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

2.28.2007

angry christians

It's Wednesday. Wednesdays are long: a TA class, office hours, a lecture, and working on the dissertation before going to chase the GA's until 7:30.

Wednesday is also the day I usually don't bring my lunch to work, so after office hours, I run over to the Drag to pick something up. And by the time I remember that it's Wednesday, it's too late to turn back.

Wednesday, you see, is the day the Angry Christians show up. To yell. They aren't part of the university, so they aren't allowed on campus, but they can stand on the sidewalk and yell whatever they want, so long as it's not incitement to revolution or the like.

Yelling is what they do. Two men, one on each side of the street, stand on the sidewalk and yell, sometimes one at a time, other times simultaneously, while their companions try to talk to passersby. Which is kindof difficult, given all the yelling in the background.

What they yell varies from week to week, but frequent topics include judgment, brimstone, debauchery, and the end of the world. They also like to yell about sexual ethics, clothing choices, and the ever-popular lake of fire in which we're all going to burn. Did I mention judgment? In five years on this campus, I have never once heard the Angry Christians talk about God's love, hope, or anything...not angry.

My typical response to the Angry Christians is to avert my eyes, keep my ipod on, and say, "No, thank-you," when one of the conservatively-dressed women offers me a handout. The Angry Christians know nothing about my heart, but apparently the fact that I occasionally wear pants and keep my hair shoulder-length incidates that I can't possibly be a Christian. I suppose they assume that if I were a true believer, I'd be out there with them, yelling at the top of my lungs about the rapture. (Well, technically it wouldn't be me yelling, since I'm a woman, but that's another topic.)

Now. I know that the Angry Christians genuinely believe they are doing the right thing by proclaiming their version of the truth from the sidewalk. As much as neither of us might like to admit it, we are brothers and sisters in Christ. And I'm certain that they pray fervently for this campus. For that I am grateful.

But. But. I just wonder. I wonder if they have fully considered the effects of their actions. I wonder if they've thought about the effect their activities have on those of us who are both Christians and part of this university community. I wonder if they understand how quickly they can undo years of efforts to build relationships with our colleagues, to make them understand that it is possible to be both a rational adult and a believer. I wonder if they realize how difficult they make it to prove that it is possible to be both a serious scholar, fully engaged in the pursuit of truth, and to be a committed person of faith. I wonder if they know that it takes years of building trust for most academics to even be willing to have a conversation about faith.

I wonder if they understand that propagating the stereotype that Christians are intolerant zealots obsessed with sex and pharisaical moral codes doesn't make it any easier for those of us who are not. I wonder if they understand that on our postmodern campus in a postmodern world, "they will know we are Christians by our love" opens a lot more doors than does informing someone they're going to burn in a lake of fire in which that person doesn't believe anyway. I wonder if they understand how hard we work to treat undergraduates as persons worthy of dignity and respect, instead of pests that interfere with our ability to work, and that treating students as people created in God's image means that those students come to us for advice about their problems and fears.

I wonder if they realize that they never say anything about love. I wonder if they realize that yelling rarely makes anyone want to listen, no matter the context. Because I have to say, if the Angry Christians were all I knew of this faith, I sure wouldn't want to have anything to do with it.

Maybe I should pray for them, too.

on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on

Just in case you'd like to get an idea of how much fun the line for SXSW wristbands was, here's a video of the line. Ignore the interview and watch the small screen - see if you can spot Texas in Africa!

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"God must be weeping"

From Archibishop Desmond Tutu, in today's Washington Post:

Blessed are the persecuted

"On race my faith told me that each of us is of inestimable worth since each is created in the image of God.

"Thus this worth is intrinsic and not dependent on such irrelevancies as skin color or ethnicity. Thus it was totally unacceptable, just as a matter of justice, to penalize people about something they could nothing, a given, their ethnicity, their race.

"Equally my faith convinced me that it was fundamentally unjust to penalize individuals for their gender and so sexism was as unacceptable as racism ever was.

"It is being consistent to assert that I cannot condone penalizing someone for something about which she or he can do nothing. It would be bizarre in the extreme for a person to choose to be gay or lesbian in a set-up that is so homophobic.

"I believe that sexual orientation is as much a given as ethnicity or gender. Thus the same principle would apply that ruled out racism and sexism as unjust.

"In every instance that we have in the Gospels, Jesus sides with those who are discriminated against, who are persecuted. It seems a bizarre hermeneutics that would assert that in this one case, that of gay and lesbian persons, Jesus would join those who persecute, denigrate and oppress an already persecuted minority. That would be a Jesus I could not worship.

"I would aver that the same standards of behaviour should be expected of gay and lesbian persons as apply to those who are sexually heterogeneous -- no promiscuity, fidelity to one partner in the relationship, that is all.

"Why are we generating so much heat over this issue at a time when the world is groaning under the burden of dehumanizing poverty, when disease -- especially HIV/Aids -- is devastating whole communities, when conflicts are sowing mayhem and carnage?

"God must be weeping."

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2.27.2007

smoke on the water, joy to the world

Now here is a film I would like to see. Between it and Carlton Stowers' Where Dreams Die Hard, I'd say they've pretty much said what there is to say about six-man football in Texas.

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congrats again, sxsw

Wow, now even the professional scalpers have SXSW wristbands.

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congo watch

Happy day, there will be a Bradt guide to the DRC, in English! This will be an excellent to the new French guide that's been out since last year.

It's really hard to plan research and life in a place when there is no guidebook. I figured out where to stay by asking others who'd been, by keeping track of a ridiculous set of cell phone numbers (these change every few months) for random concierges who might or might not be able to book you a room for six nights, or tell you where there's an apartment for rent. That's not to even mention figuring out how to travel from point a to point b (bus; ask at the station), what kind of money to take (crisp $1, series 2000 or later), and social customs.

Traveling to the eastern Congo is a huge hassle in many ways. This will definitely make it easier for people who go in the future. And I'm really glad that Bradt is behind it; their guides to African countries are consistently well-researched, thorough, and not nearly as paranoid about Africa as the stuff Lonely Planet puts out.

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there's a man of conviction

Well, I just got back from a very entertaining taping of Texas Monthly Talks. (By "entertaining," I mean what my colleague The Bitter One summed up as, "It just goes to show that if politicians have something to say that they won't be lying about, they won't say it at all.") Not to call anyone a liar, but, well, watching Evan Smith interview Speaker of the Texas House Tom Craddick was an exercise in political theater of the absurd. In other words, exactly what we wanted.

