeting during which he shared his faith with Yeltsin.

I was in Russia in January 1994 when President Clinton's mother, Virgina Clinton Kelley, died. Sarah Caldwell, director of the Boston Opera, and guest conductor the Sverdlovsk Symphony in Yeltsin's hometown of Ekatirnberg, Russia, had invited me to join her for a trip to Russia where I was soprano soloist for the Verdi "Requiem Mass." It was in Ekatirnberg that I received a faxed letter from President and Mrs. Clinton telling me of Virginia's death just after CNN had carried the story. I called the president from Russia the minute I heard the news, and we planned the music for the funeral together.

About a week later, the president traveled to Russia, keeping his long-standing commitment to President Yeltsin.

Sarah Caldwell took a chamber orchestra to Moscow to perform for Clinton at Spaso House, the home of the American attaché (then Thomas Pickerington), and I sang a group of American hymns with them to honor Clinton's visit and his mother's memory.

After the concert, Clinton asked me to please come by the hotel where his staff was staying in Moscow, so that we might visit for a while about his mother's funeral after an official trip to Yeltsin's dacha for dinner earlier that evening.

Clinton's trip to Russia came after the beginnings of efforts at democracy in Russia. Yeltsin had embraced the idea of helping the Russian people live in a free and democratic society, and wanted to learn all he could from Clinton about how democracy works. Clinton had traveled to Russia to continue the important gains in this new relationship of freedom.

Clinton told me that Yeltsin asked him many questions about how a democratic society worked. Clinton even offered to have Yeltsin come to the United States and visit him for several days in the White House, so that Clinton could serve as a mentor to Yeltsin as he learned how to govern in a democratic way.

When I met with Clinton, he shared with me an account from dinner that evening as he and Yeltsin continued to explore democracy and what it meant to live in freedom. Clinton told me the amazing story of sharing his faith with Yeltsin that night. He said that during dinner, Yeltsin leaned over to him and asked, "You're a Christian, aren't you?"

"Yes," President Clinton answered. "My faith is the most important thing in my life."

"Well, I have to do something about all these Christians coming to Russia. They are ruining our country. Everyone is becoming a new Christian, a born-again Christian, and they are being rebaptized and putting crosses around their necks. It is ruining our country's culture."

President Clinton told me he looked at Yeltsin and said, "Democracy doesn't work that way. Either you're free or you're not. You can't have it both ways. You need to allow Christians the freedom to come into your country and preach and teach, and you have to allow the Russian people the freedom to choose their faith."

I thought to myself, "what a remarkable exchange. In sharing his faith and his encouragement with Yeltsin that Christian workers be allowed to come into Russia as missionaries, Clinton may very well have helped keep the doors to Russia open for Christians and the spread of Christianity beyond Russian Orthodoxy. President and also advocate for religious liberty."

Just months before this exchange, Yeltsin had come very close to closing the country to Christian missionaries. The ban was not implemented, as it turned out.

The concern had been that the Russian Orthodox faith, the national church of the country, was being threatened with demise, as born-again converts began to affiliate with smaller Protestant churches spawning across Russia. Instead of being born into their cultural and historical/political Russian Orthodox church faith, people were now choosing to follow Christ in a personal faith.

I have often wondered what might have been if Clinton and Yeltsin hadn't formed a warm friendship that allowed Yeltsin to ask such questions of Clinton as he did about his faith.

Now, on learning of his death, I can't help but wonder how Clinton's sharing of his personal faith and encouraging Yeltsin to allow the Christian faith to grow unhindered in Russia, may have impacted the country. I am thankful that my friend took that opportunity to share his faith with Yeltsin. Somehow I think and hope it made a personal difference for him as well.

The Rev. Carolyn Staley is an advocate of religious liberty, a longtime Baptist Joint Committee supporter and the minister of education at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.

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grace and peace

David Halberstam is dead at the age of 73, from injuries sustained in a car wreck today.

How awful, and how sad. Halberstam was an incredible journalist and author whose books about the Civil Rights movement, Vietnam, and the wars of the 1990's set the standard for good journalism about controversial subjects. Many of these quotes in a review of The Best and the Brightest (which is about how we got stuck in Vietnam) seem entirely relevant for today.

