Thursday, October 12, 2017

[The Book] I'm a nerd.

So, I've been sporadically doing tiny amounts of work on The Book.

I was working on the Psalms of lament section, and I ended up re-requesting 2 books I read back in 2015 but hadn't taken notes on -- Living Through Pain: Psalms and the Search for Wholeness by Kristin M. Swenson, 2005 (for the Psalms) and The Mystery We Celebrate, the Song We Sing: A Theology of Liturgical Music by Kathleen Harmon, 2008 (for the use of music in worship).

My chapter on psalms of lament also discusses African-American spirituals (Monica Coleman has commented that when Jesus on the cross cried out, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" from Psalm 22, he was singing a lament song of his people -- the Psalms were the songbook of his people, just like the spirituals were the songbook of African-American slaves) and I realized that I don't have much to work with about the usage of Psalms of lament as part of the songbook of a people like spirituals, so I ended up going through the library catalog tag on the Psalms, and I'm bummed that it's all white dudes (I've been on a pretty intent break from books by white dudes for about 2 years now), but I'm so excited to dive into these books:

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

picture book recs (round 3)

Nibling turns 1 year old this Friday, and I know I'm not going to get any more picturebooks read between now and then, so am posting now. (Yes, I am on a 6-month posting schedule.)

I read ~150 picturebooks the first 6 months, ~50 the next 6 months, and ~83 this past 6 months (38 of which were over the winter holiday break week -- my most prime time for reading). Books are, as usual, listed in the order in which I read them.

Tier 1:

Tier 2: I didn't love any of the Chinese/Lunar New Year books I read, but probably my favorite that's About the holiday is The Next New Year written by Janet S. Wong & illustrated by Yangsook Choi. I also enjoyed:
And speaking of Chinese holidays, I also enjoyed (though again, not in love with) Thanking the Moon: Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival by Grace Lin.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

[unpreached sermon] What We Bring With Us Into Lent [Transfiguration 2017]

What We Bring With Us Into Lent
Six days later, Jesus took Peter and the siblings James and John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.

And Jesus was transfigured before them -- face shining like the sun, and clothes becoming dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While Peter was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Child, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen this one!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Child of Humanity has been raised from the dead.”

Matthew 17:1-9 (NRSV, alt)

Some of you may have seen on Facebook (or elsewhere on the Internet) that Parity, a faith-based LGBTQ-focused organization based in NYC, is offering glitter ashes for Ash Wednesday this year.

On their website, they write:

At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.

Glitter+Ash exquisitely captures the relationship between death and new life. We do not live in fear of ash -- of death -- we place it on our foreheads for the world to see. We know that fear will rise, cramping our hearts. We also know that God specifically calls us not to project that fear onto the Other, the alien, the stranger in our midst. God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another. This Ash Wednesday, we will make that spark easier to see. We will stand witness to the gritty, glittery, scandalous hope that exists in the very marrow of our tradition.

At the Transfiguration, a few of the disciples see the spark in Jesus made externally manifest for a brief moment.

And it doesn’t come at a random place in the story.

The Season following Epiphany this year hasn’t been a narrative journey through Jesus’ life so much as it’s been a dwelling in the teachings of Jesus -- primarily the Sermon on the Mount. So the liturgical year doesn’t offer us a lot of context for the story today and our jump into Lent a few days from now. We’ve skipped over Jesus asking the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter confessing Jesus as Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20), which is almost immediately followed by, “From that time on, Jesus began to tell the disciples: I must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21, NRSV, alt.).

So we get this glittering moment, not early in Jesus’ ministry when one might be advertising for new recruits, but near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when things are starting to get difficult -- well, more difficult than they already are when your life’s work is on the margins and you have no home or even steady source of income. A couple chapters earlier, we learned of the death of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12). These are difficult times. The Empire is, if not winning, certainly encroaching.

So Jesus takes a few of the disciples up to a mountaintop.

And is transfigured.

And Moses and Elijah show up and Peter, bless, says, “This is great! Jesus, if you’re okay with it, let’s stay here forever.”

And while Peter is still speaking, a cloud appears and the voice of God reiterates the statement from Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:17) that Jesus is God's beloved child, with whom God is well pleased.

And the disciples are terrified, and Jesus comforts them, and Moses and Elijah disappear -- and one imagines that Jesus stops glowing -- and the 4 of them go back down the mountain.

They continue their journey toward Jerusalem -- on which journey Jesus will twice more reiterate the “I will be betrayed, killed, and resurrected” prediction (Matthew 17:22-23 and 20:17-19).

One of the lessons of the Transfiguration story is that transcendent experiences are fleeting and are not a place we can stay forever; instead, we have to go back -- not just to return to regular life but, at this point in the biblical story, to continue on toward a confrontation with the powers of Empire that may ultimately kill us.

Lent invites us in to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after being baptized and before beginning public ministry.

Lent has traditionally been a catechumenary period -- with adults often getting baptized during the Easter Vigil service, having died to their old lives and been reborn in Christ.

This year in particular, I think there’s a lot of value in focusing on Lent as valuable in and of itself, not just as a means to an end. Especially if we think of it as mirroring Jesus’ time in the desert, when Jesus faces the temptations of comfort and security, the temptation to give our allegiance to that which is not God.

Lent feels to me like a good metaphor for our lives under this current political regime, and we’re going to spend a lot more than 40 days here.

Using the Transfiguration as a guide, I’d like to propose 3 things we bring with us into Lenten times and places -- into deserts and wildernesses -- to sustain us:

  1. Our belovedness
  2. Our tradition
  3. Our community
The most obvious piece of the Transfiguration story -- in fact the piece which we use to name the story -- is Jesus glowing like the sun.

Because God breaks up the party, it’s easy -- at least for me -- to forget what God actually says: “This is my child, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Echoing what God said at Jesus’ baptism -- which we celebrated just a couple months ago.

Yes, when God says it at the Transfiguration, Jesus has done a fair amount of teaching and healing -- but the baptism was one of the very first stories Matthew told about Jesus, before Jesus had done anything at all. We are beloved to God, who is well pleased with us, because we are God’s children, not because of any of our accomplishments.

In a sermon on the Baptism of Jesus1, reflecting on the temptation in the wilderness that immediately follows the baptism, Lutheran pastor and problematic fave Nadia Bolz-Weber2 said, “Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we should belong.” She suggests that “if God’s first move is to give us our identity, then the devil’s first move is to throw that identity into question.”

As Parity states, “God insists that we look for the spark of life, of hope, in ourselves and one another.” This can be hard. Sometimes we feel worn out, like we’re failing at everything, like all the systems we’re working against are just too big and too powerful… Jesus probably feels you on this. The text doesn’t tell us why Jesus took a few of the disciples up to this mountain, but we read elsewhere in the Gospels about Jesus retreating away from the crowds, up to a mountain alone to pray (e.g., Matthew 14.23), so it’s very possible that Jesus was tired and needed a break. God’s declaration of belovedness doesn’t come in the midst of an impressive crowd scene, but instead in a quiet moment apart, perhaps a moment of weariness.

Prof. Alyce M. McKenzie suggests:

If you know what it is like to be tired, to have people seeking you out for what you can do for them, and other people criticizing you and working against you, if you have ever been filled with dread at what lies ahead, you have a little something in common with Jesus. If you know what it's like to feel those things as a direct result of serving God, then you have even more in common with Jesus.
Admittedly, most of us don’t get a personal Transfiguration glow or a declaration from the heavens, but I do want to argue that God is still with us.

I’m not sure exactly where Parity is getting their Augustinian teaching that “we cannot despair because despair paralyzes,” but in Sermon 142 (preaching on John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”) Augustine exhorts against despair, reminding us of St. Paul’s statement that “Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6) and asserting that we were so loved before there was anything in us to merit that love.

We are deeply, unfathomably loved. And nothing we can do or fail to do, nothing that can be done to us, can change that.

