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July 2016

Wendy Farley Quotes

"Redemption is fundamentally about power," writes Wendy Farley.  "It is the power that begins to unbind every form of bondage and to unblock everything that resists that flow of the Divine Eros through creation."

"Christianty and Buddhism are both built around an intuition that we are strangers and dangers to ourselves.  We act in ways that are completely inappropriate to our desire for happiness.  We are bound to misery that we conceal from ourselves by a thousand distractions and comforts that further numb us to the reality of our situation.  Our capacities to give and receive love are bitterly damaged.  All of these are ways of saying that our fundamental condition is one of bondage and illusion."

"The journey inward is dangerous and painful."

"Much of human life can be understood as addiction to patterns of life that ease pain but are physically and spiritually debilitating. They give the appearance of help but conceal their price."

"During Advent and Holy Week more than at any other time we are exposed to oxymoronic symbols of divine power that constitute a residue of Christianity's great wisdom."

"Deep compassion for all beings needs roots in something deeper than ethical principles."

"Nothing happens to our spirit, good and bad, that is not written in the details of our body.  Nothing happens to our body that is not at the same time a spiritual event."

"Darkness does not arise because we are terrible sinners or because God has abandoned us.  Darkness is the dismantling of the habits of egocentrism that have been so destructive to us."

"During periods of darkness, the virtues that were easy for us become impossible; the vocations that we loved are now confusing, dull, even a kind of torment.  The darkness of these assaults is only intensified by the desire to be good, loving, faithful people."

"The powers of the soul are released bit by bit as we practice them."

"The practice of patience helps to expose how raw and tender we are against everything that thwarts us.  But if patience is to be a virtue, a power, it must not be confused with self-deception or passivity.  It is not the repression of anger or bitterness."

"Patience, perhaps even more than other virtues, is extremely vulnerable to confusion with its 'near enemies.'"

"We are God-bearers.  As our trust in this reality becomes more stable, we will need to be less afraid."



We leaned on the fence overlooking the old barnlot and the dry, scruffy landscape of what Willa Cather called "The Divide"--the high land between the Republican and Little Blue Rivers.  And as the hot wind blew in our faces, we understood in rich new ways the difficult struggles of the pioneers in Cather's stories.  Why would anyone try to farm this landscape, we pondered?

We were at the Pavelka farm, the inspiration for the final scenes of My Antonia, the place where Annie Pavelka (who inspired the character of Antonia) raised her ten children.  Fred and I had traveled to "Catherland," as the local signs identify it, hoping for experiences such as this.  Our hopes were more than satisfied.

As I prepared for this sabbatical I had written publicly about wanting to see some parts of Nebraska I hadn't yet visited in our six years living here.  Fred Nielsen, who lectures in the history department at UNO and is a church member, asked what those might be.  When I mentioned Red Cloud and the Willa Cather State Historical Site, Fred said he had never visited there, despite living in Nebraska for decades and reading much of Cather's oeuvre but that he planned to visit this summer.  So we discussed sharing the costs and company and going together.  This being my final week of sabbatical we almost ran out of time before finding two days that fit our schedules.


Our journey began early Wednesday morning as we drove due west from Omaha toward the small town of St. Paul and the Nebraska Major League Baseball Museum which Fred wanted to visit as "an antidote to the political season."

We diverted (through much road construction) to drive through the village of Wolbach where Fred had lived as a child when his father was the local Lutheran pastor. The town has seen better times, though the house he lived in was well maintained.

In St. Paul we first lunched at a main street café filled with hundreds and maybe thousands of cookie jars. I ate from the fried chicken buffet.


The museum was a labor of love and a very well done presentation of Nebraska's major league ball players and Nebraska baseball history with a focus on the hall of famers. Grover Cleveland Alexander, the first such Nebraskan so honored, was from St. Paul.

We also walked among the (locked) buildings of the Howard County Historical Museum—the standard old church, one room school house, general store, blacksmith shop, and railroad depot. These were attractively laid out and very well maintained. They were adjacent to the very republican county courthouse and a tasteful (unlike, say, Saunders County) war memorial with a puzzling inaccurate start date for the Persian Gulf War, which they also contend (maybe correctly) has never ceased.



We arrived in Red Cloud shortly before the Cather Foundation (located in the old Opera House) was to close for the day. "We worried about you," said the receptionist, as she gave us our keys for the Cather Second House Bed and Breakfast where we were scheduled to stay. This is the home Willa Cather's parents purchased when she was an adult, so she never lived there, though she visited in the summers and for holidays and was known by locals to use the upper porch for reading and writing.