America lost a great writer today, but Halberstam left us with an incredible legacy. May he rest in peace.


Ah, Paige Patterson. Sometimes the truth is harder to make up than fiction.


save each one's pride

This is a cool example of loving your neighbor as yourself - no matter who your neighbor may be.

every day is earth day

On a Biblical mandate for creation care.



far from the bright lights & the city's lies

Last night was Swang A-Go-Go 2007. Swang is one of the best parties around. A group of Austinites sponsor the party and get to invite 10 people each to a party at a dance hall way out in the Hill Country. There's a potluck dinner, a band, hours of dancing, a bonfire under the stars, and, if it isn't too cold, a very late-night swim in the Guadalupe, and after that, camping. There's also a dance lesson so the uninitiated can learn to two-step. There's lots of laughter and smiles. Everyone gets out of the city for a day or two. Dogs run through the dance hall and out the back door. It's family-friendly and fun, and 200 is just the right number of people for seeing old friends and making new ones.

Lucky me, Steve Not the Lawyer is one of the sponsors, so I get to go. It is more fun than you can possibly imagine, and the group of people there is so diverse that you're bound to run into someone you know, and to meet many others you're glad to know. The people who put Swang together are creative types, cool people who make movies and music, and lots of lawyers, dancers, and other random hipsters. We enjoyed dinner with Steve Not the Lawyer's friends, one of whom is a resident at Vanderbilt Hospital and who goes to Nigeria on occasion, so we talked about Nashville and African healthcare. I finally met the filmmaker for whom I was going to be a consultant until she decided not to make a movie about the Congo after all. I recognized someone who also recognized me and we figured out that we went to Baylor together (she subsequently introduced me to her fiance as "a non-Baylor Baylor person." I took that as a compliment.).
I also ran into my friend J, who introduced me to her friend Kai. While Kai and I were dancing, I asked who he knew at the party, and he said, "Oh, well, I know some people from Burning Man, and others from filmmaking, and, well, there's a few people here who are in my Lindy Hop class." "So you make films?" I said. Yes, he does, but at the moment he's being paid to follow a former presidential candidate's book tour to get it on film. Right. Or then there's E, who, when asked what he does for a living, said (with absolute seriousness), "I work for PBS and I'm a consultant and a clarivoyant."

Like I said, Swang is amazing.
The band for Swang is usually Two Tons of Steel, which is one of the best groups for dances in South Central Texas (you can watch a video of them here). They were on fire for three hours last night, playing all their signature songs, including "Red Hot," "One More Time," and their hilarious cover of "Secret Agent Man." For once it was a cool evening, so the dance hall wasn't hot at all. I hadn't been out dancing since getting back from the Congo last year, so it was especially fun for me. As the night progresses, the kids get tired, and parents take them back to the tents to put them to bed before heading back up to the hall to keep dancing.

And dance we did. By midnight, Two Tons had launched into a run that started with their amazing cover of the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" then led into "Shake, Rattle, and Roll," and the Stones' "Not Fade Away," with "Heartache" as a much-demanded encore. I was spun and twirled and tossed around the dance floor so many times that it's all a bit of a blur. It was the most fun I've had in ages.

After the dance ended, we sat around and talked (amusing conversations: one with E (the PBS clarivoyant) about his thoughts on genocide; another with the Two Tons pedal steel player, who told me about his dream to surf in South Africa) and had a snack before heading outside to the bonfire. Actually, it's more of a campfire that everyone sits around while the musically inclined play their guitars and sing. Some of the Two Tons guys were there, and Jeff Hughes from Chaparall sang a couple of gorgeous songs. Everyone sang along to "For What it's Worth" and "Angel from Montgomery" and others I can't remember. (For reasons that are still unclear, someone also convinced me to sing "The Ballad of New Orleans" but that's another story.)

As the night got cooler, someone launched into "Dublin Blues." There we sat, a group of people who in many ways are complete strangers, and yet who come together once a year to eat and to laugh and to dance under the Texas sky. It was way too cold to swim and we weren't camping, so somewhere around 2 we left behind a chilly night on the riverside to head back to the city, back to Austin, back to life for another year.