As we have often heard quoted from Paul’s letter to the Romans:

I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38-39, NRSV, alt.)
I would add to Paul’s list of things that cannot separate us from the love of God: executive orders, deportations, angry white men with guns, despair, fatigue, numbness, an inability to make phonecalls, an inability to attend protests … none of the threats to our safety or the voices that say we’re not doing enough, can separate us from the love of God.

Black gay Episcopalian Broderick Greer, preparing to preach this Sunday, noted:

when studying for my homily, I found out that the original word for "transfigured" can mean "Appearance matching one's inner reality".
A Transfiguration moment is one in which we are truly and deeply known. It is at this moment and at Jesus’ baptism that God’s voice breaks through the clouds to say, “This is my beloved child, with whom I am well-pleased.” That identity, beloved of God, is always at the core of who we are.

Now, the second most memorable part of the story is the appearance of Moses and Elijah -- representatives of the Law and the Prophets. We’re told that they talk with Jesus, though Matthew doesn’t tell us what they talk about. But their very appearance, in addition to suggesting a sort of blessing from the elders, reminds us of the tradition that Jesus inherited.

Many generations back, the Hebrews had left Canaan because there was a famine, and they settled in Egypt, where they ended up enslaved. Born to Hebrews, Moses escapes death due to the kindness and cunning of a variety of women, living first as an Egyptian royal and then marrying into the family of a desert priest, before finally returning to Egypt to lead the Hebrews out of bondage, aided by Moses’ siblings Aaron and Miriam. Moses leads the people for forty years, bringing them the Law which will help them live in closer covenant with God and sometimes intervening on the people’s behalf when God gets really upset at their breaking that covenant.

Generations later, in their new home, the kingdom that the Hebrews build will fracture, and Elijah will arise as one of the great prophets, zealous for God, calling down a drought and being fed by ravens in the desert, threatened with death by an angry ruler and spoken to by God in a mountain cave.

Jesus comes from a tradition not just of Law and Prophets but of border people, people who are rarely at home in the comfortable center but are called into places of newness and conflict, called to do a new thing with and for God’s people.

This discomfort, this marginality, feels really resonant to me in this socio-political moment.

This is the tradition that we, too, inhabit. We do not inherit a promise that it will be easy, but we do inherit a promise that God will be with us. As God was with Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus, and the communities around them.

Which brings us to the third item, that this mountaintop experience -- unlike many mountaintop experiences -- happened in community, with witnesses.

Only 3 witnesses, admittedly, but still, this was not a private meeting between Jesus and the ancestors or Jesus and God, this was something that Jesus and Peter and James and John could all carry with them.

We don’t know how the disciples reflected on this experience, or what they said amongst themselves about it -- only that the story made it into the written record, showing up in 3 out of 4 of our canonical Gospels. But we can imagine them whispering among themselves while walking a long and dusty road, or under cover of darkness as they drift toward sleep -- reminding themselves that it really happened, and wondering what exactly it means.

When things get harder -- and they will -- we have a community who can remind us of the Transfiguration moments.

We have a community who can remind us of our tradition -- of those who came before us, and why we continue to do this work.

We have a community who can remind us that we are beloved.

We have people who can go on retreat with us, who can dance in defiant joy with us, who can renew our baptisms with us after we’ve changed our name, who can march and rally with us, who can provide childcare and pots of soup.

Blogger D. Mark Davis noted that the Greek word translated “transfigured” (or “transformed”) only shows up 2 other times in the New Testament outside of the Transfiguration story: Romans 12:2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from God, the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18, NRSV, alt.)

Transfiguration is, for most of us, a process. Those moments when we reflect our best selves, when we are most in tune with God, we can carry with us into Lent to sustain us.

Nurtured and fed by our community, our tradition, and our core identity as God's beloved, we can make our way through even the most threatening and bewildering times.

Amen.

---

1 Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. New York: Jericho Books, 2013, pp. 138-9.

2 Insert long footnote here about how she (and Rachel Held Evans) responded (or failed to) when it became known that their friend Tony Jones had abused his now ex-wife.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas morning 2016

Probably surprising no one who read last night's blogpost, this morning's sermon also seemed banal to me. The presentation of Jesus at the Temple (Luke 2:22ff) -- which is more appropriately next Sunday 'cause circumcision is 8 days after birth (it's right there in verse 21) but okay, I can roll with it (and the preacher pointed out that this scene actually happens 40 days after the Nativity -- which I can believe is the purification period law, but I would have appreciated an explicit nod to that*).

When we imagine the baby Jesus, do we see Jesus the way that Simeon (and Anna) did? One could actually do things with that, but I felt like the sermon was so blah blah blah. Like, even if I agreed with the preacher's theology (which I don't entirely) I don't think I would have felt nourished by the sermon.

A couple times he quoted Simeon's line to Mary "and a sword will pierce your own soul too," but he didn't talk at all about how it can be difficult to follow in the Way of Jesus, to have one's life transformed by accepting the promise of salvation/redemption/restoration that God offers us in Jesus. He talked a little about how Simeon and Anna were the only people to recognize Jesus out of all the adults and all the babies in the Temple that day, but he didn't talk at all about what it might have been like, for example, for Simeon to spend his whole life waiting for this promise to be fulfilled -- did he ever doubt? So many opportunities to make this story relevant to contemporary U.S. Christians, even without getting into national/global politics, and none taken!

I didn't feel like I came out of the sermon with any real idea about who/what Jesus "really" is, other than some vague nods to the Crucifixion and Jesus as savior of the world. But "seeing who Jesus really is" was the whole point of the sermon, so that feels like a total preaching fail to me.

I just, I don't have the ability to talk for 5-10 minutes (I didn't time the sermon) and basically say nothing, and I don't understand how someone can draft a sermon like that and think it's acceptable.

* My HarperCollins study Bible on verse 22 referred me to Leviticus 12, and the purification period for the bearer of a child assigned male at birth is 33 days (verse 4). But it also asserts that the periods are consecutive ("For seven days following the birth of a male child and fourteen following that of a female child, no conjugal relations are allowed. For an additional period of thirty-three and sixty-six days respectively, contact with sacred spaces and objects is proscribed.") so 7+33=40.

Christmas Eve 2016

Every year, I go back to my parents' for Christmas and go to Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in -- which has a different pastor now but a similar centrist non-political vibe. So it's not like I was actively expecting critique of our nation's slide into a fascist dumpster fire, I just -- the service is roughly Lessons & Carols, with the pastor offering a brief "meditation" after each reading, and each reading/meditation I found myself hungering for something substantive, something connecting the ancient story to the present day ... and it was just so banal, like why are you even bothering? Christmas Eve and Easter are the two most attended church services in the year, so those are your big chances to really speak to people, and if you want to let the texts speak for themselves I can understand that choice (who wants to have to come up with something new to say about the Christmas story?), but if you're gonna offer commentary, then actually say something!
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”
-Luke 1:26-37 (NRSV)
It's really difficult for me to hear this story afresh, so I zoned out, and in the meditation the pastor talked about Jesus is the savior of all but came first to the Jews, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham centuries before, and I worried there was gonna be some awkward supersessionism or something, but there wasn't, and I was hopeful that this would segue to opposing the rise of anti-Semitism ... but it didn't.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
-Luke 2:1-7 (NRSV)
So, the census made me think of the idea that's been floated of a Muslim registry. And hey, Syria! Or you could talk about how this positions Jesus in a specific political and historical context, that we don't exist separate from the political structures of our world.