Local volunteer Cheryl oriented us to the house. "I was born here," she surprised us. This was a maternity hospital after the Cather's sold it. "I also had my tonsils taken out here. The living room was the recovery room. I remember waking up and seeing that window," she said as she indicated the front picture window.

We told Cheryl we planned to walk the Cather Prairie that evening. She said that was good and that the prairie was south of town, past the Republican River. "If you come to Kansas, go back 100 yards." Humorous advice that was actually helpful later when we had to do exactly that.

She offered dining recommendations. "There are three options, and one I've never eaten at." We agreed to eliminate that one. "For breakfast, there's the bowling alley."

The next morning we stayed in and enjoyed the breakfast provided at the house—homemade granola and pumpkin bread with special Willa Cather brand peach butter which was so delicious I bought a jar despite the anticipated mocking from my husband that I had bought yet another jar of jelly or jam (which did occur when I returned home). We breakfasted on the wrap-around front porch with two other guests, one of whom is an American who is an English literature professor living in France who was preparing to teach My Antonia this coming school year.

Wednesday night we enjoyed our walk at the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, identifying wildflowers using the handy flyer available at the trailhead and watching the sun set.


Thursday morning, after breakfast, we walked over to the Opera House for our tour of the Cather-related sites. "Which tour do you want? We've got the 7 building, 3 building, or 1 building tour?" We took the seven. It was $15 and why drive all this way and be cheap?

Living room--smaller


The tour included the childhood home filled with Cather family possessions and the attic room in which Willa lived, reading books late at night and looking out her window to imagine a wider world. Also included were homes and buildings that inspired various settings in the novels. We even saw some items specifically described in various novels. We were surprised to learn how many of the characters and places had direct connections to real life people and places. After the guided tour we drove around town and out into the country to see even more locations, and there were dozens more on the map that we could have seen. We enjoyed our stay in the home and our sight-seeing so much that we both intend to return and bring family. I hope to make a writing retreat there some time during a future project.

We were impressed by the Willa Cather Foundation. They have restored many buildings in town and are currently remodeling a large stretch of the main street to become the National Willa Cather Center with a museum. Knowing how sites like the Mark Twain House have struggled in the last decade, this burst of money and energy around Cather is all the more impressive.

Our experiences in Red Cloud and Catherland complete, we drove east on the minor highway 4 through very small towns, villages, and hamlets, paralleling the Oregon Trail. At one crossroads in the middle of nowhere we stopped at a tiny 19th century cemetery and marveled at how many infants and children were buried there without their parents in adjacent graves, maybe a sign that the families later moved on someplace else.

Our last stop was Homestead National Monument, which I had last visited six years ago. Fred had been there as well and toured the inside exhibits but hadn't walked the trails through the prairie and along the creek bottom. So, we did that.


I made it home in time for a delicious dinner of leftover beans and cornbread, a walk to our community garden plot with my son to pick fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, and sitting on the couch with my husband to watch Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech.

Hillary Clinton


In the winter of 1992 my mother and I sat watching television as Bill and Hillary Clinton gave their first joint 60 Minutes interview, the one famous for Hillary's statement that she was no Tammy Wynette standing by her man.  We didn't like Bill Clinton, an opinion that has never altered for either one of us.  But that night we came to like Hillary Clinton and said to each other that the wrong Clinton was running for President.

In 1992 I was a Republican and would remain one until 2003 when the Iraq War and the rightward shift of the party would alienate me (a story I've blogged about before).  Throughout the years that I was a Republican I continued to like and respect Hillary Clinton.  I never understood the ruthless right wing attacks upon her.  Her perseverance made me like her all the more, as it did for many Americans, for she was most popular in the years following Bill's affair and impeachment.

As the nation prepared for the 2008 presidential election I was excited by the choices of candidates on offer and through the months before and during the primaries my support often shifted between Clinton and Obama. Here, for instance is an August 2007 post in which I support Hillary and this is a January 2008 post in which I was open to persuasion.  Ultimately I voted for Obama in the Oklahoma primary believing that he could move us beyond the divisions of the culture wars (which was naive).  But before the close of the primary season I had switched back to Hillary when I realized my view was naive and realized that her effectiveness, tenacity, and experience were what the nation needed.