Everybody who's anybody was, of course, there. If you're a super-committed Republican, a Texas political reporter, or a grad student from Texas, that is. And, really, we didn't expect to hear anything new from the Speaker. Here are some things we learned, though, with brief commentary:
  • The Speaker views his job as serving the state, not political interests. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around this one.
  • Allowing gambling will be hard to justify this session given the budget surplus. Great! But wait a minute.... Does that mean that the Speaker thinks it would be okay to fund our schools, etc. with gambling funds if we were in a budget shortfall? Um.....
  • The people of Andrews wanted to have a nuclear waste facility in their county, and it's really not that objectionable since it's "low-level" nuclear waste. Not only that, but "we're" looking at putting a couple more of these type of things out there. Really? 'Cause, you know, it just so happens that my daddy is from Andrews, so I read the news from out there when all this happened, and it didn't seem like everybody was 100% gung-ho, yay-rah on having a nuclear waste dump near their homes. Maybe it was just me. Or maybe it's that low-level nuclear waste really does sound pretty unpleasant/dangerous/not-in-my-backyard-esque.
  • The Speaker has nothing but respect for the Texas Constitution. Except, apparently, when one wants to enact a suspension of some provisions of the Constitution on the basis of a legilative vote. I'm sure that's just a detail.

Troubling instances of congnitive dissonance aside, the most interesting aspect of the taping for me was observing Evan Smith's skills as an interviewer. Working without notes, he asked a wide variety of great questions, carefully probing for information, and knowing when the Speaker wasn't going to give him anything else. It was certainly more entertaining than your average political science interview.

This episode of Texas Monthly Talks airs on KLRU next Thursday, March 9, at 7pm. If you're elsewhere in Texas, check your local listings.

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africa: how you can help

There's so much news this week (Oscars, Britney's hair, the Red River Shootout leaving Dallas) that you may not have heard anything about what's going on Mozambique. After several weeks of flooding in the Zambezi valley, a cyclone (think hurricane) hit the coast, killing three and destroying the homes of up to 165,000. The pictures of the destruction are devastating.

It is much more difficult for a developing country to recover from something like this than it is in a place like the United States. We've all seen how difficult the recovery is on the Gulf Coast, even a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina hit. Imagine dealing with a similar situation without the infrastructure, money, and other resources to be able to help a population. Many people have lost their homes and just about everything they owned, which wasn't much to begin with.

World Vision is coordinating a major relief effort to help victims of the cyclone. Please consider donating money to help Mozambican disaster victims. Even a little bit goes a long way.

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it's all local

Serious politics in New Braunfels.

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2.26.2007

congo watch

This is the Best Congo Story Ever. You really, REALLY should read it. Ha!

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scamming sxsw

Wow, that let's-make-it-difficult-so-there-will-be-no-scalping thing worked out great. Less than twelve hours after wristbands went on sale, here on Craigslist are tickets for: $700 for 2, $265 apiece for 6, 4 for $300 a pop, an "interesting trade," or an even trade for Wednesday night's Aggie game. EBay is even more ridiculous.

Congrats, SXSW. Way to protect the true music fans.

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africa: still not a country

I love hearing about African responses to American movies about Africa. There are so many stereotypes and cliches that we aren't even aware of when we watch those movies here, but that Africans immediately notice. The reaction to The Constant Gardner, for example, was far from the positive reviews it got from everyone I know in the states. In Kenya, for example, one of the papers published a long article about how ridiculous the movie was, how it was just another story of a white person coming to save Africa from itself, how it was so distanced from reality. It's stuff like that (and inaccuracies, like all the Nigerians playing Somalis in Black Hawk Down) that make me decide to skip most American movies about Africa.

So it's interesting to hear about Ugandan reactions to The Last King of Scotland. Steve Not the Lawyer and I saw it a couple of weeks ago. If you haven't, I highly recommend it. It's brutal and difficult, but it also looks more like the Africa I know than any other movie I've seen in recent years. Forest Whitaker sounds like an Anglophone East African in the film, and he definitely deserved his Oscar (apparently the Ugandan press agrees). It's a fantastic film. It's not the whole story, but it was filmed on location, and it shows. Maybe efforts like this, to learn the language, the accents, and to actually film in the place are what sets a film about Africa apart. Here's hoping there will be many more to come.

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arlington doesn't have the same ring to it

Buh-bye to the Cotton Bowl. It won't be the same without the State Fair, but after PhSquared and I were nearly crushed to death in the throng last fall, I guess I'll be okay.

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oscar fashion

Funny. I thought Cameron Diaz's dress looked more like Jane Jetson than a dinner napkin. But now I totally see it.

Also, we didn't know what to say about Kirsten Dunst. But I'd say that "borrowed this look from a 16-year old Icelandic rodeo clown who is her nation's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest this year" pretty much sums it up.

I'm so ready for Eurovision.

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this one's for the Attorney

Koalas y mas.

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sxsw nonsense

I had a Very. Long. Day.

It started off like any other Monday. Mondays are always long for me this semester. Such is life. My TA class in the morning, office hours after that. I spent all of office hours grading exams and dealing with a student whose desire to learn in the midst of awful family problems reduced me to tears.

Then the SXSW wristband text came through. I am really, really, really, really tired of South-by's nonsense this year, as any regular reader of this blog already knows. So I shouldn't have been surprised that they did the wristband drop in the middle of a Monday. It's not like anyone has to be at work, right, Lewis Black?

The only good things I have to say about the subsequent 2 hours and twenty minutes of waiting in the hot sun while wearing heels are: 1) I met some fun people in line, and 2) my car didn't get towed. I got to talk to a couple of the SXSW types, one of whom was nice and the other who was not. I told him that I thought this was a terrible system (not in a mean way, I was nice!). He said, "If you can come up with something better, let me know." (Hey, here's an idea: how 'bout you go back to doing it the way you used to? Like last year? Where you announce the time a day or two in advance so only the people who can drop everything get wristbands quickly and efficiently? The longest I ever had to wait for that was 20 minutes.)

All the rhetoric about how this protects Austin fans is ridiculous. It doesn't protect anyone. There were people scalping tickets on Craiglist before I was out of line. Lewis Black was apparently standing around smiling, probably because SXSW made a lot of money today. From people like me, who are willing to put up with a whole mess of nonsense because we like music so much.

Anyway, I'm sorry for complaining so much, but it was really miserable. The line wrapped around the block one and a half times. I was about ten people in front of where they ran out of the cheapest wristbands. At any rate, I finally got in, got two, and raced off to my other office hours, finished grading papers, taught two classes, and made it home in time for dinner at 9:15.

It was a long day.

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sxsw wristbands: if you ain't got one, you're in trouble

There are so many reasons SXSW is not all it's cracked up to be. The fact that I had to wait in line for two and a half hours to get a wristband this afternoon is just one of them. No time to talk about it now. But they're clueless.

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2.25.2007

where the streets have no name

Here's an interesting piece about political and economic change in South Africa, as the country prepares to transition to new leadership in the next couple of years.

I have been reading Dervla Murphy's South from the Limpopo for the last couple of weeks. She traveled (by bicycle!) through South Africa in 1993-94, just as the transition was happening. One of the things she noted over and over again was the expectations of poor South Africans that things would change quickly. All we need is democracy, her subjects would say, and things will be better.

Better happened. There's no question that most South Africans are far better off living in a country that recognizes the basic dignity and equality of all human beings, regardless of their skin tone. And despite the faults for which many criticize the government, it has, as the above article points out, made progress in improving life on a very basic level for millions of citizens.