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oh, yeah

Today is Earth Day. I believe that taking care of the environment is a responsibility we should all share. No one should have to breathe polluted air or drink water that's contaminated with mercury. The thing about the environment is that we have to be collectively responsible for it, because it affects us all.

Recently I have become convinced of the need to reduce my personal carbon footprint. "Carbon footprint" is a term that refers to the amount of greenhouse gases that an individual's daily actions release into the atmostphere. Ideally, each of us would release as few greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as possible.

It's really simple to reduce your carbon footprint. Here are some steps I've taken to reduce mine:
  • Turning off lights and other electronic items when they are not in use (eg, not leaving on the DVD player if the television isn't on).
  • Unplugging my cell phone as soon as it's finished charging.
  • Recycling as much as possible.
  • Driving less and relying on public transportation whenever possible.
  • Using cloth shopping bags at the grocery store instead of getting plastic or paper bags there. This is so easy - I keep the bags in my car so they're there when I need them.
  • Buying products that use less packaging. Once you start thinking about this, you really notice how much superfluous plastic there is on so many products. I try to buy the ones in cardboard boxes, or those products with minimal packiging.
  • Buying organic produce whenever possible. I don't know if this is always true, but I've definitely noticed that organic produce is higher quality than the alternative.
  • Printing double-sided pages (and two pages to each side).
  • Turning off my desk lights when I'm away from my desk at work.

Here are some other ways to reduce my carbon fooprint that I'm hoping to start soon:

  • Unplugging all devices that are not in use. Standby power (like for your computer or television) wastes lots of energy. I think using a power strip (where I can just click "on" and "off" for several devices at once) will make this easier.
  • Making a real effort to buy local produce and other products that are made closer to home. Shipping causes serious pollution.

I would never describe myself as an environmentalist, but I do believe that I'm responsible for not wasting the earth's precious resources. If you're interested in reducing your carbon footprint, here's a list of good ways to get started. If you'd like to know your carbon footprint, here's a calculator.


nigeria watch

International and local observers, as well as the political opposition, consider the Nigerian elections a failure. The polls were widely marred by violence and election rigging, and in many places, voting did not happen at all. What a mess.


trust also

Yesterday was a long and wonderful day. I woke up to gray skies in Austin, drove to Lorena to have lunch with a dear friend who gave me a gift I will treasure forever, stopped by to see my sister, and, on my way back to Austin, went by the cemetary to leave flowers on Allie's grave.

I couldn't remember where it was, but it wasn't hard to find, because it was covered in brightly colored flowers - red roses, purple and pink and yellow tulips, purple irises, and the pink azaleas that are planted there. It was colorful and lively and the sun was out and the sky was blue and the cemetary in Waco is a beautiful place, full of shady live oaks and peaceful breezes.

As I stood remembering and taking it all in, suddenly a woman touched me on the arm. I'd seen three other people at a grave about thirty yards away, but I didn't see her come my way. "I thought I should say hello," she said, "since we're neighbors." We talked about Allie and about her son John, who recently died after a motorcycle accident. "So young," she said, when she looked at Allie's grave, and I asked how old her son was. 27.

Her grandson came running over to us and she scooped him up and explained to him that I was there to visit my friend's grave, and that, like his Uncle John, Allie is in heaven. He must have been about three years old, and he looked up at me with wide brown eyes and asked, "How old was your friend?" "Twenty-three," I said, and both his grandmother and I were overwhelmed with the sadness of it all. She told me she would visit Allie's grave when she comes to see her son, and that she would pray for Allie's family and friends. I promised to do the same for her, and asked her son's name, and her voice broke as she told me. "God be with you," I said. "You, too," she said as she turned to cry and to leave me with my grief.

