Friday, April 28, 2006

a brief comment

There's something almost categorically obnoxious, in my opinion, about quoting the Bible on someone else's blog. I'm sure there are exceptions--genuine hermeneutical discussions, maybe, although as a rule obnoxiousness seems to reign there as well in my experience. But in a comment on a general topic? I think it's textual abuse to quote the Bible in a blog comment. Not to mention sanctimonious, futilely didactic, and generally discourteous.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

body image

I love my belly.

I love it way more now than I ever did back when I was skinny. Back then, I always felt like it was within the realm of possibility to have one of those gorgeous, muscle-y, flat tummies that beg to be adorned with a bellybutton ring just so there's an excuse to show it off. It was just that it was within that realm of untapped possibility that I just never could be bothered to realize. So I felt okay about my belly, but I was always slightly diappointed in it, and myself, because it wasn't the ideal flat tummy that we both knew it could be. It was just okay.

Now, I love my belly. I didn't expect to. I thought that it would be a real mental struggle for me to be all big and round and heavy. But it makes me proud. I love it that it's out there. My big ol' belly, even with the twisty-inside bellybutton turned inside out (not so gorgeous, I admit) and the funky linea negra.

The down side? Well, maternity pants kinda suck. As evidenced by the line of elastic torture marks across that beautiful belly.

Monday, April 24, 2006


As much as I love a liturgical Eucharist, there are times when the Communion meditation really speaks in a way that liturgy does not. This is one good reason, I think, for maintaining a diversity in our practice. Sometimes we need to be reminded in a ritual of the basic theological convictions expressed in our participation in Eucharist, through words that have been pored over and spoken and heard for generations. And sometimes we need to hear the voice of a brother or sister, a fellow seeker of the divine, expressing something heartfelt and unique and utterly honest.

This is why I asked RM's permission to post her meditation here.

When Jen asked for volunteers to lead communion, I e-mailed her back saying something like, “If no one else volunteers, I’ll do it” -- not, “I’d love to do it. Count me in” or “I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for some time.” Perhaps Jen didn’t quite sense my lack of enthusiasm, as she promptly e-mailed me back with a thank you and an acknowledgment that we were all set.

This has been my attitude towards worship the past few months -- just do enough to feel like you’re doing something, but don’t get too involved. I’ve been phoning it in. Why? Because it’s hard – hard to have to sit down with God and wonder what He could possibly have to say through me; hard because I’d rather not have to face my lack of faith, a faith that hangs on only because I want it to, a faith that is at the same place it was yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. Hard because this means I have to pray, and I’ve been avoiding prayer for a while now. And hard because – as I begin with this personal anecdote – I don’t know how to make communion about Him and not about myself.

So I ask, “Why do I come here every week? Why do I sit here with these group of people, some of whom I know somewhat well, some of whom I know a little, and some of whom I hardly know at all? What, in the midst of the struggle to feel a part of something bigger than myself, makes me want to make my life about something other than myself? And the only response I can think of is a promise written in words, sealed in love, and passed down throughout the centuries: “For God so loved the world, that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” It’s that love and eternal life promised to us by the Creator that brings me here. On good days, we believe in that promise; on not-so-good days, we continue to hope.

So, in honor of that promise, I ask that we turn our attention to God, that we lay our hearts open to Him, and imagine Him among us, on the night when he was betrayed, taking the bread, breaking it, and saying, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” And in the same way, after supper, taking the cup saying, “This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever we “…eat this bread and drink this cup…” as Paul reminds us, we “…proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

As we wait for the day when our hopes become reality, let this bread and this cup be reminders of the promise in the words of I Corinthians 13: 9-13: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

Yay Scott!

I love it that I know cool people. It makes me feel cool. Vicariously. But then some of the best things in life are vicarious (atonement? space travel? what's on your list?).

Do take the time to read this all-too-short (in my opinion) article and think about the implications of what Scott says in it. Not only is it clear that being responsible for our communal environment is a matter of sincerely loving people, but there's a statement--and I wish the reporter had followed up properly--that it's part of the church's call to care for the poor as well.

Perhaps the BBC will finish the job in impeccable British fashion? In any case, Happy Belated Earth Day, everyone.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

3:57 a.m.

