Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Poets and Poems: Jeannine Hall Gailey and “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter”

Growing up in mosquito-laden New Orleans, one of the periodic excitements in the neighborhood was the arrival of the fogging trucks. They would travel slowly down the street, spraying a fog of DDT. The truck’s appearance on the street was the excuse for an impromptu parade – 20 or 20 of us would run for our bikes and follow the fog in the truck’s wake.

It was the late 1950s, before Rachel Carson and the environmental movement, before thalidomide, a time when America believed it itself and in technology. Only later would we come to understand that technology is a two-edged sword. It can bring great good; it can also bring unintended and unexpected consequences. The fire of Prometheus brought warmth and light; it also brought destruction. Technology is never neutral.

Jeannine Hall Gailey grew up in one of the great centers of technology in America – Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Like its sister site at Los Alamos, New Mexico, Oak Ridge was a focus of America’s atomic energy program. Gailey’s father was a professor at the University of Tennessee, and a consultant at Oak Ridge.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Photograph by Derek Quantrell via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, March 30, 2015

So Many Christians, So Few Lions: So Where is This Taking Us?

Last week, in my discussion of So Many Christians, So Few Lions: Is There Christianophobia in the United States by George Yancey and David Williamson, I mentioned “objectifying,” the process by which people hostile to Christians essentially dehumanize them. This is not a theoretical issue; virtually every genocide has it roots in dehumanizing groups or culture. Hitler and Goebbels did this with the Jews; it happened in Rwanda and Bosnia; one could even argue it happened with the American Indians, with the Australian aborigines, and with African-Americans from slavery times onward.  

Objectifying people can have deadly consequences.

This doesn’t mean I think that journalists, movie stars, executives at the Ford Foundation, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, and George Soros are ready to herd conservative Christians into concentration camps. That sentiment would be objectifying people hostile to Christians.

What is clear, however, is this: the (largely successful) attempts to push Christian influence to the very margins of society, and preferably to eliminate it from the public sphere altogether, will continue and probably intensify. In certain areas, like the universities, people with view contrary to the prevailing ones will find themselves more and more isolated and cut off. Students with conservative Christian views will be stigmatized. Parents who object to their public school children being propagandized will find themselves suspect, talked about, and marginalized, usually in some condescending manner.

These things are happening now.

Politics isn’t much better. The Republican Party needs the votes of conservative Christians, but many party leaders want nothing to do with what conservative Christians care about. The Democratic Party is not interested in those votes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it may be a good thing. Our Christian faith is not defined by politics or parties, or by whom we vote for. At least it shouldn’t be. It’s also not defined by who wins elections, or by the next boneheaded editorial in the newspaper, or by Hollywood glorifying some behavior that is wrong (Hollywood has been doing that for a very long time).

What the culture doesn’t understand is that it’s become “the culture.” And it’s conservative Christians who have become “the counter-culture.”

Whenever and wherever Christianity has worked best, it has always been countercultural. That’s how Christianity started – as a countercultural influence against first the established Jewish religion in Judea and Galilee and eventually against the Roman Empire. Jesus did not lead an armed rebellion against the Jewish rulers, and the early Christians did not lead an armed rebellion against Rome. Instead of armed rebellions, the tactics involved ministering to people.

The two areas that seem to me to hold the most promise are the inner city and the arts.

Fifty years after the United States embarked upon a quest to eradicate poverty, we have the disaster zones known as the inner cities.  When I worked for St. Louis Public Schools, I spent a lot of time in areas of the inner city that I hadn’t even known existed, like an elementary school with security doors and video surveillance, and barbed wire and bars on the windows through the second story. It sat by itself in a sea of empty lots, houses and community long destroyed. The student turnover rate was 110 percent annually.

Opportunity abounds in this place, in all kinds of ways.

The second area is the arts, but not if we keep them in the Christian ghetto. Initiatives are happening all over, like the International Arts Movement championed by Makoto Fujimura. It reaches into a number of cities, and it can reach into even more. The online poetry site I work with, Tweetspeak Poetry, is staffed largely by people of the Christian faith but who focus on things of beauty, value, and worth.

And we pray. We pray for our communities, and we pray for the people who are hostile to us. Regularly praying for people is a good way to avoid objectifying them.

And we can do that.

Start by reading this book. It’s important.

Related: Yesterday, So Many Christians co-author George Yancey posted an article in online Christianity Today entitled “What Christianophobia Looks Like in America.”

Illustration: Golden Sea by Makoto Fujimura (2011), mineral pigments and gold on kumohada, collection of Roberta and Howard Ahmanson.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A city consumed, drowning

(after Romans 8:18-25)

A city consumed, drowning
 in moans, streets
weeping, buildings
a saturation of pain wrapping
itself as gutters fill, tears

we weep, anticipating
an end, a beginning
either / both

we anticipate
what we do not know

stumbling on slick
sidewalks, we wait
for sunrise, dawn

the morning.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

Found under a parking lot a few centuries after his death, Richard III was reburied this week, and Carol Anne Duffy wrote an official poem for him. Peggy Rosenthal discovered doctors prescribing poems. There’s nothing like a writer to insult other writers, and an Aussie did an infographic to show how. And Andrew Solomon in The New Yorker has some advice for young writers that could apply not just to the young.


