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December 2018

"We are all wounded"

Light in the Dark
"We are all wounded, but we can connect through the wound that's alienated us from others," so writes Gloria Anzaldua in her book Light in the Dark.  

I don't remember where I saw this book discussed in order for it to make it onto my to-read list, but so far I'm intrigued by some of the ideas.

The above resonated with the reading I did earlier this year on trauma and resilience, those particularly in relation to theology and biblical studies.  Shelly Rambo's Resurrecting Wounds: Living in the Afterlife of Trauma discusses the significance of wounds and the ways we can relate to one another through them.

Anzaldua discusses this wounding and healing under the concept of the "Coyolxauhqui imperative" which draws upon an Aztec myth of the dismembering and restoration of the moon goddess.  "The Coyolxauhqui imperative is the act of calling back those pieces of the self/soul that have been dispersed or lost, the act of mourning the losses that haunt us."

She continues,

The Coyolxauhqui imperative is to heal and achieve integration.  When fragmentations occur, you fall apart and feel as though you've been expelled from paradise.  Coyolxauhqui is my symbol for the necessary process of dismemberment and fragmentation, of seeing that self or the situations you're embroiled in differently.  Coyolxauhqui is also my symbol for reconstruction and reframing, one that allows for putting the pieces together in a new way.  The Coyolxauhqui imperative is an ongoing process of making and unmaking.  There is never any resolution, just the process of healing.

That last sentence rings true and quite important for us to grasp.

For Anzaldua, this in-between space after wounding is the site of imagination and the possibility of transformation.  She writes, "We can transform our world by imagining it differently."  

For one reason, in this in-between space, which she calls nepantla from a Nahuatl word, we get in touch with our shadow sides.  "Our collective shadow--made up of the destructive aspects, psychic wounds, and splits in our own culture--is aroused, and we are forced to confront it.  In trying to make sense of what's happening, some of us come into deep awareness (conocimiento) of political and spiritual situations and the unconscious mechanisms that abet hate, intolerance, and discord."

Conocimiento is a "searching, inquiring, and healing" that lead to spiritual activism.  And the people who guide us through neplanta--those who assist transformation and the creation of the new world--are artists and activists whom she calls "neplanteras."

I find this concepts quite intriguing.  At the same time I was reading this, I finished Maryse Conde's Tree of Life and began Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Talents.  Both novels has aspects that fit Anzaldua's worldview, of guiding across liminal spaces by those in touch with their wounds.

Amos Oz

Oz & Sebastian
Upon hearing of Amos Oz's death I was reading some of my favorite passages from A Tale of Love and Darkness to Sebastian, including this one which caused him to giggle:

The bird sang with wonderment, awe, gratitude, exaltation, as though no night had ever ended before, as if this morning was the very first morning in the universe and its light was a wondrous light the like of which had never before burst forth and traversed the wide expanse of darkness.

The best obituary I've read was in The Guardian.

Tree of Life

Tree of LifeTree of Life by Maryse Condé
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of multiple generations of the Louis family of Guadeloupe. This isn't a lengthy epic, and at times I felt the story and the characters were rushed because of how short the novel is, but overall the book was enjoyable as Coco, our narrator and the youngest of the generations in the book, explores the stories of her own family in order to better understand herself.

Along the way we get a comedic view of island life, particularly the politics, but without the negativity one is familiar with in Naipaul. There is more of a bemused acceptance of the fascinating array of characters.

This is the second Conde novel I've read this year, and I look forward to continuing to read her works.

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The Blood of Emmett Till

The Blood of Emmett TillThe Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A searing exploration of the lynching of Emmett Till and what followed--the trial, the protests, the civil rights advances.

But what most astonished me reading it was that the book gave me insights on our current moment and the support for Donald Trump. Which is frightening. For example, there was this, in a paragraph on the 1948 Dixiecrats:

"Judge Brady was already a fuming Dixiecrat, calling for a new party 'into whose ranks all true conservative Americans, Democrats and Republicans alike, will be welcomed' to battle 'the radical elements of this country who call themselves liberals.' Senator James Eastland of Mississippi termed the Dixiecrat revolt 'the opening phases of a fight' for conservative principles and white supremacy, and 'a movement that will never die.'"

