More Responses

Jill Lepore wrote a powerful piece at The New Yorker showing how poorly the justices are using history.  As one of our best historians, she knows history. Her piece focuses on the gun case.  If you couple this piece with the Adam Serwer Atlantic article I posted the other day, you get a good sense of the most profound confusions of these rulings.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin has been on a roll over at the NYTimes with what feels like 2 or 3 columns a day.  Her latest calls for a "pro-privacy movement" to fight against the Christian Nationalism of the court majority.

More Lessons from the Aztecs Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs: 9780190673062: Townsend,  Camilla: Books

A few more points to highlight from Camilia Townsend's Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.

"It required thousands of years of effort on the part of Mexico's women to turn those little tufts [of kernels on teosinte] into what we would recognize as ears of corn."

Why is this observation significant?  One of her themes in the book is the resilience of the people of central Mexico in facing hard times and a constantly changing world.  So way in their prehistory we have this example.  Untold generations slowly genetically modifying a plant into a nutritious, edible grain.  Could we draw any hope and inspiration and resolve from this?

Writing about the formation of early Nahua culture in the central valley, she says, "To do good, a person had to suppress egotism and do what was best calculated to keep his or her people alive and successful in the long term.  Everyone was expected to give thought to the future."  What a good lesson for us.

She writes about how Nahua storytellers had different versions of stories and histories that would be publicly, orally performed.  And part of the ritual was purposely to hear these various versions.  From this she concludes, "The expression of different points of view, they knew, worked to bind people together."  And in another place, "To them, truth was necessarily multiple; they knew that no single person could give a full account of an important moment."

In a chapter about the Mexica's attempts to respond and survive in the early days of the conquest, she writes about how they worked hard to record stories and preserve their language and states, "If they could not remember their past, how could they articulate demands for their future?"

In a chapter on the third generation after the conquest, she writes, "They would experience loss, but it would never be permanent.  Life was not easy, but it was nevertheless profoundly good.  It was too simple to say that any enemies, including the Europeans, could ever bring pure evil or utter devastation to the land."

As I wrote in previous posts while reading and reviewing this book, I resonated with its key takeaways about a life of resilience in the midst of catastrophe, about learning to live well in a world that is constantly changing, of being flexible and persistent.  Virtues that we definitely need for the times in which we live.




Worthy Reads Following the Decisions

I'm sure like many of you I've been reading the analyses and responses since yesterday's catastrophic SCOTUS decision.  I want to highlight two here.

One is a 2019 piece by Caitlin Flanagan that the Atlantic reran today.  In it she describes what are the best arguments on both sides of the abortion divide, and the issues that all of us need to take seriously into consideration in forming our positions.  I remember reading it when it was first published, and it is worth re-reading this weekend.

The other is a somewhat cynical, but still worthy, analysis of the conservative majority's approach to law, not just on this one issue, "The Constitution Is Whatever the Right Wing Says It Is."  I have to say that I found the analysis persuasive, and therefore sad.  One hypocrisy that the article reveals is the gun case on Thursday in which the conservative majority limited how states can restrict gun rights but on Friday expanded how states can regulate women's bodies and health and moral decisions.


Time Is a Mother

Time Is a MotherTime Is a Mother by Ocean Vuong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up from a queer friendly bookstore in Anoka, Minnesota. The clerk was so happy I was buying Ocean Vuong and moreso when I told her I'd read his other two books. "As you should," she said.

I began reading that afternoon.

I did struggle some to get into this one and it only really won me over in the final sections. The poem "Kunsterroman" is searing and profound. And most of them after it follow in that vein.

Vuong is such a great expressionist of pain. I do enjoy his moments of joy, especially erotic joy. Maybe one of these days he will be able to write a collection centered more on the latter? That would be a joy to read.

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An initial response to reading the Opinions

When the news came down earlier today I was doing some outside activities with my son.  I finished those up and then, because weather-wise it is a glorious day in Omaha, I strung up my hammock and decided to forego what else I had planned and read the opinions.  I've long had a habit of reading SCOTUS opinions I'm interested in.  In fact, I think Roe was the first one I ever read, back in Junior High.  And I wanted to read the opinions themselves before reading any articles or analyses.  My initial thoughts, then.

Alito's majority opinion does not seem to be exactly the same as the draft opinion but similar. Will be interesting to read analyses of what changed.   It  appears to respond to some of the criticisms that arose after the leak.

I didn't realize till just now that the phrases “deeply rooted in [our] history and tradition” and whether it is essential to our Nation’s “scheme of ordered liberty" used as criteria are actually from a decision written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On another issue of course.