Instead, the pastor talked about how each Gospel has a different author and is written to a different audience, and Luke is writing to Gentiles, to Greeks, and so he's situating the story with references they would recognize, but these men who were the most powerful political figures of their time are dust now (while Jesus is not). Which, okay, true, but systems (racism, capitalism, etc.) persist -- and this comes uncomfortably close to implying that it doesn't really matter who the earthly political leaders are because ultimately Jesus is Lord.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
-Luke 2:8-16 (NRSV)
The pastor wondered what that experience must have been like for the shepherds -- and said that's nothing compared to what the experience of the Second Coming will be like. Really, that's where you're going with this? The message of salvation comes first to some of the lowest people in society, and the message is PEACE -- days after the President Elect Tweets about a nuclear arms race, and all you have to say is to close out the service bringing us full circle from God's promise to Abraham to the eventual Second Coming? You have made glancing mention of the Crucifixion and the salvation you believe was enacted in that, but beyond some vague cosmic ideas you have given me nothing about why I should still care about this ancient story or what God has to say to the present moment. I get that most people show up to Christmas Eve service because (a) they already care, or (b) it's just What You Do, or (c) their family dragged them, so probably no one else was unhappy with this service, but I just don't understand how you can be a theologically engaged person (which this preacher is; my mom really appreciates how much Scripturally engaged his Sunday morning preaching is), and honestly just a person living in the world today, and ~preach such an empty service.

Friday, December 23, 2016

picture book recs (round 2)

Nibling turns 6 months old today, and I've definitely gotten far fewer picturebooks read in the last 6 months than I did in the preceding 6 months (~50 vs. ~150). I also feel like I've been excited by fewer books (understandable, as I've gotten through most of the obvious recommendations).

Books I'm excited to recommend:

Second tier:

***

Initially, I was particularly interested in books about the African-American experience, because my (white) nibling was going to be growing up in St. Louis, southwest of Ferguson.

Then about 4 months post-birth, my brother got a new job and they started planning a move to Florida, and the Hispanic/Latinx/Caribbean(-American) experience felt to me most relevant (with Cuba particularly in mind given Fidel Castro's death while we were visiting for Thanksgiving) -- and yes, I know that Afro-Caribbean is very real.

But then I was going through the picturebooks remaining on my To Read list on GoodReads and yeah, I'm still interested in All the books.

I went to the Fathom Events broadcast of George Takei's Broadway musical Allegiance earlier this month, and I want more books about people of Asian ancestry, including historical books. (Including history that's not American history -- I recently read Haruki Murakami's novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and was aware of how little I know about the historical context of the Asian portion of WWII.)

And in looking at my GR to-read list, I was aware that many of the African-American books on there are biographies -- which is great, but I also want to have plenty of books about regular people today, that makes people-not-like-me part of the reader-child's natural world (thinking of my own nibling; obviously it's also important for kids to see themselves reflected), not just distant figures in history (this is especially true for Native Americans, who we tend to forget still exist).

I have said before that I'm grateful to be picturebook shopping at a time when there are so many well-written well-illustrated picturebooks by and about people who aren't the unmarked default of white, straight, cisgender, Christian, economically comfortable, etc. And that's certainly true, but I'm also conscious of how few books (available in English in the US) there are about kids from India, how few books there are about kids with disabilities (especially ones that aren't aimed at teaching Valuable Life Lessons to non-disabled kids), etc., etc. I'd guess there are the most picturebooks about default-setting kids; followed by African-American; followed by Latinx; followed by East Asian-American; then I'm not sure the breakdown of Jewish, Muslim, Native American, Indian, disabled, Deaf, other identity categories I'm not thinking of...

[2016] The Christmas Revels: An Acadian-Cajun Celebration of the Winter Solstice

I took my mom to Christmas Revels tonight.

I wasn't expecting Revels to be explicitly political, but the Introduction in the program from Artistic Director Paddy Swanson said:

One might think that the grim underpinnings of this year's Revels would make for a gloomy Christmas celebration. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paradoxically, the darkness of this story sets off the brilliant light of the Acadian spirit.

At this time, with over 65 million displaced persons adrift in the world, the historical fate of the Acadians who were expelled from their homeland by the English in 1755 may seem a relatively small tragedy, a sad story that humans seem doomed to repeat generation after generation. At the heart of the story, however, embedded in their music and customs, is a unique Acadian lesson in survival and change that remains as powerful and topical as ever. This is an example of a community that endured and adapted and in the end created an alternative identity for itself as Cajun, Music was the thread that tied together the Acadian people's experience of pain and joy. If they had to walk, they would fashion a walking song. [...]

And when David Coffin was teaching us the songs at the beginning, he told us we were to stand for the third and final verse of "The Sussex Mummer's Carol," saying, "These days, you've gotta stand for something -- or you'll fall for anything," and yes a lot of people groaned at the old joke, but I also felt like the first half was really pointed.

The scene where the British soldiers come to the Acadians [in what is now Nova Scotia] and basically tell them that this land is under British control now and they can leave or they can stay -- on the condition that they sign a loyalty oath, their practice of their religion might be outlawed in the future, etc. -- felt really resonant in this current historical moment -- a new regime that you didn't ask for takes control, and you don't know if you're safe in your homeland anymore.

I had been excited to see in the program

HOME (FRAGMENT OF A POEM BY WARSAN SHIRE)

Warsan Shire is a Somalian writer based in England who distills the refugee experience into haunting poetry. Her work has recently achieved popularity as the poetic underpinning of Beyoncé's latest album Lemonade.

but I still wept as I watched two adults tell a child a to leave.
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
drown
save
be hunger
beg
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
saying-
leave,
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
[I think the fragment the Revels scene closed with ended with "leave" repeated, transitioning to "go," but the rest of that verse, which closes out the full poem, is so powerful.]

The next piece was the "Lord of the Dance," which always precedes intermission, and which felt jarringly upbeat after that low-light recitation, but that song is a story of the Christian triumph over death, so it also felt somewhat appropriate, that defiant joy even in the midst of so much loss and sadness and uncertainty.

So much walking happens, and the little girl says she hates war (they've been evicted from their homeland because the British and French keep fighting over it), and then we sang "Dona Nobis Pacem" (which we sing almost every Revels) and introing it, David said something like, "Let's make a little peace, at least for this moment."

The Acadians learn of land in Louisiana available from the Spanish and travel down there. The little girl wishes for a proper Christmas, and her companion asks what she wants, offers her a make-believe Christmas. The first thing she says she wants is a house, and I started tearing up again.

The Three Kings show up (one played by a woman, I was pleased to note), in Mardi Gras aesthetic, and Caspar says to her, "In your time you may be Ah-cadians, but in our time you're just Cajuns," and says that she's already either "home" or "family," I forget, but I was really touched. I'm not into blood connections as inherently meaningful, but the idea of those connections across time and space, of people finding each other, of people welcoming each other as family...

In The Mummers' Play, King Rex fights King Alligator, and at one point the Alligator says something like, "I could defeat you with one hand tied behind my back," and King Rex makes a comment about his small hands, and the audience laughs, and Rex stays paused, like, "You get it?" and I suspect most of us got it the first time, but people laughed again. After Rex defeats the Alligator, he chases him offstage saying something like, "Get out of here or I'll drain your swamp," and the Alligator says, "Promises, promises..." So yeah, Revels, not afraid to use humor to punch up.

After the Sword Dance and the ritual killing of the King, someone asks if there's a doctor in the house, and enter Dr. John (in an outfit like this one, minus the bone necklace -- Revels photo here) and The Dixie Cups (with elaborate headdresses such that I first thought they were doing a drag queen aesthetic). It felt like the most contemporary music/dance I've seen in Revels.

After we sang The Sussex Mummer's Carol (the end of the show), the band played upbeat music for a while, and it felt really good and important. The annual reading of Susan Cooper's poem "The Shortest Day" (which comes right before that song in the program), listening to it this year I was thinking about the fierce reveling against the darkness, keeping the light alive.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

[FCS] "Letting Go of the Shore"

Letting Go of the Shore

Our Scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel according to Luke.

Luke’s is one of 4 different reports of the life and ministry of Jesus, and is often referred to as the one most favorable toward those on the margins -- women and the poor.

In Luke’s gospel, the birth of Jesus is announced first to poor shepherds working the night shift out in the dirty fields with smelly sheep. Some of the parables unique to Luke’s Gospel are the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal.