Yes, it is. And I am happy to be awake. We are about to take the cool Lutherans from next door to the Philly airport to catch a plane to Guatemala. They'll be back Wednesday, and then there will be three of them! It is so exciting to have a small part to play in this family drama. I don't even mind the lost sleep and that is really saying something.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

another new post! Pilgrimage to Canterbury. This was Brent's Good Friday homily on the "Sixth Word" ("it is finished").

Friday, April 21, 2006

wisdom from Tom

" we all know, violence and a failure of the imagination are closely bound up."

No, not Aquinas; this is a different Tom. Tom Baker, the 4th Doctor Who, in an interview discussing one of the more controversial episodes of his tenure as The Doctor, in which he slugs it out in a fistfight with another Time Lord antagonist.

This pretty well sums up how I think about the issues of violence and pacifism. It doesn't take a lot of imagination to respond to a slap in the face with a punch of your own. As a child, I often resorted to petty violence against my constant antagonist (you know which sister you are!) simply because, and I remember this well, I couldn't think of anything else to do. So I hit her. It never worked out well. Pretty much, it turned everyone against me: my sister, predictably, and also the parents, who would punish me for being violent.

In recent discussions on other blogs on the topic of pacifism, it seems that the trump card of just war proponents is the question, "well, what's your big idea, what's your answer, you idiot coward pacifist? how are you going to stop Hitler/Saddam/the dude breaking into your house trying to rape your wife?" When the pacifist admits that there doesn't seem to be a ready solution to the problem of violence--whether in its political manifestation of war, or the more homey oft-trotted-out scenario of the robber--then the assumption is, obviously pacifism is dumb and ridiculous because it has no answer to the trump card question.

What gets ignored is that no one has the answer to the trump card question. Those in favor of the use of force (because those in favor of this don't use the word violence to describe what they do, only what they react against) to defend self or family or country ignore the observable truth that this doesn't end the problem of violence either. The problem is not that the pacifists have no answer. The problem is that no one does.

I get tired of the implicit double standard in these conversations.

Pacifism, for me, is a stance which resists yielding to the despair and lack of imagination inherent in the violent response. It is hopeful. It is eschatological. It is brave. It is unconcerned with looking foolish. It is, in short, faithful.

In the prayers of the people at Trinity Episcopal, there is a beautiful line, penned by one of the priests there:

"let us seek even that reconciliation which we, in our frailty, fail to imagine is possible."


Thursday, April 20, 2006

blessed Easter week!

1) Ira Hays is home and has his first birthday this Friday!

2) Cool Lutheran neighbors leave for Guatemala Sunday to bring home their new son!

3) My dissertation proposal was approved yesterday!

4) Brent's dissertation committee loves his proposal and says, "you can do this in a year." !

5) Brent's new job at PNC!

6) Ordination is going well (slowly, but well).

7) My sister is graduating from MTSU!

8) My MOM is coming! My sister might be coming! YAY!

9) My awesome church is throwing me & the kid a baby shower!

10) MB's DVD on birth makes me cry, it's so beautiful. I am ready! (I think.)

11) Today is the last day of class! No more facing 60 students who dislike me because I correct their comma usage when I grade essays!

12) We have a new dishwasher! Sludge begone!

13) It's SPRING!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

for baby

Here's some of what I've been doing over the past few months to avoid schoolwork. The thing on the left is one of three baby carrier slings (free pattern here!) I've made over the past few weeks (thanks to BC for the fabulous African fabrics!) The diaper bag I made out of bathroom curtain remnants and a pair of khakis Brent was throwing out, right at the height of my comps anxiety back in February (thanks to a Simplicity pattern inherited from Priscilla). The little vest and booties I knitted out of yarn leftover from the fruity hat project for Em's wedding. And the teddy bear--my favorite--is also knitted out of leftover yarn from the fruity hats (pattern here: thanks to Brian for leading me to Knitty!)

Here's a close-up of the teddy bear:

And this one shall be called,
"Bear with cat on sock (in chair)."

Finally, here is the sweater I knitted, from a pattern in Yarn Girls Guide to Kid Knits (thanks Mom!). It's not finished yet, obviously, but isn't it so...happy looking?

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Last night I attended the Easter Vigil service with Brent at Trinity Episcopal Church here in Princeton. This is one of the most powerful and transformative services I have ever attended, and anyone who has never been to one, go right now to your calendar for next year, find Easter, and write in red ink in all caps on Holy Saturday, "JEN SAYS GO TO EASTER VIGIL."