As is usually the case with reading something Alito writes (which is rarely the opinion everyone on his side signs onto), there is a coherency to the arguments but a sense that there's something wrong with the perspective, that his starting point is just off and misses something essential.  The same follows here, and is drawn out by the dissenters.  The key issue of women's equality and liberties and how that embeds within our tradition is pretty much missed completely by Alito.  Again, as if he missed the whole point of the issue and what the precedents were attempting to do.  (See far below for some general thoughts on abortion).

Thomas's concurrence is frightening. He's always been this radical minority voice, but I begin to dread that he now can sway other votes.

Kavanaugh's concurrence is interesting. And shows there isn't currently a majority to go further to the right. Which is a relief.  I do like the way the dissent skewers his opinion later.  Kavanaugh seems to have this pattern of wanting to clarify and explain vote, but his justifications often fall short.
Roberts's opinion is well done. He writes like an actual conservative. His final paragraph:
Both the Court’s opinion and the dissent display a relent-
less freedom from doubt on the legal issue that I cannot
share. I am not sure, for example, that a ban on terminat-
ing a pregnancy from the moment of conception must be
treated the same under the Constitution as a ban after fif-
teen weeks. A thoughtful Member of this Court once coun-
seled that the difficulty of a question “admonishes us to ob-
serve the wise limitations on our function and to confine
ourselves to deciding only what is necessary to the disposi-
tion of the immediate case.” Whitehouse v. Illinois Central
R. Co., 349 U. S. 366, 372–373 (1955) (Frankfurter, J., for
the Court). I would decide the question we granted review
to answer—whether the previously recognized abortion
right bars all abortion restrictions prior to viability, such
that a ban on abortions after fifteen weeks of pregnancy is
necessarily unlawful. The answer to that question is no,
and there is no need to go further to decide this case.
Wow, the dissent is something.  Very well done.
This an essential point in the dissent:
The majority would allow States to ban abor-
tion from conception onward because it does not think
forced childbirth at all implicates a woman’s rights to equal-
ity and freedom. Today’s Court, that is, does not think
there is anything of constitutional significance attached to
a woman’s control of her body and the path of her life. Roe
and Casey thought that one-sided view misguided. In some
sense, that is the difference in a nutshell between our prec-
edents and the majority opinion. The constitutional regime
we have lived in for the last 50 years recognized competing
interests, and sought a balance between them. The consti-
tutional regime we enter today erases the woman’s interest
and recognizes only the State’s (or the Federal Govern-

Vulnerability, Maturity, Youthfulness

Yesterday was full and well-rounded.  Got some divorce stuff done.  Took a nice walk with the dog.  Gardened.  Read.  Built Legos with Sebastian.  And got some window trim painted that's been needing it for a while.  

While painting, I was listening to podcasts.  A Krista Tippett On Being interview with poet David Whyte really resonated, especially in its discussions of heartbreak, loss, vulnerability, aging, and youthfulness.  Here's a link to the show and it's transcript.  And below a couple of excerpts.  First, on youthfulness at all stages of life.

All the visible qualities that take form and structure will have to change in order to keep the conversation real, just as we go through the different decades of our life, we have to change the structures of our life in order to keep things new, in order to keep our youthfulness.

And I do think there is a quality of youthfulness which is appropriate to every decade of our life. It just looks different. We have this fixed idea of youthfulness from our teens or our 20s. But actually, there’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s or your 80s or your 90s. It’s the sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. It has more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.

In the last year I have discovered a new youthfulness here in my late forties.  I hadn't used that term to describe it, but hearing Whyte's description, I think it is an apt term.  

I also resonated with this discussion of vulnerability:

“The only choice we have as we mature is how we inhabit our vulnerability” — how we inhabit our vulnerability — “how we become larger and more courageous and more compassionate through our intimacy with disappearance. Our choice is to inhabit vulnerability as generous citizens of loss, robustly and fully, or conversely, as misers and complainers, reluctant, and fearful, always at the gates of existence, but never bravely and completely attempting to enter, never wanting to risk ourselves, never walking fully through the door.”

A "generous citizen of loss."  What an interesting concept.  I do think he's correct.  Loss, grief, heartbreak, and suffering are inherent parts of the human experience that cannot and are not to be avoided.  Life is learning how to live well with them and even in the midst of them to discover that youthfulness he mentions.

Further Update from Yellowstone

More good news from Yellowstone yesterday.  The campground we have reserved for the first three nights there will be reopening next week.  So no serious worries about our main reservations then.  And I read in a separate news article this morning that parts of northern half of the Park might reopen in early July.  So though we won't be able to do all the things we had planned, as the days go by it appears that more and more of what we'd planned will work out.

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs

Fifth Sun: A New History of the AztecsFifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs by Camilla Townsend
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"This was no stable world of immutable beliefs but instead a shifting, constantly altering world."

This is a marvelously well-written history of the Aztecs. Subverting the standard little bit of that history most of us know. And presenting a rich, mesmerizing culture full of complex and interesting characters and ideas.