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Songs of Peace

Songs of Peace

Philippians 4:4-9

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

23 December 2018



            This semester I once again taught the introductory philosophy class at Creighton University.  The final book we read is Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, her exploration of the evil of Adolf Eichmann who was the Nazi responsible for assuring that the trains ran efficiently to the concentration camps. 

            What Arendt discovered surprised her—Eichmann was not a larger-than-life monster.  Instead, he was a boring, thoughtless, joiner.  Someone fixated on his own self and incapable of feeling or thinking from another person’s perspective.  She concluded that evil had become banal—something boring, ordinary people were capable of.

            But for Arendt, this was good news, because it meant evil wasn’t some great metaphysical problem that threatened the rationality and the goodness of the universe.  Evil was something easily overcome, because the opposite of thoughtlessness is to think and to think well.  And for Arendt thinking originates not as some abstract enterprise, but out of our sense of wonder and gratitude at the world.


            The last class period before we begin discussing Hannah Arendt’s book, we wrap up the series of lectures by William James entitled Pragmatism, and this sets up the Arendt discussion.  In the final lecture James explores what he considers “the final question of philosophy”—will the world be saved? 

            James explores three attitudes to this question: the Optimist believes that inevitably all will work out for the best, the Pessimist is certain that there is no meaning or purpose to life, but there is the middle ground of the Meliorist who believes that the final outcome is neither inevitable nor impossible, but fully up to us.  The world is the “workshop of being” and our existence is “a real adventure, with real danger, yet [we] may win through.”


            What is Peace? 

            We have this negative idea of peace as the absence of violence or war between people or states.  But this is a rather limited notion.  Does peace have any positive qualities?

            When we pray to receive God’s peace, what are we longing for?  Is peace a state of our own character?  Some quality we can achieve.


            The philosopher I specialized in during graduate school was Alfred North Whitehead, who was an English mathematician and logician who taught at Harvard and developed a grand metaphysics.  And Peace was a key virtue in Whitehead’s thought.  He called it the “Harmony of Harmonies” and described it as the state of character that is sensitive to the tragedy of life and yet enjoys beauty.

            The human condition is vulnerable.  We have tendencies to do some bad things.  We often succumb to temptation.  We can fall into vices. 

            But all of existence is vulnerable as well.  We live in a world of violence, where natural disasters and human catastrophes can rob us of our well-being.

            On an even more fundamental level, the very passage of time involves perishing.  Even the greatest moments of our lives—those where we are overwhelmed with joy, love, adventure, or beauty—are temporal and therefore fleeting.  Change and loss are built into the very fabric of the cosmos.

            How do we respond to these realities? 

            One human tendency is to ignore them and wish that they go away.  This is to live an apathetic, passive sort of life, what my graduate school college Kevin Durand called “the Tranquilized Soul.”  The Tranquilized Soul is “unmotivated to adventure, novelty, or exploration” and doesn’t let the external world “intrude at all on its self-contemplative tranquility.”

            Another human tendency, and one we see a lot of these days it seems, is what theologian Elizabeth O’Donnell Gandolfo calls “ruthless egotism.”  This person tries to control every situation in order to minimize the effects upon him or her.

            Both of these responses try to be invulnerable to reality and tragedy.  Gandolfo writes, “But refusing to be vulnerable to pain carries with it the price of closing oneself off to Beauty.”

            There is another way, a way that embraces our vulnerability, and that is what Whitehead and those influenced by him call “Peace.”  Gandolfo writes, “Peace entails an understanding and an acceptance of the tragic structure of existence, and thus frees us to appreciate the Beauty that continually and infinitely emerges from” life.


            So the God who created the cosmos incarnates in a peasant child, born among the animals and laid in a manger—an explicit sign of embracing our vulnerability.  If we are to “follow the way of the Incarnation,” as Gandolfo describes it, then we must “embody vulnerability differently.”  We have to quit mismanagement by egoistically ignoring or trying to exert total control over it.  Instead, we must accept the reality of the human condition as one of weakness and vulnerability and pain, yet productive of great beauty, love, and joy.

            This is what it means to be a Peaceful Soul.

            She writes, “The point of the Incarnation, then, is not to see the awesome power of divinity and bow down to worship it.  The point is to recognize and realize ourselves in it and it in ourselves.”

            To follow Jesus, is to become human in a new way.