I told Steve Not the Lawyer about what happened as we were driving back to Austin last night. "What a powerful moment," he said. He's right. What happened in that cemetary was poignant and painful, but it was also holy. "Let not your heart be troubled," says the bench next to Allie's grave. How glad I am that even in the midst of devastating grief, even when we have to learn to live with a senseless, unjust tragedy, the presence of Christ with us, making it possible for us to reach out to one another, to share a tear and a prayer, to offer a moment of peace in a quiet cemetary. Let not your heart be troubled, trust that God sends the comfort you need, and know that there will be moments of holiness when you expect them the least.

last weekend in live music: brothers & sisters, joe ely

I totally failed to blog about last Sunday's Waterloo Records 25th Anniversary party. Oops. It's been too long for a real review, but suffice it to say that it was a gorgeous day full of great music.
Brothers & Sisters from afar. We were not willing to leave the shade. Their Neil Young-as-a-neuftet sound is much better live than recorded.
Lubbock's incomparable Joe Ely is as amazing as ever, and Joel Guzman can shred. On the accordion. I know.
All in all a great show on a perfect day to be outside. I have some video of Ely playing "All Just to Get To You"; maybe I'll get that posted later. He also did an incredible Townes Van Zandt cover, evoking the ghost of Austin's greatest songwriter who lived just over the hill from Waterloo in Clarksville. Amazing.



there's a song that will linger

A few weeks ago, I was searching through a box labelled "dissertation," looking for an article on the Congo I read a couple of years ago. I have a filing system for these things, but having had to pack up everything I own and put it into storage twice in fifteen months means that a lot of articles, books, and other papers are in odd places.

I found the article at about the same time as I saw an old, graded, never-picked-up paper from a class I TA-ed for two years ago. African politics was the subject, and the unclaimed paper was Allie's. She had a rough year, and I think I graded her paper after the others, which is why she never got it back.

Today makes a year since Allie died. In some ways, it feels like a long time ago. In others, it feels like yesterday.

The day she died was awful. I was in the Congo, and a year ago yesterday, the week of Easter, I had seen the worst thing I've ever seen. Mr. Florida and I were both sick at the site of those sick, starving children, and shell-shocked parents who were unable to protect their children from an ugly, messy world.

One year ago today, I was still thinking about it, still having trouble eating, still mourning the fact that I have so much while others have so little, wondering why we make excuses for our conspicuous consumption when children created in God's image are starving to death. I don't imagine I'll ever forget that day, because after trying to process all that, my sister sent a text message telling me that she was sorry, that Allie was gone.

Tears. A very long-distance call to the CPP, who, instead of choosing a bridesmaid's dress for her future sister-in-law to wear at her wedding, was trying to figure out how you choose an outfit for your 23-year-old friend to be buried in. I had no answer. The weekend was a blur of more tears, and feelings of sadness and hopelessness at not being able to be there for my friends.

A year has passed and I am still not okay with what happened. I'm not okay with the fact that a beautiful, vibrant young woman was cursed with a disease that was part of her genetic makeup. It wasn't just or fair or right that this person full of life and ideas and who cared so much for her family and friends only got 23 years to make a difference. And she did make a difference, but that doesn't make it okay. The day she died, one year ago today, was, as Amy put it, gray.

A year has passed, and the sky is gray. My friend Wes's mother passed away this week. She was in a horrible car accident just after Christmas. She survived, but she was in a coma from which she never woke up. Tomorrow is the funeral, and the world for Wes and his family is gray.

It's been a year, and Allie is still gone, and I am not okay with this, and Wes's mom is dead, and the sky is gray, but I don't think Allie would want us to remember her by thinking about a dull, gray sky. Allie was not gray, she was not boring, she was not mournful, even as sickness started to claim her life. Allie was blue Texas skies and bright April tulips and smiles for everyone she met and a passion to help others and a life that was anything but gray.

And so, one year later, I will find ways to remember Allie and the color that she brought into our lives. I will remember Allie by thinking about an intelligent young woman who worked hard in her African politics class. I will remember Allie by going to Waco to have lunch with a dear friend. I will remember Allie by driving through fields of bluebonnets in the last days of their spectacular springtime beauty. I will remember Allie by going dancing in the Hill Country tonight, enjoying the company of friends and good music under the great starry dome of the Texas sky. It's been a year, and I think that's what she would want.


oh, oh, oh

Living a nightmare.