Our reading today comes about 2/3 of the way through the book -- Jesus has already begun turning toward Jerusalem, warning the disciples that the Child of Humanity will suffer, be killed, and rise again.

Listen now for what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

25Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and Jesus turned and said to them, 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate parent, spouse, children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, is not able to be my disciple. 27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me is not able to be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether you have enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when you have laid a foundation and are not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31Or what ruler, going out to wage war against another ruler, will not sit down first and consider whether they are able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against them with twenty thousand? 32If they cannot, then, while the other is still far away, they send a delegation and ask for the terms of peace. 33So therefore, none of you is able to become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 14:25-33 (NRSV, alt.)

(In the beginning was the Word. / And the Word was with God.)

Church, will you pray with me?

God, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, keep us along the journey to Jerusalem, to the tomb, and into the Resurrection life. Amen.

The Luke passage assigned for today is arguably even more divisive than the one Henry preached on a few weeks ago -- today Jesus says, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate parent, spouse, children, siblings, yes, and even life itself, is not able to be my disciple. [...] therefore, none of you is able to become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions."

I think we often get stuck on the "give up all your possessions" bit -- Matthew and Mark each have a whole story about a law-abiding rich young ruler who goes away from Jesus sad because "sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor" is too big of an ask for someone who has managed to obey all the Commandments. But this whole "hate your entire family and even your very life" is pretty intense.

Now, I don't think that Jesus wants us to literally hate our family members -- earlier in Luke, Jesus proclaimed:

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. [...] If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:27-28 & 32, NRSV)
And Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to hate our own life -- I think Jesus weeps at suicidality, just as Jesus weeps at anything that makes people believe they would be better off dead.

On the passage that Henry preached on ("Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!"), black gay Episcopalian Broderick Greer Tweeted, "When good news is being announced and enacted at the margins, it often sounds bad news to the powers that be."

I think the message in this morning’s gospel passage is similar. Various commentators1 have noted that in context, the Hebrew word translated “hate” means more like detachment, a choosing of one over the other -- like when Jesus later says that you cannot serve two masters, for surely you will love one and hate the other (Luke 16:13). Here, Jesus is saying, “This is a big deal. I am bringing about radical transformation of everything, and you have to be more committed to the transformed life than you are to any of even your closest interpersonal relationships or the life you currently have -- otherwise this literally just won’t work. You cannot learn to swim if you never let go of the shore.”

This weekend we celebrate Labor Day -- though many of us are used to celebrating it with barbecues and department store sales, rather than reflecting on the history of labor in the US.

According to a Jacobin article last year, “Although previous Septembers had seen small workers celebrations in many states observing the end of summer, the first federally protected Labor Day was marked in 1894 with an AFL [American Federation of Labor]-supported parade.”

So that sounds really good, right? Over a century ago, President Grover Cleveland declared a federal holiday recognizing the labor movement. Except that earlier that same year, Cleveland had brought in the US Army to suppress the Pullman Strike, and he made Labor Day a federal holiday to curry favor from workers who were understandably pissed about that.

I wonder if this is the kind of trying to have it both ways that Jesus rejects.

At the same time as President Cleveland was making Labor Day a federal holiday, many groups had been pushing for May 1st -- May Day -- to be an International Workers' Day, commemorating Chicago's 1886 Haymarket affair.

In May of 1886, folks were rallying in Haymarket Square in Chicago to support workers striking for an eight-hour work day and to protest the recent killings of workers by police. Sounds similar to contemporary #FightFor15 and #BlackLivesMatter protests. The police ordered folks to disperse and someone threw a homemade bomb in front of the police as they advanced on the protestors. Many were killed and wounded in the ensuing violence and, shockingly, accounts vary about whether protestors fired first, about whether police fired on folks who were fleeing, etc.

There was a harsh anti-union (and anti-immigrant) backlash after this incident (and a huge outpouring of support, including financial support, for the police). Lots of people only peripherally involved in the rally were arrested. Media stoked public opinion against anarchists for their violent tactics. This all may also sound familiar.

This is the kind of history we could recall on Labor Day. A reminder that we’re not in control of what will happen after -- whether someone will throw a pipe bomb in front of us, whether the police will shoot at us, whether our homes will be raided or public opinion will turn against us -- but we can control how we react, what choices we make.

And those choices are not always easy.

Would you have marched in Grover Cleveland’s Labor Day parade in 1894? Would you have refused, still bitter from his response to the Pullman strike earlier in the year? Would you have waited until an eight-hour workday was the norm, something that still hadn’t happened 8 years after the Haymarket protests?

I’m not here to tell you how a hypothetical you should have behaved over a century ago, but the various texts assigned for this Sunday all converge around this theme of the choices we make.

In the reading from the prophet Jeremiah, God talks about being like a potter, and while that’s lovely and all, Jeremiah speaks of a vision of God-the-potter with a clay vessel that was spoiled, and which God reworks into an entirely new vessel. God literally says (paraphrased), “house of Israel, you are like this clay in the potter’s hand, I can break down and destroy kingdoms, and I can plant and build up kingdoms” (Jeremiah 18:5-9). This is not a comfort but a threat -- “you think we have this special relationship, but I could destroy you and make a new Chosen People.”

The Republican nominee for President this year has been using the phrase "Make America Great Again," and the Democratic nominee has countered with "America Is Already Great" -- which, while politically understandable, is a response I'm uncomfortable with on account of how it elides the MANY MANY ways in which America is deeply flawed. Now, I don’t think God is about to smush us into a ball of clay and build up a new nation on this land -- but I also don’t think it’s the worst thing God could do, especially since we white folk already played God on this land, nearly destroying the nations who were already here (the Wampanoag locally, and I’m not even going to attempt to list the currently 566 federally recognized Indian Nations in what is now the US).

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, a biracial man, recently got blasted by certain parts of White America for not standing during the national anthem before a football game.

In an interview with NFL Media, he said: "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus opens public ministry by reading from the prophet Isaiah “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the jubilee year” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2) and declaring “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” -- and then the hometown crowd tries to throw Jesus off a cliff. Now, one can certainly read the story as the people reacting to Jesus saying, “This thing that God promised to do? You have seen that promise fulfilled here and now in me” -- reacting to the equation of this peasant kid with God -- and certainly between the Scripture reading and the attempted murder, Jesus gives a little “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” speech which seems aimed at pissing off the crowd. But I wonder if part of it was that they didn’t actually want that Scripture fulfilled -- because to do so would involve a radical re-ordering of the structure of their lives, their communities, their institutions, and they were not interested in that.

What if when Jesus said, “I have come to proclaim release to the captives,” Jesus meant, “That’s cool and all that you’ve started the slow process of shutting down the 13 federal private prisons, and you’ve declared that poor folks can’t be held in jail just because they can’t afford bail, but I am coming to abolish this whole system. I’m here to abolish Immigrant Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Department of Homeland Security, and the whole prison industrial complex.”

I can imagine many people hearing a call to dismantle our toxic policing system as an assertion that, “If you do not hate your parent, spouse, children, or siblings who are police officers, then you are not able to be my disciple.”

Later in Luke, Jesus will say, “Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it” (Luke 17:33). Those who tie their identity to the structures of a fallen world will not be able to enter into the new life that is growing up all around us, but those who are able to empty their hands of all the preconceived notions we carry with us about how the world works will be able to receive new and unexpected gifts. You cannot learn to swim if you never let go of the shore.

In the text for today, Jesus uses the analogy of preparing for going to war -- cautioning that you not set yourself up for failure and embarrassment by getting into a war you can’t win. I don’t think Jesus supported war in the traditional military sense, but many in Jesus’ community expected the Messiah to be a Davidic king who would overthrow the occupying government. And I wonder if Jesus is saying in part, “You think we’re going to use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house?3 Do you think you really have what it takes to defeat the Powers that are oppressing us, or are you going to find yourself outgunned, outmanned, outnumbered, outplanned?”4

The Roman Empire was a powerful oppressor -- a military power that would literally leave people nailed up on crosses along the roadside dying slowly and painfully as a warning to anyone else who might try to oppose them. The Empire not only had vast amounts of military resources, but it also knew how to play games of intimidation and appeasement -- because the most effective way to police people is to get them to police themselves.