One of her goals is to present the conquest as a turning point in Mexica history and not as the ending, so the conquest comes in the middle of the book. The early chapters are on the rise of the Mexica and the creation of Tenochtitlan within the context of the larger Nahuatl culture of the central basin. Then the later chapters are how generations of Mexica responded to the conquest and maintained their language, culture, and identity in the face of crisis.

So they come across as excellent guides to resilience in the midst of catastrophe.

In each chapter she focuses on particular characters and paints them in vivid detail. There is Shield Flower, early in Mexica history crying out at her captors. Flamingo Snake, the performer, who charms a king. Malintzin who in a crucial moment claims her voice and agency leading to her rescue and power. Tecuichpotzin, with whom you suffer the indignities of a royal princess at the time of conquest. And Chimalpahin the historian who works devoutly to rescue the stories of his people.

I'm grateful to have met them and others and to now have a better grasp of this part of our human story.

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Yellowstone Update

I wrote last week about how climate change is itself affecting the sabbatical, not just being one of the themes of study.  The biggest impact so far has been the flooding and devastation at Yellowstone, which will impact our biggest planned trip of the summer.

I was relieved to receive communication from the Park over the weekend that they would be reopening part of the park and some of our reservations will still be possible.  Some of them have been cancelled.  And I'm still waiting to hear whether the campsite we have reserved for our first three nights will be reopening--so far they haven't said.  So I've researched some backup plans and made at least one backup reservation with the intention of making more.

We had planned five nights total in the park (and three in Teton), so we were going to get to experience so much of it.  That seemed important because I don't usually get this kind of time off plus I've made it to 48 never having visited the park.  We aren't going to get as full an experience as we had planned, but we will still get a good experience.  And the overall trip will still be wonderful.  

Hopefully we'll hear more in the coming days.

While Hiking, Reflecting on Preaching, and the Aztecs

"This was no stable world of immutable beliefs but instead a shifting, constantly altering world."  So writes Camilla Townsend in her marvelous Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs.  Why, you might ask, am I reading a history of the Aztecs as part of my sabbatical reading? Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs: 9780190673062: Townsend,  Camilla: Books

Well, last time I was on sabbatical I used part of that time to better acquaint myself with some theological traditions I had not focused on before.  The key one that sabbatical was Orthodoxy.  I read John Zizioulas and Sergius Bulgakov and really enjoyed and learned from them.  Since then I've been reading more in the Orthodox tradition and have had a better understanding of it.

A few years ago I read an online article about Aztec philosophy and how a central tenet of it is the idea in the quote above--that the world is ever shifting and we have to be nimble in how we respond to it.  So, I've been wanting to explore Aztec philosophy more, and intend to do that this summer when I read James Maffie's Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion.  But before I did that I wanted to be better acquainted with Aztec history than I am ,and this recent book by Townsend won awards and was well-reviewed and has also been on my to-read list.  I'm almost finished with the book and will have more to say about it.

She writes in her intro, "Most of all, they were flexible.  As situations altered, they repeatedly proved themselves capable of adapting.  They were adept at surviving."  So another reason for reading and learning from the Aztecs relates to my larger reading and study project for this sabbatical--our response to climate change and our changing world.  It seems to me that we can learn something from their example.  An idea strengthened as I read this marvelously well-written history.


Today I was hiking at Chalco Hills and thinking about all of these things.  I've mentioned before that the simplest goal of this sabbatical is to take a break.  And one thing I'm appreciating the break from is preaching. 

Now, I love preaching.  It is my artform.  I work hard at every aspect of it, from study to writing to spirituality to delivery to pastoral care.  It engages my intellectual creativity.  It allows me a space to work through my ideas on topics big and small, personal and public.  It is one of the ways I care for people.

Preaching, though, has become more challenging in the last seven years.  Politics, social unrest, racial injustice, gun violence, #MeToo, climate change, the pandemic, the war have all piled on top of one another, making preaching more important, more fraught, more stressful.  As Edie Godfrey said to me years ago, "You are the one who has to have something to say."  And there are so many things to have something to say about.  And there's an expectation to say something about them, but because of heightened tensions and social conflict that gets trickier.  For example, at the Festival of Homiletics in 2017 I remember discussing with colleagues how once sermons that weren't viewed as specifically partisan, such as welcoming refugees, suddenly were being viewed as such, as what the two parties stand for had undergone such shifts and polarization.

On the one hand you have to address the issues of the day, but the sermon can't become a weekly response to the news.  There is a balance that has to be found, and that balance isn't obvious or easy.  

I really enjoy that challenge.  But it is a challenge.  And only in the last few weeks of not doing it have I realized exactly how challenging and tiring it has become.  

So, maybe I'll learn a little from the Aztecs.  Townsend writes, "Like so many people in other times and places, they had to learn to make peace with their new reality so they would not go mad."