imago dei

It's real.
I have tickets. I don't have my passport or visa yet, but I'm going. Back to the Congo. For real.
This will be my third trip to the DRC, and my sixth trip to Africa, but I'm not sure I'm ready.
I'm not leaving until June, so I have some time. Time to finish writing a chapter, time to get my house in order, time to pay bills for the whole summer, time to make plans for housing over there, time to plan to be in Nairobi at the same time as friends, time for etc., etc., etc.
I'm not sure I'm ready in any sense. I don't know how it's going to be to see people who are now genuinely friends, and to know that many of them still live in uttery misery. I'm not sure I can handle visiting the families in Sake, who walked there from the land that was stolen from them, and who have since had to endure their new town being attacked. Twice.
I'm not sure I can go back to the hospitals, to look into the eyes of women and girls whose lives have been destroyed by evil men. I'm not sure I have any hope to offer them anymore.
I'm really not sure that I'm ready for the children, for the orphans on the streets and in the markets and at the bus stage and setting up roadblocks and everywhere you turn. I'm not sure I'm ready for the hopelessness and despair of their situations. I'm not ready to see the image of the God reflected in their eyes and to wonder how we allow innocent children to live like this when we have so much. I'm just not sure I'm ready.
But ready or not, I'm going back. Again. For real. I have the tickets.


the colors of mercy

As you might imagine, on any given day on this campus, an awful lot of people are wearing burnt orange. They make burnt orange everything - t-shirts, sweatpants, flip flops, visors, shorts, whatever. And the businesses that sell burnt orange stuff are clearly doing bang-up business.

What you don't generally see around here is people wearing maroon. We're not in the habit of wearing the colors of that cow college to the east. Ever.

Today, though, burnt orange and maroon are mingled out of respect for those who died at Virginia Tech. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of students are wearing burnt orange shirts and maroon baseball caps, orange tank tops under maroon sundresses, Virginia Tech t-shirts. Girls showed up to section with maroon ribbons over their hearts. At 11, the bells on the Tower tolled, one after another, over and over again, reminding us of what was lost.

It is hard to overstate what an impact these events have had on the students, faculty, and staff at our large state university. It's not just the constant stream of emails from the university and the department about security procedures and what to do if you notice a student who's behaving strangely, and notices about the on-campus security threats (2 in the last 2 days). It's more than that. We all see our own lives reflected in the lives of students at another big state school - be it the freshman French major or the RA in a huge dormitory, the brilliant young professor, or the graduate student on the way to meet with an advisor. We all sense how easily something like that could happen here (I mean, it did happen here.). We all sense how fragile life really is. We don't understand what they're going through, and, yet, we somehow know what it must be like.

So today we wear maroon with our burnt orange. May those who died in Blacksburg this week rest in peace. May their families know the comfort of a God who knows what it is to suffer. May the family of this troubled young man find that same God's comfort in the faces of neighbors, friends, and perfect strangers who try to pray for their enemies and love those who hate them. May we live our lives with a sense of worry-free urgency, knowing that our days are numbered, but that the God we serve is one of boundless love. Amen.

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happy day

Graduate school is a long road. Unlike most of my friends who graduated from college and went to work, I've spent the last several years in this extended apprenticeship that sometimes seems like it will never end. Unlike my friends who finished medical school, I don't have a title that says I'm competent. Unlike my friends who spent three years in law school, I'm not making six figures a year. The reward of graduate school is a far-off goal reached only after jumping through what seems like an interminable series of hoops, following a road that sometimes feels more like a dirt track through the Congolese jungle.

My goal in trying to finish a PhD is to teach at the college level. It's what I'm good at, and it's what I believe I'm meant to do. I enjoy my research, but I love teaching. I love helping college students learn, and I love watching them discover how their gifts and talents fit in with the world's great needs. Yesterday I sat with a student I'll be advising next year as she attempts to gain admission to graduate school and just marveled at her enthusiasm, commitment, and evident brilliance. Even though I sometimes hate my dissertation, I love my job.

This long path has given me so many fantastic opportunities to develop teaching skills. In college, I worked as a grader, learning how to evaluate student work fairly and efficiently. At Yale, I taught discussion sections for the first time. Yale being Yale, they were small classes, so I could learn every student's name, and the professor being wonderful, she helped us plan our weekly lessons. Because of her dedication and thanks to a couple of teaching workshops provided by the graduate school, I learned how to guide a discussion, how to ask questions that get students to make connections, and how to not fear silence in the classroom.