This morning Brent is acolyting at the Easter Sunday service but I am tired, didn't sleep well, have things to do, and am still feeling buoyed up by last night anyhow. So I have spent the morning baking varieties of breads.

I've blogged about baking before, but this morning, I find myself baking three different breads. One is my mom's awesome sourdough bread, the best batch yet since my resumption of making it a few weeks ago-- Marcus the Stoic Starter has come back strong despite 6 months of complete neglect. I'll be taking a couple of loaves with me to Brooklyn tonight--one for our Easter meal just in case the next baking project, an experimental one for me, doesn't quite work out. I'm making "hot cross buns" for the first time, especially for our celebration of Easter. Right now they're on their second rise, and pretty soon they should be all round and plump and X-ey and then I brush with egg wash, fill the crosses with white icing, and stick 'em in the oven. We'll just see if they turn out like the picture in the book...and if my forgetting that I doubled the recipe and put in one egg instead of two, and adding the second later when I remembered it, really screwed everything up...

Finally, I'll be making communion bread since I am the celebrant this week (it pays to be the one in charge of the sign up sheet, if one wants to be the one who celebrates Easter Eucharist!). I am toying with the idea of using a leavened bread this time instead. It seems appropriate on Easter: an emphasis on resurrection.

Regardless, baking remains a meditative thing. This has been a beautiful Easter morning, vibrant sunshine, clear blue sky, breezy windows, quiet clean house, and Baby _______ tapdancing her Morse code approval of my breakfast of Mom's sourdough fresh out of the oven. And best, I love it that something so basic can be such a service. Maybe it's the Martha in me (and y'all thought I was all Mary, sitting around daydreaming about systematic theology and the posthuman...) but I love it that I can create something that feeds a bunch of people, and is not only nourishing physically but communicates love. My love for them, and God's love for everyone.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tolkien: prophet of the posthuman?

Lately I've been hard at work on my dissertation proposal. For the last three weeks, I have fretted, researched, written and re-written, and then scrambled to submit it last-minute, committee approval still pending (at this point, I have 2 out of 4 signatures...I'll keep everyone updated.) So, the other day I was completely exhausted, both physically and mentally, and looking for something comforting and familiar to watch as I propped my awkward achey self up on couch pillows to rest as comfily as possible on my left side (can anyone out there enlighten me as to the actual mechanics of why the left side is better than the right for pregnant women? c'mon, Al, this is a plea directed straight at you). So I popped in the The Lord of the Rings and settled in. The cat joined me, I had a cup of tea within reach, and it seemed that relaxation was within my grasp.

And discovered that dissertation-brain, even when acute and causing apparent total cessation of coherent thought, is not a condition that can be cured even with a good movie familiar after dozens of viewings. Instead, I found myself riveted by the implications of Galadriel's recounting of the story of the One Ring. I found myself interpreting the whole thing as a fable of bad technology and the menace of the posthuman.

So here it is: LOTR as a posthuman cautionary tale.

The Ring as technology: 1) "It began with the forging of the rings." The rings are manufactured items. They are made deliberately and with crafty skill, not found lying about, simply there as a natural given. 2) "the Ring of Power has a will of its own." The Ring, like all technology, is an object, not a person. And yet the Ring is consistently personified, as if it did have sentience and its own wishes and desires. It possesses an uncanny measure of autonomy. Despite being wielded by its wearer, the Ring itself works in its own way, sometimes contrary to the wishes of the wearer. This is extremely similar to the depiction of technologies in Neil Postman's Technopoly: a technology, once in play, will do whatever it does. 3) "victory was near; but the power of the Ring could not be undone." That is (again borrowing from Postman), once a technology is in play, it cannot be un-played. Whatever the consequences are, they are not reversible.

The Ring as unqualifiedly bad technology: 1) The character of the Ring is derived from the character of the one who made it: Sauron. This equation, very clear in the story, might force us to ask, is this one possible way to distinguish between "good" and "bad" technologies in reality? Or is this an oversimplification which works nicely in a grand epic tale, but falls apart when comsidering the deep moral ambivalence of all human beings, which is mirrored in our technologies? 2) The wise fear to use the Ring, even for good purposes. Gandalf refuses the Ring when Frodo presses it on him, explaining, "I dare not. I would use this ring from a desire to do good, but through me it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine." The same sentiment is voiced again at the Council of Elrond, in response to Boromir, and is echoed again in Galadriel's refusal to take up the ring. The reverse of the wise position is shown in the character of Saruman, whose downfall into foolishness is yet another piece of bad technology: the palantir. When Gandalf rebukes him, calling it a "dangerous tool," Saruman's reply is blunt and revealing: "Why should we fear to use it?"