One of the key takeaways from my reading of David Clough's On Animals relates to the concept of glory.  

This comes in a chapter in which he's discussing the end (goal/purpose/point) of creation, and specifically in a section devoted to Wolfhart Pannenberg's argument that the goal of creation is the creatures.  Clough then quotes the scholar Christoph Schwobel on the topic of glory--"Glory is not a self-directed attitude, but the mutuality of glorifying the other and receiving glory from the other."  For Schwobel this mutuality "constitutes the communion of the divine life."  

But one can clearly take that concept and develop it.  For example, couple it with Irenaeus--"The glory of God is a humanity fully alive"--or with the Reformed catechism--"The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy God forever."  

One can even then take the concept and apply it more broadly in our relationships with all humanity and all creation.  What if we developed an ethic of mutual glorifying?

Keweenaw Peninsula

I last visited the UP, Michigan's Upper Peninsula, in 2012.  At the time I was surprised to discover how wonderful it was and looked forward to returning and spending more time there.  In that trip, we visited Mackinac Island, saw Sault Ste. Marie and Tahquamenon Falls, and kayaked at Pictured Rocks.  

May be an image of nature and bridge

This visit we were on the western end of the peninsula, on the peninsula on the peninsula, Keweenaw, staying in the Houghton-Hancock area.  Our friends have a rental house on the canal, with a beautiful view.  That was our headquarters for the four days as we had fun and explored the area.  Once again I was struck by its beauty.

May be an image of bird, body of water, twilight, nature and sky

The area was once a center of copper mining, and there is a national historical site honoring the industrial and labor history of the area.  There are two universities and so the towns are vibrant with shops and restaurants.  We barely scratched the surface exploring them.  They also have fabulous parks, trails, and beaches.  We rode ATVs through the woods, canoed the water, went rock hunting along the shores of Lake Superior. 

May be an image of twilight, nature, lake, sky, tree and ocean

One day we drove to the northern point of the peninsula where a scenic mountaintop route opened to grand vistas.  We explored to local rock and jam shops and visited a couple of waterfalls and the old copper mine.  

May be an image of lake and nature

May be an image of lake, tree, twilight, nature and sky

Our last full day we boated down the canal to Lake Superior.  The big lake's waters were too rough for us to anchor and enjoy the beach there, but we enjoyed the day on the water and the stunning views.

May be an image of tree, nature and sky

Climate Changes & the Sabbatical

The night before we left on our first big trip of the summer, Omaha experienced a freak hailstorm.  In our part of town marble sized hail fell with heavy rain creating zero visibility and covering the ground like snowfall.  

One of the themes of this sabbatical is theology dealing with climate change.  I've already read a couple of books that help to address this crisis and have a few more to go.  A hailstorm on the Plains is not itself evidence alone of climate change, but is a reminder of the extreme and weird weather we are now experiencing and is become a regular feature of our lives and futures.

May be an image of waterfall and nature

Then, days later, the massive flooding occurred in Yellowstone.  Our big summer trip in July is planned to Yellowstone.  We had planned to visit my friend Barbara Ulrich in Gardner.  She was posting pictures of the rising waters that day before having to evacuate.  So for days we've waited to learn whether that trip will need to be changed.  The latest communication from the National Park appears that most of our plans will be okay, but some will be canceled and modified, though we wait for further communication.

But with climate change one of the themes, Yellowstone this summer becomes one of the places the changes have been apparent.  The Washington Post had a good article this week about all of the natural disasters that have already occurred and it isn't even officially summer yet.  

May be an image of lake, tree and nature

Meanwhile, we enjoyed our first trip.  We traveled to Minneapolis for Sebastian to spend some time with his family and then to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit one of his best friends and the family that used to be our nextdoor neighbors.  Two years ago our former neighbors, the Rossittos, moved to the UP.  One of their reasons was climate change.  They wanted to go someplace where the effects of warming would be minimal, where there's abundant freshwater, and where they could buy land to live off of in case that becomes necessary.

Water was a theme of the trip as we saw lakes, rivers, waterfalls, canals.  We visited beaches and went boating and canoeing.  I had thought I might find some time at the Michigan lake house to write, but the muse never struck.

One day, while in Minnesota, as Sebastian played with his cousin, I read the theology book On Animals by the side of the Mississippi River.  This book examines the key doctrines of systematic theology through the lens of prioritizing animals.  Looking forward to seeing wildlife on that July trip.

May be an image of 3 people, lake and nature

The Lying Life of Adults

The Lying Life of AdultsThe Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Ferrante's style of writing. Particularly the way in which some subtle reference or mention of an object can later take on enormous weight. This novel also ends very effectively, not with every plot developed to a satisfying conclusion, but at an effective turning point for the protagonist. I like this confidence in ending at a point like that.

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