At UT, I was lucky to be offered the chance to teach SI discussion sections my first semester as a TA. SI is a content-based program that helps students develop study strategies, and the training and resources offered by the program developed my teaching skills even more, as did taking formal and informal courses on learning styles and other issues. I've also TA-ed in huge lecture classes, watching good professors deliver excellent lectures while taking notes on ways to emulate their methods. This year, I started teaching my own classes for the first time at another small, private, local university. The classes there are small and the students are patient with my attempts at learning how to lecture. It's great.

This isn't to brag; it's just to say how thankful I am to have had these opportunities to build skills over time. Today I got the news that I will be teaching my own lecture class at UT this fall. This opportunity is one of the reasons I came to UT, and it has been my goal for the last five years. The long road to a PhD winds and twists and gets bumpy sometimes, but on days like today, I'm sure that it's leading somewhere. Today the road is smooth and the sky is blue. And for that, I am grateful.


dallas is a jungle but dallas gives a beautiful light

Excellent news from Dallas today (how often can one say that?): the Red River Shootout will remain at the Cotton Bowl until at least 2015.

Let's be clear about my feelings on this: the Cotton Bowl is a dump. There's a reason the Cotton Bowl game is leaving the Cotton Bowl stadium. And I have serious doubts that any amount of money Dallas throws at the narrow seats, outdated scoreboard, and completely-impossible-to-navigate tunnels will deal with the fact that the facility just wasn't bulit to hold that many people. It is a somewhat less-than-ideal place to watch a football game. Plus it's in Dallas.

But the Texas-OU game isn't just about the game, it's about the rivalry, and the State Fair, and the atmosphere that only comes when 75,000 angry, profane fans with stomachs full of corn dogs and fried peanut butter are crushed against one another in those tiny tunnels until some eight-year-old OU fan wearing a rainbow Texas Pride shirt inevitably throws up on the feet of an angry-at-her-team's-loss grandmother who proceeds to cuss out the Texas frat boy to her left. That's the game we know and love. It wouldn't be the same in some sleek, over-processed, faux nostalgic, Dallas-ified stadium in Arlington.

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We have had several bomb and other kinds of threats in Austin this week, including the latest "low level," "non-specific threat" at UT this afternoon. Here's the email from campus police:

"At approximately 5:30 p.m. The University of Texas at Austin Police Department (UTPD) received a report of a non-specific threatening notein Welch Hall. Police immediately investigated and swept the building with officers and their dogs in accordance with their protocol. The building was cleared as safe at 6:15 p.m. UTPD determined that evacuation was not necessary."

I hope they won't notify me about everything. Honestly, I'd rather just not know.


Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church are going to stage protests at the funerals of the Virginia Tech shooting victims.

If you live in the Augusta area, I encourage you to join a group that will be standing in silence against this hate group outside Ryan Clark's funeral on Saturday. If you can't be there, I encourage you to make a donation to the Patriot Guard Riders, a group of bikers who work to protect the families of soldiers who died in the Iraq war and whose funerals Phelps and his family choose to picket. The bikers stand between Phelps' group and the victims' families as a human shield. If necessary, they drown out the shouts of the WBC protesters by revving their bikes. They will only be involved at the funerals of members of the VT corps of cadets, but that will help in taking a stand against people who are full of hate.

say wha?

I continue to fail to understand how Alberto Gonzales thinks he can get away with not resigning.



So true. So, so true.

And I know for a fact that the last one happened. One of my friends was the TA.



the problem of evil

This is heartbreaking. So is this. The horror of the Virginia Tech story is going to be with us for awhile. I got an email from J tonight. I remembered right. He lived in West Ambler Johnson dorm for two years. All his family's friends who are at VT now are okay. He was a third-generation VT student, so this is personal and awful for his family. They've walked those paths, attended class in that building, slept in that dorm. They won't be the same.

But this is awful, too. Five times as many people as died at VT on Monday died in Baghdad today. They were normal people, shopping in the market, just going about their lives. And suddenly all hell broke loose, explosions ripped through the air, and for 158 families, nothing will ever be the same again.

We see our world what one philosopher called the "parochialism of the present." We see our own circumstances as the most significant thing that's happened in the world, the worst disaster of its type in American history, the moment that changed us forever.

For those who directly had to endure the worst day they'll likely ever see, there's no question that those moments changed them forever. I don't mean to diminish the tragedy by talking about Iraq. What happened in Blacksburg is awful. Period.