By the time I visited South Africa, in 2003, it was clear to most people I met that things would continue to change slowly, if at all. Even with knowing how bad things really were for black South Africans under the apartheid regime, it's hard to be sympathetic to these current problems, because I've seen that people elsewhere in Africa live with so much less. Most slums don't have running water like the ones in South Africa do. Countries like Congo have little hope of rolling out universal free public education anytime in the forseeable future. South Africa is in the middle of launching such a plan. South Africa has a modern infrastructure and a functioning economy. Things are far from perfect, but they could be so much worse.

Does it matter, though, when it comes down to it? Poverty is poverty, and it isn't good for children to die of preventable diseases, or for families to have to drink dirty water, or for mothers to have to worry about raising their children in gang-ridden neighborhoods. I think the more basic question here is whether anyone deserves to live in poverty while most of us waste money on things we don't need. There's enough to share.

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2.24.2007

congo watch

This is a rather ominous headline, for what seems to me like a fairly routine bout of violence in North Kivu. (By "routine," I mean that an outbreak of violence resulting in the displacement of 10-20,000 people happens once or twice a year. Isn't that sad?) Here's hoping things will be better by the time I get back to Congo this summer.

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africa is not a country

The following is from an interesting meditation on the meaning of out-of-context African art - and whether it should even be considered art. Because nothing drives me crazier than people asking if I speak African, or if I know their friend who was in the Peace Corps in Guinea, I particularly appreciated this bit on the absurdity of referring to "African" culture, people, etc.:

"...the "African" part can make the mind reel.

"Dozens of different language groups; peoples as different as the pygmies of the Congo basin and the Masai herders of the Serengeti plains -- not to mention the modern city dwellers of Lagos and Cape Town, 3,000 miles apart; religions as different as the animism of the remote camps in the Kalahari and the Sufi Islam of Senegal; "artworks" as different as the illuminated Bibles of Ethiopia, the export ivories carved five centuries ago by Benin royal craftsmen and the animal masks of the Mossi of Burkina Faso -- how could we imagine that any single adjective could meaningfully encompass all that?

"Or that the geological borders that happen to enclose a 12-million-square-mile landmass would also be the edges of a coherent mass of art or culture?

"However much we might recognize that variety, when it comes to talking about "African art," or to visiting a museum dedicated to it, it's very hard not to think that there's a there, there -- that "African culture" is something worth talking about in general terms. But studying the creativity of the vast continent of Africa probably makes about as much sense as looking at what goes on in a similarly sized chunk of land running, say, from northern Norway to the southern tip of Saudi Arabia, with its far corners touching Lisbon, Moscow and Kabul. Except that our imaginary continent of "Norabia" would probably have more cultural coherence than Africa ever could.

"Here's my guess about the one, absurdly superficial quality that truly unites the people we call "African" -- or at least those who live south of the Sahara, who made all the African art the Tishmans bought. The very top layer of their skin happens to have rather more pigment in it than their European "discoverers" were used to seeing. That, more than anything else, is what gave those people the unifying identity that white, Western museum culture has tended to see in them."

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one million dollars?

I love the Explainer.

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these people aren't kidding

Truthiness in action.

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world's on fire

I have been smelling smoke all day long. I thought it was just a neighbor or something, but apparently not. This neighborhood isn't immediately next to me, but it's probably 2-3 miles away. You can hear the helicopters from my porch since the wind has died down. Scary.

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what's it like up north?

It's 75 degrees and perfect in Austin. It's been that way all week except for Friday. It's February and spring is here. I just thought you would like to know.

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anger makes me a modern girl

The only surprise about this is that it took them two weeks to file.

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2.23.2007

sxsw: i'm still mad

So, after listening to Louis Black give a lame speech about how SXSW really does care about the fans, and after keeping my cell phone on for two weeks solid, we still have no SXSW wristbands for sale. Having seen the schedule, I'm not entirely sure I WANT a wristband, but I am determined to buy one just for spite. (If I decide not to use it, it will be easy to sell.) This system is totally ridiculous.

My money is that the first round of wristbands will be released tomorrow or Sunday around 10 or 11. It has to be on a weekend, because SXSW can't reasonably expect most Austin music fans to be able to drop everything on a weekday. They promised it would happen before February, and there's only two weeks before the festival in which time they're planning two wristband drops. And Waterloo doesn't open until 10. We shall see. It better not be during church because I have to do the children's sermon (hey, SXSW, people who believe in Jesus like music, too!).

If it happens this weekend, I won't take the time to blog about it, because I'll be fighting for a parking space at Whole Foods. See you kids in line.

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break it down

Wow, there are a LOT of people at the Obama rally. I have to teach later, so I'm not there, but there's a live webstream. What's funny is that you can hear the music, but you can't see anything but the crowd. Gotta love Austin - even if there's nothing to watch, it's still broadcast on the internets.

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articulate is as articulate does

Finally! I haven't been able to access Blogger all day. Sorry about the lack of updates. Stupid technology.

This is so funny, I just about caused a disturbance in the cubicles:

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2.22.2007

this should be fun

Lucky me, through a connection at work, I am on the guest list to watch next week's Texas Monthly Talks taping. The guest is Texas Speaker of the House Tom Craddick. Any suggestions on what I should ask during the Q&A?

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world without end

Relating to my earlier post on how we treat the poor, I meant to link to Joe Phelps' excellent piece in Ethics Daily today. It's entitled "This Gospel Can be an Inconvenient Truth."

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in my beginning is my end


Last night in GA's we started a new unit. The director read the scripture, from Matthew 25. Those are the verses about the sheep and the goats, about God's judgment and the uncomfortable relationship between our perceived righteousness and the way we treat the poor. She then told the story about the missionaries we are studying. They work among some of the poorest people in America, and one of their ministries is running a thrift store where families can purchase all the clothing they can carry for $1. After talking about the story, the director asked the girls to think about the verses. "How does God want us to treat people who are poor?" she asked.


Elizabeth, who is in second grade, sometimes has a hard time sitting still during GA's, but despite all the wiggling, she listens. She heard the question, raised her hand, and said, "He wants us to let them in, even if they're strangers."


Out of the mouth of a child.


We make so many excuses for why we don't help the poor, why we don't always welcome them into our churches, why it isn't safe to open our church buildings to people who are addicts and theives and who smell bad, why we can't possibly volunteer on the wrong side of town because our cars might be broken into while we're doing good deeds. Goodness knows I make them.


But I wonder how well all those very sensible, logical arguments stack up when it comes down to how we treat the least of these our brothers and sisters. Jesus makes it pretty clear: "'For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in...whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'"


I believe in reading the Bible in the context in which it was written. There's not a lot of room for interpretation there. What does God want us to do? He wants us to let them in, even, and maybe especially, if they're strangers. Not just to let them into our homes, but to let them into our communities, into our faith, into our lives, into our hearts. Denial of the poor is denial of Christ.