Jesus’ counter-intuitive way to win against the Powers is to not play their game. Jesus says, “If you do not give up all your possessions, you will not be able to become my disciple.” Your comfortable suburban home where all your neighbors look and vote like you. Your assurance that if you call the police, they will not shoot you or someone you love. Your comfort giving money to yet another film that casts a cisgender man as a transgender woman. Your insistence that people in pain from yet another microaggression be calm and gracious unpaid educators.

There are so many, many ways we shield ourselves from really entering into the pain experienced by marginalized people at the hands of the death-dealing Powers.

Theologian Laurel Schneider talks about “promiscuous incarnation,” asserting that “the narratives of Jesus of Nazareth suggest that the divinity which his flesh reveals is radically open to consorting with anyone. It follows no rules of respectability or governing morality in its pursuit of connection with others, many others, serially and synchronically, passionately and openly.”5

Earlier I used the analogy of needing to let go of the shore in order to be able to swim.

Letting go of the shore enables you to go on adventures, enables you to go deep. You can’t explore all the riches of the water from the shoreline. There is a whole world that is literally unavailable to you, that you literally cannot enter into.

In the reading for today from Deuteronomy, God says, "See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity." (30:15) God says (paraphrased), “Love me, stay close to me, obey my commandments, that you and your descendants may have life.” God wants so much for each and every one of us to be able to enjoy the fullest possible life. And that just isn’t possible while we’re cutting ourselves off from each other, shielding ourselves from necessary discomfort, continuing to be complicit in systemic oppression. It’s not that God wants us to be miserable, it’s that God knows transformation is hard.

Theologian Kathy Rudy asserts that in our culture’s emphasis on monogamy, “We are told that on the deepest level our allegiance and commitment belong not to our larger community but to our partner or nuclear family.”6

Is this perhaps what Jesus meant by saying we must hate our family to become Christ’s disciples?

We are called to open ourselves up to broader and deeper ways of being in relationship -- community conflict resolution that doesn’t call on the police or the carceral system, stories for our children about their futures that don’t presume their gender or sexuality, facing our history honestly and building new futures.

We do this by being vulnerable with each other and taking seriously people’s accounts of their lived experiences -- seeking out the words of autistic people, people with disabilities, people living with mental illness, currently and formerly incarcerated folks, indigenous folks and people of color... And I do mean people’s own lived experiences -- not people who have studied or worked with these populations; not tourists who tried out the experience of wearing hijab in public, asking for spare change on street corners, being a woman on the Internet, or whatever -- actual people’s own lived experiences in the world inhabiting their own identities.

This kind of relationship-building, this work of stretching our comfort and expanding our knowledge, doesn’t require waiting for a leader, it’s work we can do now, and must always keep doing as we continue growing into the Kindom.

Amen.

References (besides the ones already hyperlinked in the text)

1. On "hate" in this text:

2. In addition to the Jacobin article cited, I also skimmed the Wikiedia articles on Labor Day, May Day, the Haymarket affair, and the eight-hour workday; as well as an IWW piece on the origins of May Day, a Slate article on Labor Day, and a CNN opinion piece on Labor Day.

3. Shout out to Audre Lorde.

4. I said I wasn't going to reference Hamilton ... and then it happened anyway.

5. Schneider, Laurel C. "Promiscuous Incarnation." Chapter 14 in The Embrace of Eros: Bodies, Desires, and Sexuality in Christianity (Margaret D. Kamitsuka, ed.), 2010. Page 244.

6. Rudy, Kathy. "'Where Two or More Are Gathered': Using Gay Communities as a Model for Christian Sexual Ethics." Chapter 15 in Our Families, Our Values: Snapshots of Queer Kinship (Robert E. Goss & Amy Adams Squire Strongheart, eds.), 1997. Page 201.

Friday, June 24, 2016

picturebooks rec list (round 1)

In the 6+ months since my brother and sister-in-law announced they were expecting a baby, I've read approximately 150 picturebooks -- ranging from board books to books for elementary schoolers.

I remain a very text-oriented person, but I'm trying to be more more attentive to the art and the ways the art and text interact.

Things I have learned:

  1. Most picture books don't indicate reading level. (1a) The books I've been reading I think have tended toward older kids, but without explicit indicators on the book itself it's really hard for me (who doesn't have very much experience with kids) to guess at what age a kid would probably be reading this book.
  2. I like books that are not About The [X] Experience -- I prefer books that are clearly rooted in a particular culture/experience but are not About being X (this has made it difficult to find picturebooks with disabled protagonists that I even want to read).
  3. I want books to be written by people for whom that culture is native to them/they share that experience. (This is not so much a thing I have learned as a stance I already had and have been really reaffirmed in. Not only am I very much on a break from books by/about white dudes, but I don't want books by white people about chromatic culture/experience -- yes, I want fewer stories about white people, but I want to lift up the voices of actual people of color ... if I'm going to read a book about PoCs, I want to be reading a PoC's voice. Yes, there are some really excellent books by white people, but I would rather be spending my time hearing the stories of actual PoCs.)
Partly for my own reference, and partly because other people have expressed interest, here's my rec list so far. These are listed in approximately the order in which I read them.

Favorites:

I have quibbles with just about everything, but other books that would probably make my rec list are: Second tier: I also did specific dives into particular topics --

Diwali:

slavery:

Sunday, May 29, 2016

[QHC] We are the Body of Christ

Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 (NRSV)

Content notes: mention of (no dwelling, no details) suicidality, self-harm, eating disorders, getting kicked out by your family, sexual assault

Now, will you pray with me? May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable to you oh God, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.


You've probably heard this list of spiritual gifts many times before, but I want to focus on this verse near the end, verse 27 -- "Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it."

YOU are the Body of Christ.

The 16th-century Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
She is asserting that we are the means by which Christ's ministry of good work in the world continues:
Yours are the eyes with which [Christ] looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which [Christ] walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which [Christ] blesses all the world.
All the work that Jesus did -- siting at table with people, healing people, blessing people -- we are called to continue that work.

Paul is clear that we all have different gifts -- prophecy, teaching, healing, assisting, leading...

But I think that two of the gifts that Teresa of Avila highlights -- looking compassion on the world and blessing the world -- are gifts that we can ALL cultivate.

In her book An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, Barbara Brown Taylor asserts that, “a blessing does not confer holiness. The holiness is already there” (p. 203).

Can we look with compassion on all that is around us and recognize the holiness therein? Can we recognize that holiness in ourselves? She suggests practicing by blessing everyone and everyTHING that you come across -- it doesn't have to hear you, the important part is cultivating a practice in yourself of acknowledging the holy.

"Notice what happens inside you," she writes, "as the blessing goes out of you, toward something that does not deserve it, that may even repel it. If you can bless a stinking dump, surely someone can bless you. (p. 203)

Of course, the Beatitudes we are all so familiar with -- "Blessed are the meek," etc. -- do not merely say, "The meek are holy," they contain promises -- "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." Taylor writes, "To pronounce a blessing is to participate in God's own initiative. To pronounce a blessing is to share God's own audacity." (p. 206)

These promises are glimpses of Kindom life, of what the fully redeemed Creation we are all working toward will look like.

Blessed are the sex workers, for they shall know pleasure without obligation.

Blessed are the queer kids kicked out of their homes, for they shall know the deep love of found family.

Blessed are the trans women of color, for they shall know bodies in which they are truly safe and at home.

In the long farewell discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have said, "Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these" (12:14).

It's easy to explain this as meaning that the later generations would convert even greater numbers of people or something like that, but I don't think that Jesus was so limited about what great works would entail.

I think that Jesus meant that we who came after would go even farther into radically transforming the world into one of God's delight, one where each and every one of God's children grows up in a community of care, with emotional support and health care and joyful play and meaningful work, with enough resources to comfortably sustain ourselves and those we love.