But. But. I keep thinking about Nikki Giovanni's words. Every human life - whether at a college in southwest Virginia or in a war zone in the desert or in a destroyed village in an African jungle - every single life is precious. As she put it so eloquently yesterday, no one - no one - deserves a tragedy.

zimbabwe watch

Today is the 27th anniversary of Zimbabwe's independence. In 1980, rebels led by Robert Mugabe succeeded in taking control of their country, which had been ruled by a white minority regime since the 1960's. It was a time of hope and a celebration of freedom.

Today, 27 years later, Zimbabwe's people have little to celebrate. The situation there is complicated and tragic.

The worst part is that it was entirely avoidable. There's no question that land reform was needed in a country in which a tiny minority of whites owned almost all of the good agricultural land. There's also no question that the way in which President Mugabe seized land and redistributed it to his cronies and supporters was just about the worst possible way to deal with the land issue. As a result of these policies and the rampant mismanagement of the farmland that ensued, in a land that has always been able to feed itself (and many other neighboring countries), people are starving to death. Inflation has led to high prices and low employment. The political opposition is regularly harassed. Life in Zimbabwe is so bad that many Zimbabweans try again and again to flee to South Africa.

No one deserves to live this way. Today is the International Day of Prayer for Zimbabwe. Please take a moment today to think of and pray for those who suffer in Zimbabwe, for the country's leaders to act with wisdom and humility, and for the international community to do what it can to end this needless suffering.


stare decisis

Well, James Dobson finally got his payoff for getting George W. Bush re-elected in 2004. The Supreme Court has upheld a federal ban on partial-birth (aka late term) abortions, despite rulings from lower federal district and circuit corts that struck down the law as unconstitutional. Dahlia Lithwick hasn't posted her analysis on Slate yet; it will certainly give a better explanation of the reasoning behind the opinions. There will certainly be some political posturing over this one.



nigeria watch

Check out this article, not for its content (which is horrifying), but so you can look at the picture of the leaking oil well owned by Shell. The picture is from a totally different part of the country than Kano, which is what the story is about.

The Nigerian presidential elections, scheduled for this weekend, are in some jeopardy, partly because the Supreme Court ruled that the vice-president can be on the ballot, and it's far from clear that new ballots can be printed in time.

Meanwhile, results from the first round of elections are more-or-less in. You can see the regional divide between the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south. You can see where the oil is (hint: part of Nigeria's oil-rich delta region is where the results were voided). What a mess.


who to believe?




Random stuff:
  • According to a recent poll, if you watch the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, you are probably somewhat more informed about current events than those who get their news from certain other sources.
  • Abstinence-only sex education isn't convincing more students abstain.


"doubts keep piling up"

The Dallas Morning News editorial board has reversed its supoprt for the death penalty in our state. I never expected to see the day. The DMN is generally conservative.


"And that uncomfortable truth has led this editorial board to re-examine its century-old stance on the death penalty. This board has lost confidence that the state of Texas can guarantee that every inmate it executes is truly guilty of murder. We do not believe that any legal system devised by inherently flawed human beings can determine with moral certainty the guilt of every defendant convicted of murder."

"The state cannot impose death – an irrevocable sentence – with absolute certainty in all cases. Therefore the state should not impose it at all. "

I am opposed to the use of the death penalty, because I believe that when people start making decisions about who should live and who should die, we start trying to play God. The fact that we have an imperfect criminal justice system isn't the best reason to oppose the death penalty, but it's good enough.

"no one deserves a tragedy"

...We do not understand this tragedy.
We know we did nothing to deserve it.

But neither does
a child in Africa dying of AIDS.
Neither do the
invisible children
walking the night away
to avoid being captured by a rogue army.
Neither does the baby elephant
watching his community being
devastated for ivory.
Neither does the Mexican child
looking for fresh water.
Neither does
the Appalachian infant
killed in the middle of night in his crib
in the home its father built with his own hands
being run over by a boulder
the land was destablized.

No one deserves a tragedy.

- Nikki Giovanni, University Distinguished Professor of English, Virginia Tech.

This is from the poem that Giovanni presented at today's convocation in memory of the victims of yesterday's violence. Thanks to Linda McCloud for posting the text.