So why is it so easy for a child to understand, and so hard for us to do?

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2.21.2007

remember

I have been Baptist my entire life, but I am not now the kind of Baptist I used to be, and I do not attend your average Baptist church. My church's slogan is that it's "a new way of being Baptist." My friends and I have a joke that a new way of being Baptist is pretty much the same old way of being Episcopalian. That's not true, but we do have some practices and elements in our services that are much more (dare I say it?) sacramental in nature than what happens in your average Baptist church.

And thus we observe Ash Wednesday.

To be clear, I'd never in my life been part of a church that marks Ash Wednesday with the imposition of ashes until moving to Austin. My churches since college have observed Lent, but it was always just a Sunday thing.

To be equally clear, our church is quite Baptist. Really, thoroughly Baptist. Baptist in the nothing-happens-quickly-because-two-committees-and-the-deacons-and-the-church-council-have-to-approve-everything-in-three-stage-votes sense of being Baptist. But, as I quickly learned, at our Baptist church, we do Ash Wedneday. And I love it. I really do. We do Lent in an entirely Baptist way, by imposing ashes on one anothers' foreheads, saying, "From dust you have come and to dust you shall return." And then we sing "Amazing Grace" and off into the night we go, to ponder mortality and sacrifice and repentance.

When I say, "we," however, unfortunately that doesn't mean me. Ash Wednesday being perpetually on Wednesday, the service at our church is always at the same time as the regular Wednesday night activities. One of which is the GA's, which I've been helping to teach for the last four years. So instead of getting ashes, I usually spend Ash Wednesday doing a craft that will help us to remember to pray for missionaries who serve the Lakota people of South Dakota, or explaining why most apartments in China don't have air conditioning. I enjoy teaching the GA's, but I really hate missing the Ash Wednesday service. There is something about someone smearing black dust onto your forehead and reminding you that you came from dust and will go back to dust that sets the tone for Lent, that this is a separate, special time of year, to think about sacrifice, and to prepare for Easter's redemption.

And so, somewhere along the way, I developed an annual habit of going to visit the Episcopalians. Episcopalians take Ash Wednesday very seriously, such that they need multiple services throughout the day to ensure that everyone in the parish who so desires has the opportunity to get ashes. Every year, at noon on Ash Wednesday, just for an hour, I join their community for this service, this reminder, this call to live differently.

Going to church with the Episcopalians is a very different experience than what is normal in my new-way-of-being-Baptist church. There's lots of liturgy, lots of kneeling and standing and saying the right words at the right time. And there is so much that is beautiful about saying the same words that Christians have been reciting for centuries. "Most holy and merciful Father, We confess to you...that we have sinned by our own fault in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone." "Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory." One gets the sense that these words carry believers through good times and bad, through faith and doubt and every shade of grey in between.

I also like the emphasis on history in the Episcopalian celebration of Ash Wednesday. Today we learned that:

"The season of Lent...was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith."

I love that. Lent was a time to restore those who had fallen away back into fellowship. But it wasn't just about forgiving the sinners; it was also a reminder to all of us that we are the same, in need of grace and absolution. Maybe especially for the Episcopal church this year, which is in deep need of reconciliation.


And then there are the ashes, which, if they are prepared according to tradition, come from burning the palm fronds used in the previous Palm Sunday service. Think about that: here is something beautiful that has turned into something that is ugly, dirty, and more-or-less useless. In Goma last year, Congo being in heavily Catholic country, there were green palms everywhere on Palm Sunday. If there's one thing Goma does have readily available, it's an abundance of black dust. Yet those beautiful green palms of celebration have been burned and returned to our skin to remind us of our brokenness.


As I went forward to receive ashes, I have to admit to being more amused by the over-enthusiastic members of the altar guild who were trying to control the crowd with mixed success. When I got to the altar, I don't know what happened. I was probably supposed to close my eyes, but I'm not a good Episcopalian and I don't know all the rules. The priest looked me dead in the eyes, imposed the ashes, and said the same thing he said to everyone else: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."


Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. "Purge me from my sin, and I shall be whole. Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow." Remember that you are human, that you came from nothing, and that one day this broken body will be nothing. Today you will take communion with believers who are so different from you, and yet with whom you have much in common. Today you will remember, today you will repent, today you will commit.

We finished GA's early tonight, so we sent the girls to the playground and I actually made it to the sanctuary in time for the Baptist version of the service. That's never happened before, but I was glad to have the experience of having ashes imposed again, not by a priest, but by a teenager, and to sing "Amazing Grace" and go out into the night with my faith community. It was good to be reminded of who I am, from what I come, and of how much I neither know nor understand about how it all fits together, how God works through our differences. Thanks be to God for miracles and mysteries, and for bringing life out of dust.

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congo watch

Things are getting worse in North Kivu. Oh, wow.

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to dust you shall return

Ash Wednesday
T.S. Eliot

I
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.


II
Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to sateity
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying
Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III
At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitul face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jaggèd, like an old man's mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an agèd shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs's fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind
over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.


Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV
Who walked between the violet and the violet
Whe walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary's colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs
Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary's colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing
White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.
The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile


V
If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.



O my people, what have I done unto thee.


Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose


O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.



O my people.


VI
Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.
Blessèd sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

2.20.2007

with baited breath

Well, there was a somewhat underwhelming response to the Useless President's Day Trivia quiz. Here are the answers:
  • Which president kept a pet cow on the White House lawn? William Howard Taft
  • Which president was drafted by the NFL? Gerald Ford
  • Which president became president of the National Rifle Association after leaving office? Ulysses S. Grant (I know. Who'd've thought?)
  • Which president invented the swivel chair? Thomas Jefferson

Since my sister was the only one to answer, and she got 1/4 right, I guess she's the champ. Congratulations. And happy President's Day to all.

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e.j. dionne gets it again

"The Murtha measure would at least force a much-needed debate on the damage this war has done to our armed forces and the extraordinary burdens being borne by the brave minority of Americans who serve. It would also sidestep the political damage of doing anything that could be construed by Bush's supporters as 'failing to support our troops.'

"...'The refusal of the administration to try to work with others to resolve this in a responsible manner has created a very polarized atmosphere,' Van Hollen said. "They've refused to listen to anyone else.

"That should be the central theme of the president's critics because it's true -- and because it offers the best rallying cry for those seeking to change a disastrous policy."

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politics and prose

Glad to see that the Leg is dealing with really importat business up front.

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not funny at all

Does this make you feel good about the way the Bush administration has played politics with the Iraq war? Because it makes me feel kindof sick knowing that there were apparently lots of back-room maneuverings while our soldiers, some of whom are my friends, were risking their lives over there...

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in his chevrolet pick-up truck

Okay, so on Tuesdays I work at home, and I usually deal with the backlog of student emails while watching the Price is Right (Stop mocking. Like you don't have routines.). It keeps me calm when dealing with implausible explanations for missing the exam. Who are you to judge?