So for 24 years I have liked and respected Hillary Clinton, and as I've been a Republican, an Independent, and a Democrat.  I respect her tenacity, her effectiveness, her commitment to public service, and the role her religious faith has played in her life.  I look forward to her being the next President of the United States.

As for my mother, who has been a swing voter her entire life (she's voted for Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bushes, and Obama and has at various times been registered as a Democrat or a Republican), she sent me this text message Wednesday night:

I am enjoying the Democratic National Convention!!!  I have laughed till I hurt, cried at the empathy I have felt from the heart breaking testimonies, I have also burst out into tears for the pride and patriotism this convention has sparked in me!  I am so happy tonight to say I am a Democrat in the most wonderful country in the world!  Every night I have set spellbound from 4-11 not wanting to miss not even one single word. . . .  May Hillary blast forth with the largest margin ever between two presidential candidates.  The Republican Party has become a vile group willing to pay all costs to win the office of president. 

I think Mom said it pretty well.

Beauty beyond all knowing and naming

"Human consciousness plunges into depths to which we normally have little direct access. We might think of consciousness through the image of a spiral," theologian Wendy Farley begins her book The Wounding and Healing of Desire.  "Spiraling down deeper, we find the places where the ingrained habits of our spirit dwell . . . deeper still we come to an incandescent fire that has the power to burn away every obstacle to love.  When, like Dante, we pass through this sweet, excruciating fire we come to the great emptiness where the divine image burns beyond light and darkness in a purity and luminescence that nothing can stain."

This volume seems to be a meditation upon suffering and the spiritual ways of healing.  This summer I've mostly read books from areas of Christian theology of which I was only marginally (if at all) acquainted.  I've previously read two of Farleys books.  Her Tragic Vision and Divine Compassion: A Contemporary Theodicy we read in my undergraduate Evil and Suffering course and the book was transformational in my own thinking on the topic.  Gathering Those Driven Away I read a few years ago and it shaped an Advent sermon series on desire.  So, I'm reading this book because I enjoy Farley's writing and thinking.

This book is a little different.  More reflective and less focused.  At first this didn't engage me as much, but over the few chapters I've read, the style is connecting with me.  She wrote this as she was recovering from an illness and was listening to a lot of folk music, which she takes as a source of profound theology.

This beauty beyond all knowing and naming pulls us out of ourselves and toward ourselves and in doing so pulls us most intimately and scathingly toward the world.  It is impossible to be drawn to the beauty of Christ without entering more vividly into the beauty of everything else.

I'm in the final week of my sabbatical.  After 11 weeks of not working I am both eager and a little grieved to be returning to work.  It has been difficultly strange not to do what I love doing for so many weeks, but also a wonderful time of simply being and not focusing on a list of professional tasks to accomplish.

Yesterday we finished the patio installation and now look forward to design and landscaping and decorating in the coming months and next spring.  Today I did yard work and am, this afternoon, cooking a fun meal of old comfort foods--the beans are even now cooking, and how I delight in that smell.

Tomorrow I will head to Red Cloud to visit the Willa Cather site.  One more stop in my sabbatical endeavor to visit some of the locations in the region that I hadn't so far.  I've been thinking about the soundtrack for the drive.  Definitely some Emmylou Harris because of her song "My Antonia."

Song quotes

Here are some of the quotes and excerpts I marked from Choan-Seng Song's Third-Eye Theology.

Salvation is the external event in which God's pain-love succeeds in locating homeless people and winning them back to God.


Where there are people, I want to assert, there theology must be.  Where human suffering is, there theology must find itself.  Where human joy is, there theology must be also.  Theology does not take place in a vacuum.  Theology is an event.  It happens.  What else could it be?


Theology is not to be learned but to be lived.


If the cross cannot meet the lotus's thrust into a sea of suffering, how can we say the cross is God's redemption for people in all places and at all times?


Evangelization is an act of empowering people with the power to suffer unto hope.  It is an act which makes people aware that God does not condone social and political evil, that God does not accept suffering as the inevitable result of fate.


Strictly speaking, we cannot speak of the resurrection life as "life after death."  Rather it must be "life after life.". . . The resurrection . . . has removed this deadly obstacle to life. 