And we are all, together, the Body of Christ, reaching out our calloused hands and nursing breasts and singing voices, bringing the Kindom of God, little by little, closer to reality here on earth.

And even though we or others might say that we are not really part of the Body, because we are not like other parts of the Body -- we don't look like them, we don't act like them, we don't have their gifts -- Paul asserts:

If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. (vv. 15-16)
If someone says: Because you are not heterosexual, you do not belong to the Body...

If you say, Because I am suicidal, I do not belong to the Body...

If someone says: Because you have sex in exchange for drugs, you do not belong to the Body...

If you say, Because I cut and starve myself, I do not belong to the body...

Paul is there to say, no, you have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and you are a new Creation in Christ Jesus. You are God's beloved.

And Paul even goes so far as to point out here that "the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect" (vv. 22-23).

It is precisely those the world seeks to dismiss that God says are most precious.

If we are the Body of Christ, then that means that our bodies are the body of Christ. Our queer, female, Black, brown, disabled, trans, bodies.

Jesus walked the earth as a particular Palestinian Jew read by the culture as male, but the Body of Christ is our body.

Jesus brought something of that consciousness -- of what it is to live our particular embodied experience, our sexuality, our chronic pain, our gender, our sexual assault, our trauma -- to Jesus' time on earth two thousand years ago. In the way that only God can do, Jesus carried the experiences of billions of humans in one body. And in the way that humans are limited, Jesus didn't necessarily always get it right -- we can talk another time about how I'm not in love with Jesus -- but still, however so slightly, something of each of us informed the Jesus we read about in the Gospels.

Paul says in Romans, "For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another." (12:4-5)

We are members of one another. We belong to one another. We are responsible to and for one another.

This may mean blessing silently from a distance, this may mean offering the work and kindness of our hands, but whatever it is, it is always embodied, for we are embodied. And Paul's use of the image of the human body to describe the church universal, to describe our union with Christ, reminds us that our bodies are precious gifts from God, deeply beloved by God, and reflected in Jesus Christ. In this broken world, our bodies often fail or frustrate us, but let no one tell you that your body, or what you do with your body, makes you any less precious to the God who created, redeemed, and sustains us.

Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2016

[TITW] who gets credit, #OscarsSoWhite, A Modest Proposal, nihilism + Taylor Swift; evictions and housing for the poor, Heather Maloney; do plants feel pain?

who gets credit
Now new evidence suggests that the underrepresentation of women reflects a systemic bias in that marketplace: a failure to give women full credit for collaborative work done with men. -"When Teamwork Doesn’t Work for Women" by Justin Wolfers (Jan. 8, 2016; NYT)
Insert joke about Justin Wolfers (male) getting a NYT piece out of Heather Sarsons’ (female) working paper. (Yes, I know Justin’s a full professor and Heather’s finishing her PhD, so there are a lot more dynamics at play…)
When Princeton professor Angus Deaton co-authored a buzzed-about report this month on dying middle-aged whites, many journalists munged the order of the names. They mentioned Deaton first, as if it were mainly his paper, and not an equal collaboration with his wife.

There we go again.

Her name is Anne Case, and her name came first on the study. She’s a widely-respected professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton. But apparently, Case’s sterling credentials are no match for our unconscious biases.

The press might be forgiven for fixating on Angus Deaton, who won a Nobel Prize last month. But, as economist Justin Wolfers pointed out on Wednesday, the media has a nasty habit of treating female economists like second-class citizens. He noted several recent examples of journalists leaving women’s names as an afterthought.

Academics can be very sensitive about who receives credit for joint papers. In economics, there’s a convention that names on a paper go alphabetically, and collaborators contribute roughly the same amount of work. So, “Anne Case and Angus Deaton,” not the other way around. To switch the names would be unusual; it would imply that Deaton did the lion’s share of the work.

-"Why men get all the credit when they work with women" by Jeff Guo (November 13, 2015; WaPo)

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(It's Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson who are not-married for tax reasons -- not Jesse Shapiro and Emily Oster.)

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"6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism"

  • "Born in Northern Ireland in 1943, Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars in 1967 while still a graduate student in radio astronomy at Cambridge University in England."
  • "Born in 1922 in the Bronx, Esther Lederberg would grow up to lay the groundwork for future discoveries on genetic inheritance in bacteria, gene regulation, and genetic recombination."
  • "Born in Liu Ho, China, in 1912, Chien-Shiung Wu overturned a law of physics [the law of parity] and participated in the development of the atom bomb."
  • "Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1878, Lise Meitner's work in nuclear physics led to the discovery of nuclear fission—the fact that atomic nuclei can split in two. That finding laid the groundwork for the atomic bomb."
  • "Born in 1920 in London, Rosalind Franklin used x-rays to take a picture of DNA that would change biology."
  • "Born in 1861 in Vermont, Nettie Stevens performed studies crucial in determining that an organism's sex was dictated by its chromosomes rather than environmental or other factors."
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"Markets for Scientific Attribution" by Joshua S. Gans & Fiona Murray says that you should assign authorship after the paper has been written if you want the best end product

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#OscarsSoWhite

"What This Year’s Oscars Say About America" (by Stephanie Zacharek, TIME, Feb. 11, 2016)

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A Modest Proposal (Jonathan Swift)

full text or, annotated version: annotated version

My former pastor Molly Baskette back in the summer of 2012 preached on The Hunger Games and the story from 2 Kings (the story of parents eating children during a famine -- see here for a list of all instances of cannibalism in the Bible).

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nihilism + Taylor Swift (McSweeney's)

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NYT article on evictions and housing for the poor

"A Harvard Sociologist on Watching Families Lose Their Homes"

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Heather Maloney

Has her solo stuff on Spotify (as well as her work with Darlingside).

I think it's Time and Pocket Change (2011) and her 2013 self-titled album that I own.

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do plants feel pain?

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, often a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is sold commercially as a food product. It is sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores. It is popular with vegans and vegetarians and may be used as an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment.[1]

While it contains trace amounts of several vitamins and minerals, it is only a significant source of some B-complex vitamins. Sometimes nutritional yeast is fortified with vitamin B12.

Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy, which makes it popular as an ingredient in cheese substitutes. It is often used by vegans in place of cheese.[2] It can be used in many recipes in place of cheese, such as in mashed and fried potatoes, and atop scrambled tofu. Another popular use is as a topping for popcorn.[3]

In Australia, it is sometimes sold as "savoury yeast flakes." In New Zealand, it has long been known as Brufax. In the United States it is sometimes referred to as "nooch" (also spelled nüch), or "yeshi," an Ethiopian name meaning "for a thousand". Though "nutritional yeast" usually refers to commercial products, inadequately fed prisoners of war have used "home-grown" yeast to prevent vitamin deficiency.[4] Nutritional yeast is different from yeast extract, which has a very strong flavour and comes in the form of a dark brown paste.

-Wikipedia

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Life Alive smoothies are all vegan -- some are made with homemade almond milk, some with rice milk, some with soy milk, some with coconut milk non-dairy ice cream, and their "Vibrance Alive" doesn't have any dairy-like base.

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A raw food diet is apparently about not processing (e.g. cooking) your food, so it's kinda like Paleo (though you can do a vegan or vegetarian raw food diet).

