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The Origin of Others

The Origin of OthersThe Origin of Others by Toni Morrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Good, the week after her death, to read Morrison's words speaking to the crisis of our times. My favorite part was this on the stranger:

"Why should we want to know a stranger when it is easier to estrange another? Why should we want to close the distance when we can close the gate? . . .

"It took some time for me to understand my unreasonable claims on that fisherwoman. To understand that I was longing for and missing some aspect of myself, and that there are no strangers. There are only versions of ourselves, many of which we have not embraced, most of which we wish to protect ourselves from. For the stranger is not foreign, she is random; not alien but remembered; and it is the randomness of the encounter with our already known--although unacknowledged--selves that summons a ripple of alarm. That makes us reject the figure and the emotions its provokes--especially when these emotions are profound. It is also what makes us want to own, govern, and administrate the Other. To romance her, if we can, back into our own mirrors. In either instance (of alarm or false reverence), we deny her personhood, the specific inviduality we insist upon for ourselves."

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"It's My Book Day"

Cover--Open by Scott E. Jones—Smaller File
Yesterday, after many years of writing and post writing editing and design and marketing work, my book was published!  Open: A Memoir of Faith, Family, and Sexuality in the Heartland.  

As I was getting ready yesterday, I composed myself a little ditty set to the tune of the Laverne and Shirley theme song, "It's my book day, my book day, making my dreams come true."  I sang it most of the day.

You can order the book online at Amazon and other sites or go into your bookstore and request it.  If you want a signed copy, here are my upcoming events and where others will be posted as they are scheduled.


In response to the terrorist attack upon a gay club

The emotions are quite complex today after the mass murder at the gay club in Orlando, Florida.  As I pondered what words to share, I thought of a section of my memoir (not yet published, but hopefully soon) in which I contemplate the risks of being an advocate and spokesperson in the LGBT community.  This moment occurred in 2005 shortly after I became the pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City.  I am with my boyfriend at the time; he was on staff at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas.

 

Hanging out at John’s condo in Dallas, we would often curl up on his couch together to watch the final episodes of Queer as Folk as they aired that summer.  In one the gay nightclub Babylon is bombed.  Our mood was sober when we finished watching the episode.  Holding me close he said, “You know, we have high security at the church because of this very fear.”

“I know about the high security.  They have educated me about it.”

The main offices of the church were at the backside of the building, away from the parking lot.  They could only be accessed with a card that was electronically coded.  Many members of the church had never been in the church offices.  At the front of the church building was a reception area that was separated from the rest of the building.  The reception area contained a waiting room where you sat and waited for someone to escort you into the building to the main offices.  Cameras monitored the building and during worship services and big events uniformed security guards patrolled the grounds.  The ushers were also trained in how to respond to a disturbance.

“Does the church really fear an attack?” I asked.

“We have received many threats through the years and the rare person who attends worship and starts making anti-gay statements.  Nothing serious has ever transpired, but we, of course, take precautions.”

“Sure.”

He turned to look at me.  “I worry about you and your congregation, however.  You have none of the safeguards we do, and Oklahoma is even scarier than Dallas.”

“I don’t think our congregation has ever had an incident.  We are so much smaller that most people don’t even know about us.  You all are big and in the news a lot.”

“But,” he said, “if you do your job well, that will change.  People will know about you and that could draw unwanted attention.”

“I guess it’s something we should prepare for.”

John then held me close and said, “I fear for you personally.  What if you are attacked?  What if someone tries to kill you?  You are already pretty public, and there are lots of crazy people.”

I touched his cheek.  “I’m not sure why, but I’m not worried about that.  I’m not afraid.  I really don’t think that anything is going to happen, but if something does happen and I’m harmed, then it’s not like my worrying about it will help.”

“But you should be cautious.”

“I know.  And I am.  I will be.  I am still getting used to all of this, of course.”

We sat there silently for a while, holding each other.

“You know,” I added, “I’m not afraid because if something were to happen to me, it could probably be used for good.  I’m willing to be a martyr for my faith and for something I believe in if that’s what happens.  I’m not going to seek it out, but it doesn’t frighten me.”

“It frightens me,” he said, kissing me.


Today in Sabbatical News

A day both lazy and productive, as I finished one book by a Reformed evangelical--Smith's Imagining the Kingdom--read from start to finish a book by an 11th century Muslim scholar--al-Ghazali's Deliverance from Error--and began a work of Greek Orthodox theology--John ZizioulasBeing as Communion--which has given me an intellectual orgasm just in the opening pages.

Besides all that reading I enjoyed my morning walk, cooking breakfast for my family, doing laundry, picking up around the house, getting my hair cut, and going to lunch with some clergy friends.

I also, after finishing Smith's book, worked on reimagining First Central's worship design and planning process, a task I set myself while attending Marcia McFee's Worship Design Studio in April.

So, a pretty full day.

Tomorrow I hope to begin writing a philosophy book I intend to model on my classroom lectures at Creighton.

Yesterday, by the way, I did write a short story.  A month or so ago I saw a news article about radioactive boars ravaging the countryside around Fukushima and sent it to my friend Marty Peercy with the comment that I'd enjoy seeing Don DeLillo's take.  Marty suggested that a few of us use the news story as a writing prompt and assemble the short stories for an anthology published by Literati Press. While walking at Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge yesterday, my story idea came to me and I wrote the first draft when I returned home.


Where the God of Love Hangs Out

Where the God of Love Hangs Out: FictionWhere the God of Love Hangs Out: Fiction by Amy Bloom
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amy Bloom was one of the Master Teachers at this year's Yale Writer's Conference, and I was very impressed by her. My blogpost about her craft talk is here: http://escottjones.typepad.com/myques....

That evening she read from the short story "Compassion and Mercy" contained within this volume, and I was mesmerized. I can be a very interactive audience member and I was quite engaged with her reading (she's an excellent reader of her own work) laughing and expressing awe at good phrases. Of course I bought the book. She signed it "For Scott--with every good and encouraging wish."

That story is the best in the volume. Bloom is a skilled writer, describing rich characters and gifted in crafting phrases and sentences.

But not every story engaged me as much at that one did. And in a few of the stories there were flaws in her writing, which surprised me. My workshop leader at Yale this year, Eileen Pollack, firmly denounced the use of "It is" and "There are" constructions and marked every appearance of the pronoun "it" in our manuscripts, instructing us to remove 19 of every 20 appearances. Unfortunately, I am now hyper-attuned to these constructions, including their overuse. I've enjoyed noticing that George R. R. Martin rarely uses them, while I had to quit reading a Zadie Smith story in the New Yorker because of three uses in the first paragraph. In some of the stories in this volume Bloom is guilty. I found myself re-writing the sentences in my head as I read along. I told Eileen the next day that she has ruined me as a reader.

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Vivid images

Last week I started reading C. S Lewis' The Great Divorce and was impressed with the vivid images of his writing in the first chapter.  Here are some examples:

Time seemed to have paused on that dismal moment when only a few shops have lit up and it is not yet dark enough for their windows to look cheering. 

However far I went I found only dingy lodging houses, small tobacconists, hoardings from which posters hung in rags, windowless warehouses, good stations without trains, and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle. [That last bit is what I like.  The image made me laugh.]

It was a wonderful vehicle, blazing with golden light, heraldically coloured.  The Driver himself seemed full of light and he used only one hand to drive with.  [Again, that last detail is the impressively vivid one.]