Today is seriously the funniest day of the Price is Right I've ever seen. There are a LOT of gay men in the audience, they are all getting on stage, and they are all kissing Bob (on the cheek). Now, when you're a contestant on the Price is Right, you get told about the kissing Bob policy. Women: yes. Men: no. Bob's not into that kind of thing. But they're doing it anyway. He looks so uncomfortable. Too funny!

Oh, ha!, now a woman just ran up on stage after being called to come on down (without winning the bidding) and nibbled his cheek. "She bit me!" he yelled.

This reminds me of the day with the worst contestant ever. Keep watching. You just have to trust me:

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2.19.2007

c'est so simple

This is for my sister and Kirstin. People were definitely speaking some Franglais when I lived in Cameroon, seven years ago, but it sounds like it's growing. Language development is so fascinating.

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sigh.

Should we be glad that the Army is doing something about poor conditions in some facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, or should we be depressed that it took a series of Washington Post articles about the problem over the weekend to get them to do something?

I think I choose "both."

My airport shuttle stopped at Walter Reed one day this summer. We dropped off a soldier from Fort Campbell who'd been injured in Iraq, and a friend from his unit who was there to help him get around. It was sad. This war is so awful. What are we doing to an entire generation of young soldiers?

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contest time!

A bit of Useless President's Day Trivia:
  • Which president kept a pet cow on the White House lawn?
  • Which president was drafted by the NFL?
  • Which president became president of the National Rifle Association after leaving office?
  • Which president invented the swivel chair?

Leave your guesses in the comment section. Use of Google (or anything else) is cheating. (We may not know if you cheat, but Jesus will.) I'll post answers tomorrow evening. The prize is recognition on this blog as the 2007 Useless President's Day Trivia champion.

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it's not just for fox news anymore

Everybody's doing it.

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yet peaceful as a dove

This week's Christian Life Commission conference is getting great press coverage. I also saw a report on News 8 Austin this morning. They called it the "Christian Life" conference. What are you going to do?

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2.18.2007

eh, eh, eh, classe, en francais!

Hell hath no fury...

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money & the church

Given that it is midterm time, I'm pretty busy grading exams and haven't had time to do much in the way of thoughtful blogging. Or to reply to a comment from my pastor on this post the other day. But this morning at church, a friend from Dallas was in town, so we spent a couple of minutes catching up. We met in Kenya last spring, where she was on a mission trip and I was meeting up with Laura the Elder and Preacher J to collect the chili powder my mom sent to save me from bland cooking (thank-you again, mom!). She's also friends with Laura the Elder, so we all had a good time hanging out, shopping, and enjoying Nairobi's good restaurants.

My friend is not only from Dallas, she is Very Dallas, in that lots-of-makeup-and-perfect-hair way that we just don't do in Austin. But she's also been to rural Kenya and seen what true poverty is, and she has a heart for making things better for children who suffer unnecessarily. She joked about the $34 million gift to Baylor that someone has made to build a new football practice facility/athletic complex, and we laughed, only half-joking, about all the other things we could do with $34 million.

So that's got me thinking about money and the church again. A theology of money is something I'm really interested in, and something that I and my Sunday School class have been thinking about for many years. Here's hoping these thoughts keep the conversation open. I'd love it if the rest of you would join in as well.

Is it right for Christians to spend money on unnecessary stuff? Certainly in the United States, almost all Christians spend money on things we don't really need. And I don't want to argue that the wealthy should be held to a different standard on this point. We all have a responsibility to use our resources well. But $34 million goes a lot farther than what I can give in a year, so it does raise a number of questions, a couple of which my pastor asked:

Question one: would people give money to another cause if they weren't giving it to build an athletic facility? Probably not. But that's not what bothers me. What concerns me is the sinking sensation that most churches won't ever suggest to their wealthy members that they might do something else with their resources. Churches get so scared of losing their big donors that they don't always question what people do with their money. (I do not mean this as a personal critique of these particular donors; I don't have the slightest clue what else they do with their wealth.) But what bothers me is that, with most wealthy Christians, churches don't seem to ever call them to account for what they choose to do with their wealth. I think churches should be calling all members to use their resources well, to God's glory. Much as I love football, I don't see how paying for a football practice facility helps to advance God's kingdom.

(Baylor isn't the church, of course. But as a university that claims a distinctive Baptist identity, I hold it to a higher standard.)

Question 2: Do people progress in their attitudes about money and wealth? Of course they do. I believe that God brings people to the places they need to be with respect to every aspect of life, and I know that it takes time. People give money to a variety of good causes. I don't mean that everything has to go to one place, or even to one type of program. My concern is that we waste a lot of money on really unnecessary things. And I'm sorry, but I think this is a waste of $34 million. Baylor doesn't need a new football practice facility, or a new pool. They built a new athletic facility while I was a student, just eight years ago. It might be nice to have these things, but is it really critical for Baylor to have top-notch facilities when members of the body of Christ are starving to death? When the working poor in our own cities can't afford basic, decent housing in which to raise their children? When missionaries can't afford to bring their children home for the holidays?

Why do we not challenge people to address these realities now? Shouldn't churches be more concerned with helping people to journey rather than encouraging them to stand still, content to have their name on a building? Do we challenge them on the other ways they use their money? I'm willing to bet that someone with several million dollars to spare wears expensive clothes, carries handbags that cost more than my monthly salary, and has more house than he or she really needs. Do we challenge wealthy Christians not to do that? Do we stop saying that it's okay to waste money in the name of "needing to minister to the rich" or keep up appearances so someone can keep making money and therefore keep having enough money to give away?

Bill and Melinda Gates have done a lot of good things with their wealth, but they still live in a ridiculous house. If they were Christians, would that really be okay? Is it really okay to have a house with a room for everything when children are dying because there aren't any anti-retroviral drugs to treat the HIV their mothers contracted from unfaithful husbands? Really?

I think this problem is more than just about what individuals decide to do with their resources. I think it's a problem in the church, and with our fear of challenging the culture around us to do better. Maybe it has to do with our sense of scarcity, and our need to make things happen with the resources we have. Churches waste money on lots of unnecessary programs, facilities, and stuff.

Here's the problem: I'm not convinced that facilties and programs make ministry happen. Goodness knows churches in Africa can teach us on that point. The church I attended in Congo has extremely limited facilities (their new building is on top of the lava flow, and they have to wash and refill Communion cups during the service for everyone to have a turn!) and even more limited financial resources, yet they minister to a war-battered population very effectively, simply through the commitment of their people to sharing God's love. Hearts that are in the right place and a call from God make ministry happen, not the right curriculum or the right budget or the right location.

That said, L'Arche Church of Goma sure could put money to good use. Just in case you have an extra $34 million around.

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people who are smarter than you and me

HOW did I miss the guy who played real-life Frogger with his Roomba in downtown Austin?

Seriously.

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bordering on the ridiculous

So I have been getting lots of comments about the new presence of labels on this blog. Here's what happened: Blogger upgraded its platform awhile back. I've generally ignored the new platform, but this week they forced me to switch over. The only real difference is in how I login, and in that I can now add labels to categorize every post.