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"Fruitarian" is closer to the idea of only eating foods that have fallen naturally --

Some fruitarians will eat only what falls (or would fall) naturally from a plant: that is, foods that can be harvested without killing or harming the plant.[2][3][4] These foods consist primarily of culinary fruits, nuts, and seeds.[5] According to author Adam Gollner, some fruitarians eat only fallen fruit.[6][unreliable source?] Some do not eat grains, believing it is unnatural to do so,[7] and some fruitarians feel that it is improper for humans to eat seeds[8] as they contain future plants,[6] or nuts and seeds,[9] or any foods besides juicy fruits.[10] Others believe they should eat only plants that spread seeds when the plant is eaten.[11] Others eat seeds and some cooked foods.[12] Some fruitarians use the botanical definitions of fruits and consume pulses, such as beans, peas, or other legumes. Other fruitarians' diets include raw fruits, dried fruits, nuts, honey and olive oil,[13]or fruits, nuts, beans and chocolate.[14]

-Wikipedia

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There's apparently a bunch of research about plants having memory, etc. (the field is misnomered "plant neurobiology")

This Public Radio International article summarizes and links to a Michael Pollan New Yorker piece.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

[TILW] HBS cases, Easter, paneer, regional accents, Machiavelli, Tom's Diner, manpain, the Illuminati, Elements & Animaniacs, tiny houses, etc.

HBS cases

There are HBS cases on Deflategate ("The purpose of the case is to teach a basic introduction to analytics and statistical analysis using a topical example.") and Beyoncé’s December 2013 unannounced album drop.

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Ash Wednesday is so early this year

Easter, the day Christians commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, is observed on the first Sunday after the “Pascal Full Moon” (the first full moon of spring) following the spring equinox. That day always occurs on March 21, according to a decree by the early Christian Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. and the Gregorian calendar introduced by Pope Gregory in 1582.

Therefore Easter can fall on any Sunday between March 22 and April 25.

-TIME

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in which paneer shows up in a "Middle East" buffet

Paneer is a fresh cheese common in South Asia, especially in Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cuisines [...] The word "paneer" is of Persian origin.[1] The Turkish> word peynir, the Persian word panir, the Azerbaijani word panir, and the Armenian word panir (պանիր), all derived from "paneer", refers to any type of cheese. The origin of paneer itself is debated. Vedic Indian, Afghan-Iranian and Portuguese-Bengali origins have been proposed for paneer.[2][3]

-Wikipedia

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how we (can) talk to our technology

“Most people have what we would call a telephone voice, so they actually change away from their local family accent when they’re speaking on the telephone to somebody they don’t know,” said Alan Black, a Scottish computer scientist who is a professor at the Language Technologies Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

They also have a “machine voice”, he said. “People speak to machines differently than how they speak to people. They move into a different register. If you’re standing next to somebody in an airport or at a bus stop or something, you can typically tell when they’re talking to a machine rather than talking to a person.”

Black speculated that “one of the reasons they designed Siri to be fundamentally a polite, helpful agent who isn’t your friend but works for you, is to encourage people to be somewhat polite and explicit to her, rather than being very colloquial. Because speech recognition is always hard when you drop into colloquialisms.”

With speech recognition ever more widespread and efficient, our younger generation will grow believing chats with Siri and the new Amazon Echo are routine and genuinely useful; a far cry from when calls to utility companies became stilted shouting matches with machines that had trouble understanding “yes” and “no”, never mind “put me through to a real person, for God’s sake”.

But aside from Siri, proud Texans should worry about something else.

Long before machines who could understand you, cultural and demographic shifts were already moving people towards standardized English. In fact, mass media and migration are slowly killing the Texas twang.

“The way young people in Dallas or Houston speak nowadays is a lot closer to a regional common denominator accent than to what it was 50 years ago,” said Hinrichs, who is originally from Germany and directs the Texas English Project. “I never hear any of my students sound ‘Texan’ in class any more; but they can when they go home. The accent modularizes because people are more mobile and connected with the world.”

In effect, Texans are using the “telephone voice” in everyday life, partly thanks to the effects of TV and social media and partly because the influx of arrivals from around the country and overseas, so that everyone can understand each other. It is called “accent levelling”.

“Vocabulary is the first thing to go. Then syntax and pronunciation,” he said. Double modals such as “might could” and “oughta should”, and quirky regional expressions such as “doggone it”, “shucks” and “drat it” are dying out, replaced with more mainstream dialect and an accent often described as “midwestern”.

[...]

Black thinks that in coming years, programs such as Siri will go from being aloof in style to more familiar, understanding your language patterns as if they were a close friend rather than a casual acquaintance.

“Dialogue systems at the moment work pretty well, speech recognition has got substantially better,” he said. “I think what’s probably going to happen is a much more long-term rapport. It will know more about you. It will be able to answer the question sort of before you ask it – this is one of the things that Google Now’s aim is, answer the question before you actually ask. You’ll find that you can be less specific when you’re talking because it will know the sort of things that will be relevant. If you ask the time, the machine might say something like, ‘it’s OK you’ve still got three minutes before your meeting’, because it knows that you ask the time when you’re worried about the meeting, that’s what you always do.”

In other words, the future holds less southern charm, but fewer problems getting to the rodeo.

-"Y'all have a Texas accent? Siri (and the world) might be slowly killing it" (The Guardian)

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"OK Google" was considered along with “pew pew pew” for ways to activate Google apps & Google Glass

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Massachusetts town names outsiders don't know how to pronounce

The name Scituate is derived from satuit, the Wampanoag term for cold brook, which refers to a brook that runs to the inner harbor of the town.
-Wikipedia
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Worcester Name Meaning
English: habitational name from the city of Worcester, named from Old English ceaster ‘Roman fort or walled city’ (Latin castra ‘legionary camp’) + a British tribal name of uncertain origin.
Source: Dictionary of American Family Names ©2013, Oxford University Press
-Ancestry.com

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"Better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both."

Upon this a question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, is much safer to be feared than loved, when, of the two, either must be dispensed with. Because this is to be asserted in general of men, that they are ungrateful, fickle, false, cowardly, covetous, and as long as you succeed they are yours entirely; they will offer you their blood, property, life and children, as is said above, when the need is far distant; but when it approaches they turn against you. And that prince who, relying entirely on their promises, has neglected other precautions, is ruined; because friendships that are obtained by payments, and not by greatness or nobility of mind, may indeed be earned, but they are not secured, and in time of need cannot be relied upon; and men have less scruple in offending one who is beloved than one who is feared, for love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails. Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred [...]

Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.

-from The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli, CHAPTER XVII: Concerning Cruelty And Clemency, And Whether It Is Better To Be Loved Than Feared

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"that Britney Spears diner song"

Suzanne Vega wrote her wordy a cappella tune "Tom’s Diner" in 1981 during a visit to a diner in her neighborhood, the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The place itself is actually called Tom’s Restaurant and would become even more famous as the exterior of the diner frequented by the characters on Seinfeld. The song appeared as the opening track on Vega’s second album, Solitude Standing, in 1987, but her label passed it over as a single in the States, going instead for “Luka,” a beautifully melodic downer about an abused child. ("Luka" reached No. 3 on Billboard’s chart, so it wasn’t a bad decision.) But “Tom’s Diner” ended up with a much longer, more interesting life full of revivals, remakes, and other shots at immortality, including a prominent sampling in Fall Out Boy’s hit “Centuries” last year and a recent, well-received cover sung by Britney Spears on the Giorgio Moroder album Déjà Vu. Some of the other highlights of “Tom’s” enduring life:

[...]

5. THE SONG BECAME SO POPULAR, VEGA WAS ABLE TO RELEASE AN ENTIRE ALBUM OF COVERS.

There have been many versions and samplings since DNA’s release, including an entire 1991 record called Tom’s Album that collected nine versions by other artists along with several Vega versions. It included a track by an act called Bingo Hand Job, which was the nom de plume R.E.M. used for a couple of secret London shows with English singer-songwriter Billy Bragg. Other “Tom’s” riffs explored accidental pregnancy (Nikki D’s “Daddy’s Little Girl”), the Gulf War (Beth Watson’s “Waiting at the Border”), and TV’s I Dream of Jeannie (Marylin E. Whitelaw and Mark Davis’ “Jeannie’s Diner”).