The life of Jesus from the beginning to the end is now perceived as the life of transfiguration.  What they began to see in their postresurrection encounter in Galilee must have been the Jesus who had been transfigured from a lowly carpenter into the herald of the good news of God's salvation, from an ordinary human being into the way, the truth, and the life, from a lonely religious teacher into a bold opponent of the powerful religious hierarchy of his day, and from an insignificant man of an oppressed race into a towering figure standing without fear before the oppressor's tribunal.


How then is it possible for the church to be the church of God if it refuses to take sides when a social and political situation demands it?  


God in the Bible is the God of surprises.  God always has a surprise in store for those who believe.  A God who has ceased to surprise us does not interest us.  Such a God is too predictable to forgive and forgive again, to redeem and re-redeem, to create and re-create.  A predictable God cannot raise Christ from the dead. 


The power of the resurrection makes us into "the living extension" of God's creating power.

Third-Eye Theology

Third Eye Theology: Theology In Formation In Asian SettingsThird Eye Theology: Theology In Formation In Asian Settings by Choan-Seng Song
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A marvelous exploration of theology from an East Asian perspective. Song insists that Christian theology must listen to the spirituality of Asian peoples, and he proceeds to demonstrate what Christian theology can learn. He draws upon wisdom from Buddhism and Confucianism to inform his Christian theology and shares the stories and experiences of Asians as source material for theology. I don't think I've ever before read a theology book that seriously grappled with the theological implications of the Vietnam War, for instance, from the perspective of the Vietnamese instead of Americans protesting the war. The final section is a powerful discussion of the Politics of the Resurrection.

As it is now late in the evening, tomorrow I'll blog a more thorough response with some quotes and excerpts.

View all my reviews


Earlier today I posted on Facebook this anecdote:

Today's moment in public shaming. We sat down to eat lunch, Michael got up to move seats saying, "I don't want to see a Confederate flag," indicating one on the front license plate of a car outside. I responded, "Yeah, they're just announcing that they are racist assholes." When the people at the table next to us departed, it was their car. They had heard our entire exchange. We enjoyed our lunch all the more.

An uncle responded: 

The problem with liberalists.....if people don't have view points that match them then they are wrong....everyone is entitled to their own view points even if they are different.

And I replied:

Anyone sporting a confederate flag on their car wants other people to think they are racist assholes, that's the point I'm making. If they didn't want people to think that they wouldn't sport a confederate flag. And you are completely wrong on what I think about disagreement within a pluralistic democracy, see this blog postfor instance.

Plus I reposted this link to a recent blog post in which I explicitly addressed the issue of the Confederate flag in the north.

Good liberals do not believe they are correct and everyone else is wrong.  Good liberals have embraced criticism, for criticism is an essential trait of liberal thinking.  Every idea must be open to criticism and revision based upon new evidence or hearing a new perspective.

But does this mean that one can never arrive at any settled truth, anything firm convictions?  No.  As the American Pragmatists (particularly Peirce, James, and Dewey) demonstrated in their thinking the methods of democratic inquiry in a community and with scientific methods will fix our beliefs.  

What liberals reject is ideological dogmatism, particularly of the kind that has been proven to be harmful.

Racism and white supremacy are wrong.  Doesn't mean that one can't continue to hold such views, but the community, through centuries of thought and conversation, have determined that these positions are morally wrong.  Might some evidence arise to make the community revise its decision?  Possibly, but very improbable.

But, here, the rub, I am not a liberal.  In the imprecise way that Americans use the term, fine, I accept the label, but in the more precise uses of the term, that is not who I am.  

The best description of who I am is Christian.  I took the name of Jesus at my baptism.  So, there are basic truths that one must accept if one is to be called by that name, and one of those truths is that all people are equal in the sight of God.  So, based upon my faith, I can say with confidence that the person flying the Confederate flag is wrong.  He may have a free expression right to his view, but he has no moral right to.  He is in violation of the moral law.

"I am your voice."

Watching the 1996 Democratic National Convention, I was annoyed at what seemed to me to be a patronizing theme that government was needed to hold your hand at every stage of life.  I was still a Republican then and appreciated that Republicans promoted the view that government was supposed to create opportunities for people but that people should be empowered not patronized.

Fast forward to 2016 when the message of Donald Trump is that Americans need him, and seemingly only him, because they can't fix their problems themselves.  "I am your voice," he said.  The whole idea was revolting.

Plus this revolting idea was couched in the context of a speech (the entirety of which was shouted) which centered on the cult of personality in a way reminiscent of a Big Man dictator in a B movie.  The entire thing would be ridiculously funny if it weren't so frightening.