Monday, March 31, 2003

The little lighthouse

Rose Island Light, Narragansett Bay

When I was a child I was very fond of the book The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge by Lynd Ward (Illustrator) and Hildegarde H. Swift (Author), originally published in 1942. The little red lighthouse on the Hudson was saved by the book and recently was lit again.

The moral of the children's book is that being small doesn't mean you don't matter, but what strikes me about it thinking about it now is that it is also a story of technological progress whose moral is that the obsolete still has its function, it doesn't have to be discarded.

All this came to mind when I visited the lighthouse pictured above, Rose Island light off Newport, Rhode Island. It is now an environmental education center.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Off to Rhode Island

I'm off a little later to the American Society for Environmental History meeting in Providence, RI. I will be back here Monday.

Monday, March 24, 2003


We took a family trip to Cherokee, North Carolina (actually we stayed in Franklin). There aren't that many interesting attractions in Cherokee, particularly in the winter when some are closed, but the Museum of the Cherokee Indian is excellent and the countryside is beautiful. On the way home we stopped at all the waterfalls along our route.

The museum is very moving. I had only a general sense of the Trail of Tears: the story of the Cherokee removal from their land in North Carolina and Georgia to Oklahoma. What I had never thought about or known, is that the Cherokee were deeply divided about how to fight their removal from their land. Some worked to use the U.S. legal and political system to protect themselves, with some successes and near successes. A minority party felt that the best approach was to agree to removal and negotiate the best possible deal, and the U.S. government took them as speaking for the Cherokee nation. Some fought with weapons and a small group did hide out successfully. I'm struck by how much those frustrations and divisions must have hurt, on top of the physical suffering of the Trail of Tears.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

William James

I'm reading William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience and finding it great fun (not being under pressure to get through it). At one point James is arguing that melancholy can only be called religious if is ennobling. In contrast he describes Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: "The sallies of the two German authors remind one, half the time, of the sick shriekings of two dying rats."

I envy the big arguments of the 19th century (the book was published in 1902). James argues that we have to accept that the universe is not ordered for our convenience; we are forced into "sacrifices and surrenders of some sort." But without a belief in a higher good, one is left with "the drab discolored way of stoic resignation to necessity." The value of religion, then, is that: "Religion thus makes easy and felicitous what in any case is necessary." (quotes from lecture II).

Wendell Berry would say that we have come to believe that with technology we can order the universe for our own convenience, and it is that refusal to face limits that is destroying the world.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003


I got involved watching the Gulf War--hours in front of the TV rocking a sick baby as the war started. I'm trying not to get involved this time--if I can do something I will, and I will pray for peace and safety for all, but I'm going to try to stand back from war as a spectator sport, to minimize carrying the pain of the war in my head. Read the ECUSA Bishops' pastoral letter. They are meeting at Kanuga and I heard that when Kanuga called up the local distributor and asked for 40 copies a day of the New York Times they were told no way were that many available in western North Carolina.


More pictures of the chapel of the Convent of St. Helena in Augusta, GA: inside, night, and outside.

Saturday, March 15, 2003


It's spring break. An afternoon in my office with my kids playing computer games and asking me questions while I try to focus has not cheered me up. I am looking forward to my silent retreat Monday and Tuesday. I'll be back Wednesday, though the kids are off from school Thursday and Friday and we may go away for the weekend next weekend so I may not be around much.

Friday, March 14, 2003


I don't think this church intends its sign as a plea for peace, but it struck me that way. But do you think George W. Bush's problem is that he deludes himself with the idea he has conquered himself and therefore he thinks he can conquer the world?

Thursday, March 13, 2003


I think I've worked out a situation I have been struggling with. I really wanted to have some resolution to that before I go Sunday for two days of silent retreat at the convent Monday and Tuesday. I've never done a silent retreat before. I'm enough of an introvert that I'm not afraid of silence, but I'm afraid of feeling shut out. I'm going back and forth about whether to take my laptop--that seems like cheating but one of the things I will be thinking about is becoming a spiritual director, and I need to write a paper about those thoughts for the program I am in.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Bob Jones

Check out this critique of Bob Jones University from Slacktivist. "The Bob Jones University does not use the Nicene Creed or the Apostle's Creed -- the ancient, universally embraced statements of the Christian faith. No, they wrote their own creed. Set aside the actual content of this creed (which relies on an idiosyncratic, modernist hermeneutic) and just consider this act: Bob Jones re-wrote the creed."

Thanks to Body and Soul!

sharing pain

In Holy Listening, Margaret Guenther says that part of spiritual direction is to take another person's burden for them. The burden can then be given to God, "But first of all, we must let ourselves be touched." (p. 30-31) Experiencing another person doing that for me has been at the core of my own healing process.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Wendell Berry

I had my History of American Technology course read The Unsetting of America by Wendell Berry. Because of a requirement, almost half the students in the class are Agricultural Education majors, and I was curious how they would react. Many of them liked Berry, and yet at the same time I don't think it shook their belief in progress. It is too ingrained--they can read a critique without really taking it in. I didn't want to push particularly the students who are engineering majors too hard, and yet I wanted them to get a taste of a whole different world view. Berry links so much--the division between body and soul, our refusal to accept limits, progress vs. the cycle of nature.