-"Facts About 'Tom's Diner' While You're Waiting for Your Coffee" (Mental Floss)

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We started thinking about "Tom’s Diner" again earlier this year when electronic music pioneer Giorgio Moroder and iconic pop cyborg Britney Spears covered the song on Moroder's new album, Déjà Vu. It’s a world removed from Vega’s original — the same diner, perhaps, but festooned with gaudy disco fabrics and staffed entirely by robots — but it somehow taps into the song’s essential solitude. Britney stands in the eye of the storm as Moroder's production rages around her, observing both the diner’s patrons and his garish arrangement. Like Vega before her, she understands that "Tom’s Diner" isn’t a lonely song, nor is it sad. It just asks you to watch, digest, and react.

-"Tracing the long, strange history of 'Tom's Diner': A 30-year journey from café curio to 2015 chart-topper" (The Verge)

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manpain

Urban Dictionary defines it as: "When a grown man has the emotional life of an angsty teenager he is said to be experiencing manpain, especially if he tries to compensate with macho behavior."

It came out of fandom, and Fanlore says:

mimesere is anecdotally credited with either being the originator or a very early adopter of the term, which she memorably describes from the character's point of view as being, "I'm a dude, this is my pain, this is the REASON FOR ALL MY DOUCHITUDE, BEHOLD MY EPICNESS AND DESPAIR," adding, "sometimes it leads to sitting in the dark, brooding."[1] This adoption and popularization may have come through frequent conversations between mimesere and Jennifer_Oksana. Before its widespread adoption by slash fans, it was used by members of the OBSSE mailing list to refer to Mulder for typical manpain behavior and because of a script note by Chris Carter that refers directly to "the pain of being a man".
(The citations date it to 2009.)

linaerys has a smart Tumblr post "Why is manpain so annoying?" (using the second Captain America movie -- The Winter Soldier -- as its main frame, but still comprehensible regardless)

TVTropes calls it "Mangst" (man+angst)

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Bonus: A sample of the rage about the Ant-Man movie.

Bonus 2: "Are women undermining themselves by using words like 'sorry' in their communications? The truth ... is complicated. Here's what the soundbites miss" (LinkedIn Pulse)

Question #4: Why aren’t we telling men to make the same changes?

This question has come up in many of the media pieces on the topic. Some people have said that these speech changes aren’t being suggested to men simply because men would never care to worry about such things. Others have argued that the advice is directed at women because this is just one more way we are telling women that they are doing something wrong.

Yet there’s solid research showing that these speech habits aren’t interpreted the same way when they are used by men as they are when they are used by women. One study found that the use of qualifying phases only had an adverse effect on the speakers perceived level of authority when the speaker was a woman.

Think about the meetings or conversations you’re part of. If a very senior man uses tentative language around his point, the people in the room might hear it as him thinking aloud. If he apologizes a lot or expresses doubts about his points, he might be seen as collaborative or humble. Yet if that very same language came from a woman in the company, in many instances it would be read differently. The stereotypes we hold – gender, racial and others – impact how we interpret the language that others use.

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(!)Illuminati

The Mystery of Separation
Mark Bischel

The painting is my interpretation of the poetic center from the Book of Job. The subject finds himself separated from everything that he knows: his family, health and property. Now he finds himself further separated from his friends who insist on attaching their rational explanation for his suffering. As things get bleaker, the figure of Job fades away into the dark, almost ceasing to exist in his world. Beyond the surface of the narrative the driving force for the painting is the divine darkness revealed in the book. Although this story is from a battered and spliced text leaving the reader with many unanswered questions, there is no doubt something profound has taken place by the end of the story. While the starting point of the painting is the literal suffering of Job, my main concern is the sense I get of the unknowable, a world of quiet mystery that I am left with after reading such a tumultuous text.
-Mark Bischel

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Colbert on Denver Airport

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learning songs (Elements & Animaniacs)

"The Elements" is a song by musical humorist and lecturer Tom Lehrer, which recites the names of all the chemical elements known at the time of writing, up to number 102, nobelium. It was written in 1959 and can be found on his albums Tom Lehrer in Concert, More of Tom Lehrer and An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer. The song is sung to the tune of the Major-General's Song from The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert and Sullivan.[1]
-Wikipedia
A nice video of the song

Or, sung by a 3-year-old

A 2013 article "12 Elements Discovered Since Tom Lehrer Set the Periodic Table to Music in 1959" -- the gallery has a short blurb about each element

A 2016 NPR article ("4 New Elements Are Added To The Periodic Table," January 4, 2016) says:

The elements' temporary names stem from their spot on the periodic table — for instance, ununseptium has 117 protons. Each of the discovering teams have now been asked to submit names for the new elements.

With the additions, the bottom of the periodic table now looks like a bit like a completed crossword puzzle — and that led us to get in touch with [Paul] Karol[, chair of the IUPAC's Joint Working Party,] to ask about the next row, the eighth period.

"There are a couple of laboratories that have already taken shots at making elements 119 and 120 but with no evidence yet of success," he said in an email. "The eighth period should be very interesting because relativistic effects on electrons become significant and difficult to pinpoint. It is in the electron behavior, perhaps better called electron psychology, that the chemical behavior is embodied."

Karol says that researchers will continue seeking "the alleged but highly probable 'island of stability' at or near element 120 or perhaps 126," where elements might be found to exist long enough to study their chemistry.

International guidelines for choosing a name say that new elements "can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist," according to the IUPAC.

From "Meet The Woman Who Discovered 3 Of The 4 New Elements":
There is no element named after her (yet), but Dawn Shaughnessy—a relatively young chemist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory—is one of the more prolific researchers in the small world of scientists who seek to create entirely new entries to the periodic table that most of us learned about in grade school.

The team she leads, the Heavy Element Group, was part of the discovery of three out of the four new elements announced last week in collaboration with researchers in Russia and Tennessee. In total, she’s helped discover 6 of the 26 new elements added since 1940 (one, Livermorium, was named after her lab).

Uranium (atomic number 92) is the heaviest element stable enough to be found in nature. The new elements discovered recently were much heavier and unstable (numbers 115, 117, 118—the heaviest to date), which means they exist for only the smallest fraction of a second before breaking down into smaller parts. Typically, her experiments produce maybe 1 to 3 highly-unstable new atoms, if they are successful. They are made by formulating "target" atom and then smashing it with a beam of other atoms so that there’s a very small chance they combine to form a new element.

"It is getting more difficult to go up in atomic number because of the probability of these nuclei holding together for long enough to for us to detect them is getting smaller and smaller," she says. "We also need to look into alternate reactions for creating them, such as new beam and target materials. So we are still pushing for new discoveries, but there is research to be done in how to accomplish them."

Though others are already looking to push to create elements 119 and 120, her main focus for now is actually trying to create the tools so they can study the chemical properties of some of the lighter "superheavy" elements that have been created. The problem is that there are no instruments in existence that can operate as quickly as one-second time scales needed to measure the new elements.

As for why anyone would care to produce elements that aren’t very useful, exist only for a few seconds, and can’t even be studied, she speaks about the broader quest to understand the world around us.

"The interest in discovering new elements is to refine our theories about the existence of matter and how the nucleus is formed," she writes. "Every time we push the boundary of finding a new element, it helps to refine these models and our basic understanding of the extreme limits of matter."

Bonus: the Animaniacs state capitols song ("Wakko's America") – to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw"
Extra bonus: the nations of the world ("Yakko's World") as of 1993

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tiny houses

"This Couple Built a Tiny House, But Now They Have to Live in It" (The Reductress -- a satire site)

tv shows: Tiny House Hunters (and Buying Hawaii)

"The Family That Lives in a School Bus" (Yahoo)

"Teeny house, big lie: Why so many proponents of the tiny-house movement have decided to upsize" (The Globe and Mail)

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etc.

"Thieves are plucking unattended Canada Goose jackets at BU" (Boston.com)

South Shore Curling Club in Bridgewater offers lessons

New research suggests that it may be possible not just to change certain types of emotional memories, but even to erase them. We’ve learned that memories are uniquely vulnerable to alteration at two points: when we first lay them down, and later, when we retrieve them.

-"A Drug to Cure Fear" (NYT)