I'm surprised that this has garnered any attention at all, but seeing as three people have now complained that the labels are "distracting" or "unnecessary," I thought I'd take a poll. Labels or no labels? What do you think? Do you really care? Does the presence of labels affect your Texas in Africa reading experience?

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2.17.2007

it will lay her burdens down

Some days I really miss Congo.

Today is one of those days.

You should take a look at Rob's blog about the park rangers who risk their lives to protect the wildlife in Virunga National Park, which is north of Goma. I interviewed Rob for my dissertation. He's a cool guy who saw a problem, knew it could be addressed, and works with the affected community to figure out a solution. The solution to the problem in the park (see below) was to train an elite group of rangers who are trained and equipped to deal with violent attacks on the park (and themselves).

The Congo Rangers do amazing work, with very little reward. They are constantly in danger because the various and sundry militias operating in the park love to take their weapons, uniforms, and equipment. They also like to kill animals for food or other uses. The militias regularly attack these park rangers. On top of that, people in the surrounding villages hate the rangers too, because they won't allow cultivation on park lands. All they're doing is enforcing the law, and trying to save the rare species, including the mountain gorillas, who live in Virunga. And they don't have many friends because of it.

Why do I miss stuff like this? Because it's Congo. Because when I lived there, I saw the absolute worst things that one human being can do to another, but I also saw examples of incredible courage and valor in the face of horrible circumstances. I saw clueless expatriates who never bothered to learn the language or the culture of the people they were presumably there to help, but I also met people like Rob, who approach Congo's overwhelming problems with humility and as partners, not overlords.

Outsiders who choose to live in Congo go for all kinds of reasons. Some are genuinely good-hearted and want to make a difference. Others are thrill-seekers there for the conflict high, or to avoid the reality of a wife and kids and a house in the suburbs of London or Brussels or Mumbai or St. Louis for a few years. Or a lifetime. Some are there because they feel called. Others are there because their government sent them. They count the days until they can leave. Some would just rather be in Africa, forever.

Whatever the reason for being there, there's something about life in that environment that feels more real, more intense, more like life. It's terrifying and exhausting and overwhelming, but it's never mundane. You may not have electricity on Thursdays or entertainment beyond watching the lake change color or the certainty that you won't be killed by an angry mob or a rocket attack tomorrow, but you know, every single minute of every single day, that you are alive. Leaving that behind - going back to the regular life of running water, professional sports on tv, and state parks that are underfunded but certainly won't ever be terrorized by armed warlords - is a relief, but it's also hard to adjust. Even after awhile.

There will be a documentary covering the Congo Rangers on the Discovery Channel sometime soon. I'll be glad to watch it.

But it's not the same as being there.

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congo watch

Two months is nowhere near enough.

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get moyers on the ticket and i'm in

This is the coolest political poster I've ever seen, and I say that as one who is not yet fully convinced that she wants to vote for Barack Obama.
For those of you who aren't inclined to follow Democratic party politics, "Mama" is Hillary.
Thanks to Carlos for the link!

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theory vs. reality

I know it's snowing in Tennessee today, and I'm sorry, really, I am. But it was so gorgeous in Austin today. The no-clouds, starting to finally warm back up, breeze, utterly perfect kind of gorgeous. Perfect.

What I wanted to do today was put the top down and drive to Kerrville. The reality of my life, however, is that despite working 14 hours a day during the week, I still have to work on weekends sometimes, and these midterms aren't going to grade themselves.

It wasn't all bad. Actually an Actuary and his wife are in town this weekend, so we had a very fun lunch at the excellent Vivo. I did get a lot of papers graded. And I left my house a couple of times to run errands, get a facial, and attempt to go to the nursery to buy potting soil (it was closed after 5. Go fig.).

But, oh, the sky was so blue. I hate blue books.

thou art with me

Amen.

one place i may never go in my life again

Something beautiful for the weekend:

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happiness was Lubbock, Texas in my rearview mirror

Ah, Lubbock.

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2.16.2007

your spice ain't diddly squat

This is the Best Academic Study Ever in the History of the World. Period.

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new blog news

My dear friend the CPP has started a very amusing blog over here. If you're interested in legal issues, Texas madness, and the use of very bad manners by people who should know better, then Ivory Toweress should be on your reading list.

I've been meaning to post about this for awhile now. Sorry about the delay...

2.15.2007

$34 million

This'll be nice, but it won't make up for the recruiting pool problem, wherein Baylor must compete with Texas, A&M, Tech, OU, and OSU.

I was talking with a colleague today who pretty much holds church and faith in contempt. We were talking about the reasons why, and he commented that megachurches with lavish facilities seem so opposed to the actual message of Christianity. "Why do they spend so much money on swimming pools and fancy buildings?" he asked. "Because they want a safe place," I replied. We talked about how so many churches spend money on unnecessary things while people starve on the other side of the world, and the difference between American cultural Christianity and the message of Christ. "When it comes to money, most Christians ignore the Bible," he said.

It's hard to argue with that. It's hard to defend my own complicity on the point. It's even harder to believe that it's justified for a Baptist university to spend $34 million dollars on three practice fields and a pool. And it's even more impossible to explain to my friend why he'd want to have anything to do with us on that point.

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what would warren do?

Warren Chisum: class act. More details here.

I recently learned that the man Molly Ivins called "the Bible-thumping dwarf from Pampa" represents Donley County. Not Groom proper, but Donley County. His district stretches from Perryton to Muleshoe and Childress. God help us.

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blame it on the stars that didn't shine that night

Oh. My. Gosh.

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unsatisfactory progress

"How are you?" "How was your day?" "How are things going?" I wonder how many times a day we ask, and answer a version of that question. "Fine." "Okay." "Pretty good." "Alright." It's a basically meaningless, but somehow important element of the way we related to each other, whether we're best friends or strangers. We don't really think about it that much. And it's pretty much the same every day.

And then there are days like today. Freezing cold, not-supposed-to-be-like-this-in-Austin-in-February days. "How's it going?" said my colleague. And instead of automatically replying "Good, how 'bout you?", for once I gave a real answer:

"Well, I can't feel my toes, I spent the morning digging through the online archives of a Belgian journal of tropical medicine, and I got subpoenaed. But, you know, other than that, fine. What's up with you?"

He stared. I stared back.

Yeah, it's that kind of day. The Belgians have lots to say about sleeping sickness eradication and malaria prevalence rates, but not much on how many Belgian-appointed doctors worked in colonial clinics in rural Kivu circa 1935, which is all I need to know. A judge says I have to be the state's witness next week. And it's 32 degrees outside.

At least the sky is blue.