The dichotomy of Technology versus Nature: 1) The clearest example of this is Saruman's transformation of Isengard into an industrial factory and strip mine. In the movie this is shown to great visual effect--all the great trees being torn down and cast into great glowing pits as fuel for the fires of industry. The word "industry," in fact, is invoked by Saruman as he gloats over his hellish new empire. 2) Hobbits are an incarnation of the "natural." They live underground and walk barefoot--literally and symbolically close to the earth. They are childlike and innocent. Their enormous appetites are a celebration of the goodness of the natural gift of food. Their way of life and culture is depicted as agricultural and unchanging; they have no sense of "Progress" and they are isolated from the wider world which, presumably, does. This furnishes an explanation of why hobbits are depicted as possessing an unanticipated strength in resisting the unnaturalizing power of the Ring. 3) There is a contrast between technology and magic throughout; technology is unnatural, that is, manufactured, but magic draws upon the power of things as they already are (the Ents, Arwen's use of the river). This can be seen in the movie as symbolized by the differences in Gandalf's staff and Saruman's; Gandalf carries a gnarled stick of wood, while Saruman carried a pointy iron thing that looks manufactured, ugly, dangerous, and above all, unnatural. Gandalf could've picked his up off the forest floor, but Saruman obviously could not have.

The motif of power: 1) Obviously, Sauron's quest for total control over Middle Earth is as naked a bid for power as could be. 2) "Nine rings were given to the race of men, who above all else desire power." Though the rings themselves count as bad technology, and the purpose of them is indeed to "govern each race," the real fault is located squarely in the realm of human nature, and is depicted as a universal fault. This could equally serve as a description of Sauron, and Saruman (although there is also a tinge of despair in his conversation with Gandalf). Thus the danger of bad technology is again bound up not only in its own nature but in the character of those who chose to wield it. (This brings one to the theological dimension, as what we're really talking about is a characterization of original sin. Aragorn, as the one man who can resist the temptation of the ring, is thus "sinless," making him a bit of a Christ figure. I think there are other weaker clues toward this as well but this is the main one. He is willing to lead, but not willing to grasp at power.)

The posthuman: 1) what could be more obvious than Orcs. In the movie we see Saruman manufacturing his Orc army in a gross combination of warped nature and technology. It is clear that their origin is completely unnatural. There is a hint in the dialogue elsewhere that the real origin of Orcs lies with Sauron and that they are a perverted form of Elf. What's interesting to me about this juxtaposition is that if Orcs are "made" and they are also a form of Elf, what is the genesis of Elves? Are Elves also generated in some way that circumvents the natural? One might be tempted to conclude that there might be a clean, moral, good version of this sort of genesis--but the love story of Arwen and Aragorn knocks that out. After all, if they establish a line of kings, it's clear that elves are equipped with wombs. So I think there's some fuzziness here, and it may be the fault of the movie and much more in clear in the books (I am obviously due for a new re-reading). 2) "the Ring gave to Gollum unnatural long life." Also to Bilbo. And, there are the scary shadowy figures of the Ringwraiths. As the word "unnatural" is itself invoked I think all that's pretty clear. But there's more to be said here. Wearing the rings is an incorporation of technology into one's body such that bodily integrity, while not visibly compromised, is invaded. The effects of the rings are perpetrated on one's own physical body and issue in unnatural long life. This "long life" is qualitatively different from the immortality of the elves (perhaps furnishing the reason that Galadriel can wear her ring and yet resist its badness?). Anyhow, the most compelling thing is to notice that the technology insinuates itself into one's very being; it affects the physical and it affects the personal dimension of existence as well--Gollum being the extreme example of what 500 years of the ring will do to a hobbit-like creature, and the Ringwraiths the extreme example of what the rings can do to human beings. 3) Finally, there is the open question of Sauron. Was he once human? No clue is ever given. But the figures of the Ringwraiths seem to function as "lesser Saurons," and they were clearly once human. Reading Sauron back through the interpretive lens of Rowling's Voldemort (who is obviously a reincarnation of Sauron--think about it--what is a Horcrux but a generic One Ring?), it is tempting to conclude that Sauron is more a posthuman than a Satan figure.