            The Peaceful Soul is able to embrace vulnerability and still enjoy life.  She transcends the narrow focus on the self and is attentive to all others.  She not only understands that others have value, she marvels at them and enjoys them.  The Peaceful Soul participates in the creative advance and develops character, as my friend Kevin Durand describes it.  “Peace is the control of self-interest that moves the soul toward harmony with the self and greater harmony in participation in the world.”  The Peaceful Soul experiences wonder and gratitude at the world.


            This, I believe is what Paul is describing in his joyful letter to the Philippians.  A peace of God that will be with us, that is one of the excellent things, that surpasses all our understanding. 

            The day of Christ’s birth is drawing near.  We will be born anew this year.  Jesus opens up the possibility for us to become Peaceful Souls.

            So, beloved, keep on doing what is true and honorable and just, and the God of peace will be with you.

There There

There ThereThere There by Tommy Orange
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In his review of this book Colm Toibin wrote:

“In Tommy Orange’s There There, an ambitious meditation on identity and its broken alternatives, on myth filtered through the lens of time and poverty and urban life, on tradition all the more pressing because of its fragility, it is as if he seeks to reconfigure Oakland as a locus of desire and dreams, to remake the city in the likeness of his large and fascinating set of characters … Orange makes Oakland into a ‘there’ that becomes all the more concretely, emphatically and fully so in a novel that deals, in tones that are sweeping and subtle, large-gestured and nuanced, with what the notion of belonging means for Native Americans … The novel, then, is their picaresque journey, allowing for moments of pure soaring beauty to hit against the most mundane, for a sense of timelessness to be placed right beside a cleareyed version of the here and now, for a sense of vast dispossession to live beside day-to-day misery and poverty. Nothing in Orange’s world is simple, least of all his characters and his sense of the relationship between history and the present. Instead, a great deal is subtle and uncertain in this original and complex novel.”

I agree completely. But I still only thought it was okay. The book never captivated me; I kept expecting something different, something more.

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Introducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African Perspective

Introducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African PerspectiveIntroducing Feminist Cultural Hermeneutics: An African Perspective by Misimbi R.A. Kanyoro
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting exploration of how culture affects religion, particularly approaches to the Bible, among African women. In this book Kanyoro reads the Book of Ruth with women from her home region and they provide interestingly different questions and comments based upon their cultural situations. I'll be teaching Ruth in Bible study and it will be interesting to use these questions and comments to discuss different perspectives.

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Boom Town

Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class MetropolisBoom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis by Sam Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, Oklahoma City is a weird city, and here is an outsider affectionately chronicling some of that weirdness.

OKC was also an adopted city for me. I grew up in the NE corner of the state with Tulsa as more of my metropolis and in the 80's it was the far superior city to OKC. But I went to college 45 minutes from downtown OKC and ended up living 14 years in the metro area, 5 in OKC proper. And most of those other years of my life visiting regularly for the family and friends that live there.

The contemporary parts of the book are largely set in a time when we didn't live there and focus on the city's boosterism around the Thunder. But the chapters about the 80's and 90's are very familiar and the parts about the bombing and the May 3, 1999 tornadoes made me emotional.

I was surprised when I first saw a book about OKC being reviewed and reviewed glowingly in the national press. The work is as good as the reviews say.

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President Bush


More than one congregant has asked me this week about President Bush, "Didn't you say once that he was your favorite President?"

Yes, I did.  And he is.  My favorite from my lifetime.  I deeply respected and admired him and this week have mourned his passing.  When on Saturday morning my husband informed me of the death, I began to weep and our preschool-aged son consoled me "That's sad."  Over the last few days I've shared stories with our son about George Herbert Walker Bush.

I grew up in a small town in northeastern Oklahoma where most local races were settled in the Democratic primary.  My family were New Deal Democrats like most of the people around us.  The only Republicans we knew were liberal Episcopalians.  

I had always had a fascination with politics.  Mom tells the story of my backing Jimmy Carter in the 1976 race as a toddler--I think it was because he was a peanut farmer and I loved peanut butter.  But it was finally as the 1988 primaries loomed that I became focused on presidential politics.  I followed that race very closely, at the beginning liking such candidates as Gary Hart, Paul Simon, Jack Kemp, and Al Gore.  

That was a great race to follow, especially as I was just beginning to form my political opinions.  There were 6 major candidates on both sides, and particularly in the GOP they each represented a wing of the party.  Bush, of course, emerged as the nominee.  I watched almost gavel-to-gavel coverage of both conventions that summer and weighed considerations between Governor Dukakis and Vice President Bush before deciding to support Bush.  