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we're really in trouble now

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crazytown is alive and well

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in the stars where you are always rollin' on

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2.14.2007

good-bye it's me again

I'm sure that things like this have absolutely nothing to do with this phenomenon. And they say romance is dead.

roses have been hard to fine

Ahh, nothing says Valentine's Day like economists in love...

qotd: stronger than death

"Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation." - Elton Trueblood

2.13.2007

music festival watch

Um, judging from the lineup, this may be the year to go to Bonnaroo. Not bad atall.

get thee to a bakery

For reasons that are probably better left unexplained, nuns seem to be the theme today. (And it's not because tomorrow is Valentine's Day, either.) Anyway, thanks to my sister for the tip on this story about facial recognition that mentions the Nun Bun. I don't really care what the scientists say. I saw the Nun Bun with my own two eyes, after they shellacked it, and darn it if it wasn't the spitting image of Mother Teresa in a cinnamon roll.

Nun Bun, we miss thee. I'm gonna go listen to some Kate Campbell now...

this team was undefeated?

Last night's game was awesome. Best quip: Stillwater, it's like Norman, but without the shoes.

wwld?

Audrey's in the paper!

polisci in real life

Ah, the permanent campaign.

2.12.2007

the summons

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

I'd never even heard this song a week ago, but we sang it a lot a lot a lot at Current, then Leigh used it in her ordination. So now I have learned it. Here is what I know: it is a song from a community called Iona. It is simple and sing-songey and should be in the forbidden realm of rhymes that fall prey to the dangers of sentimentality (and would therefore be forbidden by Ann Miller) and yet it is somehow still beautiful.

And it will not let me go.

so do we forgive in the name of brain chemistry?

Wow. You only thought your nasty breakup/jerk of an ex/one that got away story was bad. That is not depressing. This is depressing.

At least it explains SOIUTK.

Just about perfectly, as a matter of fact.

sxsw discriminates

Well, in their ongoing effort to make SXSW as miserable an experience as possible for Austin music fans, the powers that be have decided to use the most ridiculous system I've ever seen for selling wristbands. For those of you who aren't from around here, the wristband system is the bone SXSW throws us in exchange for their clogging our city with clueless out-of-town record executives for a week. Thousands of people come to town for a week, fill up our clubs, restaurants, streets, and parking lots, and tell us how they do it in L.A. (note to you record types from the coasts: we don't care.). In exchange for putting up with this, we get to buy wristbands for $130, wait in long lines for hours on end, and, occasionally, get to see a band or two we like or have heard good things about. Doesn't that sound like a good deal?

In the past, wristband sale dates have been announced in advance, so you could plan your day/week around getting a wristband. But not this year. This year, in an effort to keep the scalpers away, you have to sign up to be text messaged at a phone with a 512 area code the moment they go on sale, then be able to drop everything to go buy tickets. This is a terrible plan. It won't stop the scalper problem; tons of scalpers live here, and other normal people will sell their wristbands, no question. In addition, not announcing the dates in advance, and only allowing 512 cell phones is seriously discriminatory to people who have:
  1. reponsibilities.
  2. jobs.
  3. a dependence on public transportation.
  4. phones with non-Austin numbers even though they actually live in Austin.

I'm really getting tired of SXSW's prima donna act.

top of the world

2.11.2007

will you come and follow?

We ordained Leigh today. My mother asked, "to what?" and I said, "the Gospel ministry." Called by God, tested by an ordination council, and affirmed by her church, she was ordained to a life as one set apart to serve the church.

It was a lovely service of blessing, full of love and laughter and stories and tears. One of the most beautiful aspects of it was the affirmation that God calls women to all kinds of ministry. We sang a wonderful hymn about the ways God used women in the Bible. Here are some of the lyrics:


"There is a line of women extending back to Eve,
whose role in shaping history only God could conceive.
And though through endless ages their witness was repressed,
God valued and encouraged them through whom the world was blessed.


So sing a song of Sarah to laughter she gave birth;
and sing a song of Tamar who stood for women's worth;
and sing a song of Hannah who bargained with her Lord;
and sing a song of Mary who bore and bred God's Word."

I know that for some readers of this blog, ordaining a woman is a controversial action. Maybe some of you even see it as sinful or otherwise wrong. We'll have to agree to disagree on that point, because I am convinced that for us to say that women cannot serve as pastors is saying that we know more than God about whom God will call to ministry.

And I disagree because I don't think you know Leigh. I don't think you know how obvious it is from the testimony of her friends and family and pastor and ordination council -- and from the testimony of her life -- that God has called her, and set her apart to serve the church. That God has confirmed that call through her church communities, friends, and spiritual advisors. That God has blessed her with gifts and abilities that are perfectly matched to a life of ministry. To ignore that call would be wrong.

The whole service was symbolic of the ways God uses women in ministry. We heard testimony from Leigh's friend who is a minister, and from Suzii, who ministers to and for Baptists in public life. A BSU director gave the invocation. A chaplain gave the ordination prayer. Leigh herself led us in taking communion, the body and blood of Christ, broken and spent for men and women alike, called together to service and self-sacrifice. All these women of God spoke to the rightness of the occasion, and to the blessing Leigh is in our church and in our lives.

Something I love about our church is that our ordination services are not like the ones of my childhood church. When I was a child, I dreaded ordination services, because they were long and boring and were usually on Sunday nights when all I wanted to do was have dinner and watch Family Ties. The only marginally interesting part about it was watching my daddy wait in line with all the other ordained deacons and ministers of the church to lay hands on the ordination candidate. But ordination in that sense didn't mean much to me. It was something that men did, and it didn't have much bearing on my life.

While I would never dispute a Baptist church's right to ordain whom and how it chooses, I'm thankful that we don't do it that way at my church. When someone is ordained in our church, everyone is welcome to come forward and lay hands on the candidate, from the oldest, wisest man to the young child. It is a time of affirmation of God's call in a person's life, and a chance for the entire community to bless. It is always beautiful.

And it was especially so today, as we ordained a daughter of our church to live out the vocation to which God has called her. Thanks be to God for Leigh. We are blessed.

what a mess

I don't like Bill Odom. This is because, on the first day of his American national security policy class in the fall of 2001 (one week before 9/11) during the course "shopping period" that is one of the perks of course scheduling up there, he asked me to explain my research interest. I told him that I was writing a thesis on U.S. security policy towards Africa. "There's no such thing," he replied with a withering stare. I glared back, replied, "yes there is," sat quietly for a few minutes, decided that perhaps this was not the class for me, and left.

I do not regret that decision. In the boys' club that is American political science, you learn quickly who you can work with and who you can't. My friend Lauren and I figured out that if we would talk about weapons systems, some of the men would accept us, but for some boys, women just can't possibly have knowledge about these things, even if they work twice as hard and know all there is to know about the topic. Such is life. It doesn't really bother me any more.

So I am not a fan of Mr. Odom. But as much as it pains me to say this, he's right about Iraq. This piece is worth reading.

(Although I would disagree with his assessment that political scientists didn't argue in 2003 that creating a democracy wasn't as easy as the Bush administration made it out to be. We did. We do. It was glaringly obvious then and it remains so now.)

2.10.2007

3:15

3:15. In the morning.