Friday, March 07, 2003

Religious Community

Chuck Lippy gave a talk here last night on "Challenges to American Protestantism in the Twenty-First Century." One of his points was that while a poll shows that people believe that spirituality will have an increasing effect on public life in this century, that spirituality is increasingly invidualistic. Not only do we easily change denominations, we also pick and choose individual practices that suit us (Christian yoga, anyone?). Mainline denominations less and less define what their members do or even believe.

I'm back again in the same place about community. I do pick and choose--since I was baptized at age 27 I have been a member of the United Church of Christ, a Presbyterian (USA), and an Episcopalian. My spiritual practices include icons and the labyrinth, which are both fairly popular in the Episcopal church but not part of an Episcopalian tradition.

AKMA, in his earlier post on community, defined the religious community as: "a body of people big enough to damp out individual idiosyncrasies." In a comment on AKMA's post Tom Matrullo asked "First, exactly what is delimited in the metaphor of "damp out" - is this an extinguishing, a mellowing, a sponging that removes or just leaves less damp?, or a mollifying, a pacifying, a modulating, a form of bondage by bonding, a bringing to its senses, a softening, or something else?"

I think AKMA is right that institutions do good by damping individual experience (as One Pot Meal acknowledges in talking about academia). I would like to trust an institution to provide balance, discernment, and that experience of not being alone. But I can't imagine giving up the right to pick what I want from a cafeteria of lots of different traditions. Is there some way to hold those opposites in creative tension?

Thursday, March 06, 2003

student blogs

I've been using a very simple system of a course blog with a blogroll of all the student blogs. I wrote instructions for my students that they don't seem to have taken very seriously. I think the main change I would make the next time is to schedule several dates during the semester when I will grade the blogs--too many student are putting it as low priority because it isn't graded until the end. For all my students this is a course outside their major and it is hard to get them engaged because they have much higher priorities.

I tend to be a believer in very simple systems, but I can see several features that would make my job easier. Some way of automatically adding students sites to a blogroll would help, and even more so a blogroll that automatically listed the sites in order of how recently they have been updated. I spend too much time going to student blogs that haven't been updated since I last checked. Automatic trackback would be wonderful, and I think would help make the blogs more of a community for my students.

I know there is software out there to do those things, but I haven't taken the time to find out how to do it. I would love a system that did all that for me.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003


Ok, ok, I feel obliged to have an opinion. See Caveat Lector, mamamusings, and Bariata for the main discussion so far.

When I was in graduate school I lived with a partner who was in med school, and I would say the forced acculturation in medical school was worse than anything in my graduate program. But then I was in a small department where graduate students supported each other--my symbol of that is that as we came out of job interviews we would tell each other the questions the interviewers asked.

I haven't seen anyone quote the line from Henry Kissinger that "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." I'm happy in academics because it suits me and because I'm in a job where the level of expectations are reasonably comfortable for me. But most of all, I stay reasonably happy by not getting involved in the big university-wide fights--I'm too busy with my students and my family and my own personal journey to have time for that. Some of the most unhappy people I've known are the ones who put their whole life into the university--perhaps the tendency of the system to encourage that is part of why academia seems worse than other employment worlds (though Lord knows young lawyers who work 80 hour weeks go through a hazing in some ways more destructive than that in academia).

Academica hasn't fully gotten past the values laid down in the medieval university, where professors could not be married because one was supposed to devote one's life to learning exactly the same way a priest devoted his life to God. That system was one of the things my students couldn't understand when I assigned Abelard's The Story of my Misfortunes in the first half of western civ. There is some of that in some other professions as well, such as medicine, but it makes more intuitive sense to us there.

This is a hard discussion to be having right now when we are facing a 10 percent budget cut. One reason people get hurt is that there really aren't enough resources. My sister got out of college with a B.A. in sociology and took a job in financial public relations and within a few years was earning a salary double mine (I'm ten years older with a Ph.D.). Maybe it is just South Carolina, but I don't feel like a member of some elite, I feel undervalued. It is rewarding not in any outside sense but because I feel I'm giving my students something that will make a difference to the world.

Update: I also recommend Joseph Duemer

Tuesday, March 04, 2003


I was at Kanuga for my church's annual retreat. I went to the first scheduled session, then decided I needed my own time for thinking and writing and spending time with my husband more than I needed to attend the program. I was actually interested in some aspects of the program because there was a component involving making artwork, but I didn't like the style of the leader. The first retreats I went to were Faith at Work women's events led by Marjory Bankson and the team she put together. From her I learned the importance of leading by vulnerability and providing ways in which each person can express their own experience privately then bring what they want back to the group. I'm not inclined to give a second chance to someone who talks at the group for an hour, even if they ask occasional questions of the whole group.

Sunday, March 02, 2003


Kanuga now has a Labyrinth! I went to a spirituality retreat there 6 years ago when Lauren Artress was one of the leaders, and for several years the Labyrinth was an important part of my spirituality. I hadn't walked it in a few years, but I'm struggling with some tough issues and it was wonderful to go back to it.