This was almost anathema to my Democrat family.  My Mom told me I couldn't be a Republican because we weren't rich.  

That autumn in our speech class Mrs. Webster assigned as a project that we create a scrapbook to follow the election.  I poured myself into that project and produced a final result that shocked Mrs. Webster in its detail and thoroughness, far exceeding the scope of the assignment.  Every day I poured through multiple papers and grabbed the major weekly magazines all to clip for the scrapbook which kept growing in size.

Also that autumn our speech class put on a mock presidential debate for a junior high assembly followed by a mock election among the students.  I was chosen to represent Vice President Bush, Ronnie Maple was Governor Dukakis, and Lance Reece was the moderator.  I remember that my main point was that Bush was the most qualified person to ever run for the office.  Bush won our mock election.

And, so, at 14, I became a Republican.  But a Bush Republican.  A moderate, New England, liberal Episcopalian sort of Republican.  And just at a point when the culture was shifting and that sort of Republican was about to decline and the place I had grown up would, in short order, become a bastion of Right Wing, Christian fundamentalist politics.  I assume most of the liberal Episcopalians in Miami, Oklahoma these days are not Republicans.  And I left the party in 2004 for its repeated hypocrisies.  

Bush's served as President during my high school years.  And I watched in admiration as all the accomplishments were achieved, particularly in foreign policy.  Many of my friends were still old school Democrats while others were these new Evangelical Republicans, so I found myself often defending Bush from attacks from the right and the left.  I loathed Newt Gingrich and the despicable ways he attacked Bush.

But I also noticed the weaknesses and failures, and have appreciated this week reading those criticisms as well as the honors.

In 1992 I could finally vote, and I voted for George H. W. Bush, despite the fact that many friends my age were supporting Bill Clinton.  Clinton repulsed me.  My roommate Matt Cox and I hung our American flag upside down as a sign of the nation in distress when the networks called the election for Clinton.  A few days later the university president sent the president of the College Republicans to ask us to turn it back rightside up.

I simply couldn't believe that a President who had accomplished what Bush had done and once enjoyed a 91% approval rating was losing to this inexperienced person of bad character, even if the economy was in a mild recession.  But I had also watched Bush squirm through the debates, clearly a figure from a different era, as politics and the media were changing (not for the better, of course).

My admiration has continued.  I read Bush and Scowcroft's book on the history of the administration, and Jon Meacham's good biography.  

Bush ran one of the most ethical administrations, firing people at even the hint of scandal.  He hired experts who were themselves admirable people, highly skilled.  My respect for folks like Scowcroft and Baker is as high as that for Bush.

But he was also highly ambitious and that led to a vicious 1988 campaign.  I didn't fully grasp how nasty it was at the time, but did upon later reflection.  He could at times be cynical and self-interested.  He and the members of the old elite he surrounded himself with were tone-deaf to many things, most notoriously racial issues, HIV/AIDS, and the LGBT community.  

Yet he also oversaw the largest expansion of civil rights in our history with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  He acted to eliminate acid rain, our greatest environmental achievement (remember he ran in 88 as "the Environmental President").  His budget compromise laid the groundwork for the economic successes of the 1990's.  Sadly his very good education bill languished in Congress.  And these are just among his domestic accomplishments.

But what matters most is that he was a person of character.  His character was rich and complex, including significant flaws and weaknesses, but also great strengths.  So watching yesterday's funeral, I thought of Hannah Arendt, who reveals that goodness has depth and dimension.  Evil is shallow and little.  

What we saw yesterday was a celebration of character, with depth and complexity.  George Herbert Walker Bush was a good man.

Judges: A Commentary

Judges (2008): A CommentaryJudges (2008): A Commentary by Susan Niditch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This autumn I've been teaching a Wednesday night Bible study on the Book of Judges. Judges is one of those texts I've done very little with in my ministry. Many of the stories are not suitable for Sunday morning preaching. But shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, I decided that sometime I needed to teach on Judges, as its themes resonate with our moment--a search for effective and faithful leadership, a focus on the treatment of women, increasing violence. Often this semester the topics we have been discussing in the class have corresponded with items in the national news.

This commentary by Susan Niditch is quite good and was very helpful in teaching the class. I found her comments helped to make sense of the stories and gave insights that were applicable to my teaching needs.

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