That's when I got home last night. Er, this morning. What I am learning now is that I am entirely too old for 3:15 in the morning. Especially after a week full of 14-hour days, 6 lectures, and not nearly enough sleep.

Here's what's been going on, and how it somehow ended up at 3:15 this morning. I'm teaching four sections, which even with having the lectures already written, still always takes time. I needed to finish part of a dissertation chapter that has been hanging over my head for two months and has taken a lot of struggle to write. And the Current retreat was going on, with the theme of social justice. Friends were in town, it was at my church, and I wanted to be part of it. But going to Current meant very long days and not much sleep, trying to get it all done.

It was worth it. I sat in the sanctuary on Thursday night and tried to think of the last time I'd gone to a retreat not as a sponsor or as someone in charge, but as just me. And I still can't remember. It must have been in college.

Not that I don't always benefit from going to a retreat with the youth; I do. But it's harder to spend the whole time contemplating faith and life when you do have to make sure that everyone is out of bed and where they're supposed to be.

So this was a rest. Of sorts. Except that I had to keep working.

The retreat itself was really good. I attended a great session by my friend Dr. O on "A Christian Response to Terrorism" (hint: a military response just isn't enough), and another on how the church should respond to the HIV/AIDS crisis at home and abroad. Suzii gave a fantastic sermon on God's generous provision. I got to hang out with Dr. O and with Preacher J and P, who came down for the weekend. And I met lots of new friends, all of whom are young ministers working in their churches and communities to make a difference. It was fun, thought-provoking, and renewing. It will help me continue to struggle with issues of justice and mercy. It was what I needed. A retreat.

And I finished that dissertation chapter, and am taking the weekend off. Several of us went to Ginny's to see Dale Watson play and go two-stepping late last night, and on to Kerbey Lane to talk and laugh until all hours. Hence 3:15. I'm headed to 23's in a second so we can go to the basketball game, then meeting a friend to see The Last King of Scotland. My sister is coming down, and G's having the Best Theme Party Ever tonight. The Chaplainette will be ordained tomorrow, and it will be a beautiful time of blessing. It's nice to have some time to relax.

But 3:15 is pushing it.

2.09.2007

mercy me

Anyone who thinks the fight over Baylor's future is over needs to, as my mother would say, have another think.

2.08.2007

wasn't there any news in the world today?

Oh, now this is just wrong.

1,000 words

Um, so I am totally entertained by the Paige and Dorothy Patterson websites. I think my favorite picture is the one where Paige is laying in the grass with a leopard, who looks like she doesn't know what he's thinking either. A close second is the one of what I can only assume is chapel at Southwestern, where the seminarians all appear to be kneeling at Paige's feet. Oh. My.

maybe this is my problem

baby you can light my fire

And...the Statesman discovers that there's a difference between Texas Baptists and Southern Baptists. Nice job, Suzii!

(N.B., I don't think it's accurate to say that the BGCT considers itself part of the SBC. It's accurate to say that some BGCT churches are also SBC churches.)

it's about time

Well, well, well. The demigods at SXSW have finally deigned us worthy of a partial list of performers for the week, which is a little over a month away. La-di-da. Despite the fact telling the Chronicle that they wouldn't release the list because the schedule wasn't set, but lo and behold, it turns out they could release "just a list" without having the full schedule.

There are over 1,300 bands so far, and I don't have time to peruse them all right now, but here are some rather unusual-for-sxsw acts I noticed in a quick glimpse:
  • Pam Tillis
  • Tracy Byrd

What are they having, a Clear Channel showcase?

2.07.2007

way up high

"Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true."

Over the rainbow. Twice today.

I know it's horrible and un-American, etc., etc., but I kindof hate the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." It's sentimental and a little bit tacky. It makes me think of Judy Garland and yellow brick roads. But there it was, weaving a silver thread through an incredibly busy day.

First at Jerry's funeral, which was a beautiful service in every way. Joe Martin played the piano, the choir sang a lovely anthem (a full choir, in the middle of the workday - this spoke more about who Jerry was and how much he meant to our church than anything else could have), someone sang "Over the Rainbow," and the pastor gave the right sermon. Friends spoke of a man who loved his family, devoted himself to his church, and worked to help the disadvantaged in our state. The preacher said Jerry dreamed of a world where everything is beautiful, where the handicapped aren't seen as different, where injustice doesn't reign. Somewhere over the rainbow.

Later, after teaching another class and teaching the GA's and regretting not having stuck another pair of shoes into my bag for a fourteen-hour day, "Over the Rainbow" came back. Tonight began the CBF Current retreat, three days of meetings for the under-40 set in moderate Baptist life. It's at my church, and the theme is social justice, so it seemed like the thing to do. Before the speaker preached, there was a slide show about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his words and his actions speaking to the necessity of creating justice if our faith, ir our lives are to mean anything.

And the background music was "Over the Rainbow."

Sitting next to Preacher J, who's one of the only people I know who gets that there is a tension between what Africa is and what safe, wealthy, sheltered American churchgoers want it to be, listening to the speaker recount a lot of familiar statistics - about AIDS in Africa, about the Clinique Bon Saveur in central Haiti, about promised levels of disease treatment funding from the Bush administration - and his analysis of Paul's words about the body, I thought about that mythical world over the rainbow. The speaker challenged us to become advocates for justice, to commit to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, to pray for a cure, to challenge our congregations and friends to do the same.

It was inspiring. Or it should've been. I'm sure it was for someone. Maybe I was just too tired. It was a long day.

Or maybe my capacity for belief in a perfect world of bluebirds, sunshine, and no-HIV over the rainbow has diminished with time and experience and knowledge. The truth sets you free, but knowing the truth of the eastern Congo has only made me feel more trapped by my inability to fix it, and by my own hopelessness in the face of unending despair. I have seen too many well-intentioned aid schemes go wrong. I've seen too many international ngo's that are more committed to donor goals than to developing projects that will serve the needs and interests of the population. "Over the rainbow" has nothing to do with reality for people who'd be thrilled just to have clean water, vaccinations, and a year without disruptions to plant and cultivate crops. Who just want God to hear their cries for deliverance, just once. Who just want peace.

Over the rainbow. It doesn't exist. It's a myth, overexposed and overindulged in a sentimental song that's generally associated with off-key beauty-pageant contestants who couldn't come up with another talent.

Or does it? What's interesting about the way "Over the Rainbow" ran through my day is that those who spoke of it used it as a metaphor for talking about the kingdom of God. What Jerry was interested in was not a dreamworld in which everything that goes wrong is glossed over, or disappears. What Dr. King dreamed of was not a world in which we all pretended to like one another, or in simple tolerance of those we hated. Both men, I think, were more interested in redemption - the work of God bringing together all that is different and broken and wounded and piecing it together as a new, pure whole. And the call to seek justice, love kindly, and walk humbly before God is not a call to fix everything. It is not about wishing on a star, or hoping to fly into a new world. It's a call to see the world in a new way, to see broken pieces and broken people as the building blocks of a new creation.

So why, oh, why can't I?