Okay, so that's what went through my mind as I tried relaxing on the couch with my movie. In retrospect, Legally Blonde for, like, the millionth time might have been a better choice for relaxation purposes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

H & M

So, I was determined not to blog about this because it would make me so much less cool. But I'm just not really all that cool.

Saturday night I found myself at an awesome party in NYC--a highly unusual occurrence in itself--and, even more startlingly, found myself talking to Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams while stuffing my face with a cupcake.

I didn't faint, or babble, or go speechless. I didn't mention Brokeback Mountain (although Brent and I had finally just watched it two days before). Instead, Heath asked how we knew Joe & Laura, and Michelle asked me how the pregnancy was going and we talked about how great prenatal yoga is.

And that's it; it was small talk and not something I expect was all that earth-shattering for anyone. But I have this enormous appreciation for the fact that people who do extraordinary things like brilliantly act in socially significant movies are also, in all other contexts, ordinary people who do things like go to birthday parties and make small talk about babies and yoga. But it seems like very often people who do extraordinary things forget that they are also ordinary people in all other contexts, and the rest of us let them forget that in our own starstruck adoration of them. And that makes my little five minutes of talking with my mouth full and licking buttercream icing off my fingers while chatting with Heath and Michelle all the more precious to me. Now I can admire them on both counts: as extraordinary actors, and wonderful, ordinary people.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


In one of my Vagina Monologues posts back in February I mentioned that Notre Dame had banned the production of the play on school grounds. A friend from the cast sent this link to a NY Times article today: Notre Dame's President Allows 'Monologues' and Gay Films.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Sludge Lives!

Everyone knows by now that Brent and I are expecting a little addition to the household around the first of June.

What we haven't told anyone is, we've already been living with a third presence in our apartment, for over a year now. Not the cat, you know about her. I'm talking about The Sludge.

We have Sludge. Here's how it came to us.

A year and half ago, or so (memory is a bit fuzzy) our dishwasher developed chronic incontinence and started peeing on the floor. So we called maintenance, who showed up promptly, diagnosed this condition as terminal, and installed a new dishwasher. This new dishwasher is a bit smaller than the original one, and of course the racks are arranged differently, but these minor complaints are inconsequential; besides, I'm overjoyed simply to have a dishwasher at all, as we spent the first half of our marriage without this luxury.

And then we discovered Sludge was living with us. Under the door at the bottom of the dishwasher, just camping out under the little lip where, apparently, rinse water never ventures. Sludge is a collection of soap scum, food particles and greasiness that just sits there beneath our clean dishes and grows and grows, a silent but menacing presence that gives lie to the bright green button on the outside of the new dishwasher that proudly proclaims, "sanitized."

So we called maintenance and told them, we have Sludge.The problem is, they can't find anything obviously wrong with the stupid dishwasher. There's nothing missing. There's nothing out of place. There's nothing broken. So, because they can't find anything actually wrong, the verdict came back: live with Sludge.

We tried. Oh, we've tried valiantly. We clean out our dishwasher periodically (gross!) but within 2 wash cycles, Sludge is back. It can't be dislodged. Someday, I expect, I'll be unloading the dishes and it will sit up, blink at me, start beating a drum and chanting, "We're Filth! We're Filth! We come from filth, we're going to filth!" (Obviously at that point maintenance will not be who I call. Where oh where is that apotheosis of cool, the Sewer Urchin, when I desperately need him???)

Anyhow, we managed to make it so far by just ignoring it most of the time and cleaning it when necessary. (For those of you who have dined at our house, I hope you're not feeling traumatized at this point.) But now...well, it's funny how having a kid changes your perspective all the way down. Brent and I can live with the indignity and questionable sanitariness of Sludge, but should Baby _______? So Friday morning, after unloading the dishwasher and feeling mightily disgusted with Sludge, I decided enough was enough. I got out the digital camera and took several pics of our offensive house un-guest, and emailed them to the head of the maintenance dept., with an explanation that I simply can't imagine trying to sanitize bottles in a dishwasher with Sludge living in it (I'm planning to breastfeed, anyway, but the point is, why should Baby ____'s first companion be Sludge?).

I received a prompt reply and Monday someone came out to look at it. They want to try cleaning it with some kind of mighty cleaner and see if that helps (it won't), but we've been promised: if they can't get rid of Sludge, we will get a new dishwasher. Again.