The Healing Arts: Doctors Prescribing Poems – Peggy Rosenthal at Image Journal.

Doulas – Seth Haines.

Body Treatment – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

A Lament for Lost Words – Malcom Guite.

This World’s Work – John Blase at The Beautiful Due.

Every Prison Has Its Chapel – Diane Walker at Contemplative Photography.

Richard III on the occasion of his reburial – Carol Anne Duffy via The Guardian. And at the service at Leicester Cathedral, the poem is read by actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

A Poet's Purpose - Natasha Head at The Tashtoo Parlour.


When Papa Comes Running – Sandra Heska King for Jumping Tandem.



Hospitality and the Holy Imagination – Zach Franzen for Amongst Lovely Things.

The Middle of Things: Advice for Young Writers – Andrew Solomon at The New Yorker (Hat tip to Lyla Lindquist).


Ten interesting facts about the London Blitz you may not know - Londontopia.


Birds of Paradise – Timothy Good at Photography by Tiwago.


Famous Writers’ Insults – Infographic by Aussie Writer.

“Here We Go” by Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors.

Top photograph by Rostislav Kralik via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Washing the pain

He washed and scrubbed
to end the pain,
to force the pain out
away, washing to make
the pain vanish

he could not wash
the pain
he could not

without hope he
could not wash
the pain away

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kazuo Ishiguro’s “The Buried Giant”

Some books you read just click with you and your psyche. Others take time, and persistence, to grasp and understand. Still others you grapple with and wrestle with and sometimes force yourself to read, but you never really believe the story. And then there are those you begin to read and discover they’re lousy.

I fell in love with The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro almost from the first page.

He’s the author of several novels and others works, but I had only previously read the novel Never Let Me Go and Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall (I reviewed Nocturnes here in 2011). I have not read what is his best known work, The Remains of the Day, but I did see the movie, starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson (1993).

But The Buried Giant is something else entirely, a story of post-Arthurian Britain that is an unusual love story, a journey to find a son, a tale of intrigue and conspiracy, and ultimately a beautifully done essay on memory.

Axl and his wife Beatrice are elderly Britons, living what is inside a hollowed-out hill in community with other Britons. The Romans abandoned the country many years before, but locals still find their ruined country houses and other buildings. One wave of Saxons has arrived, and peace, if uneasy, exists between the Saxons and the Britons.

The couple can remember they had a son, but not much more than that. In fact, everyone’s memory seems to suffer, and it’s not a result of age for memory loss afflicts the young as well. Eventually Axl and Beatrice leave their community to find their son.

They first stop in a Saxon village, and find the villagers in great agitation. An ogre has carried off a village boy of 12 named Edwin. He’s rescued by a visiting warrior named Wistan, but the villagers discover the buy has a bite mark on his stomach, and it is not the mark of the ogre. To save the boy’s life from his own village, Wistan convinces Axl and Beatrice to take the boy with them, and Wistan joins them as well. Wistan is something of a mystery, on a quest for something he doesn’t disclose.

Along the way they encounter an aging Sir Gawain, he of Arthur’s Roundtable; they take refuge in a monastery where they find friends and enemies. They gradually learn what is causing the problem with people’s memories. And, yes, there’s even a dragon.

Kazuo Ishiguro
The relationship of Axl and Beatrice are the heart of the story, and the reason the novel hooked me from the beginning. Their love for each other is palpable; Axl refers to his wife as “Princess.” They are on a journey together, and as time passes they are remembering things about each other, not all of them good. But their love is steadfast, and of all the things “the buried giant” could refer to, I finally decided it was the love between this aging and sometimes infirm couple.

It’s a beautiful story, filled with a bit of both literal and figurative magic (Merlin hasn’t been gone that long, after all). In a culture where everything is changing – the last vestiges of Roman rule disappearing, the threat of more Saxons and other tribes coming, the breakdown of law and order before the rise of feudalism, it is the love of two elderly people that holds fast.

Top photograph: An early 7th-century Anglo-Saxon helmet from the burial ship found at Sutton Hoo.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Prophet of Why, God?

She loses her hair. She gets mouth sores and receding gums. Anemia, fatigue and rashes become familiar companions, as does irritable bowel syndrome. She loses her toenails. Not to mention the pain that’s never far away.

Dealing, or perhaps simply trying to endure and outlast the side effects of chemotherapy for her breast cancer, Margaret Feinberg gets a phone call.

One hundred days after her breast cancer was confirmed, she learns her father has also been diagnosed with cancer. Her mother now has both a husband and her only child dealing with cancer.

Does this sound like Job?

Feinberg didn’t turn to Job. As she describes in Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fears, she turns to the prophet Habakkuk.

Like several of his fellow prophets, Habakkuk could be called “the prophet of why, God?”

The Lord tells Habakkuk that Babylon will be used to bring judgment on Judah. And yet the book doesn’t describe all the terrible things that will happen.

Here’s what Feinberg learns: “Unlike other Old Testament prophets, Habakkuk doesn’t speak God’s Word to us as much as he speaks our words to God. He voices our doubts and disappointments. He enunciates that which leaves us puzzled and perplexed. Like us, he caves in to the temptation to tell God how to do a better job.”

Why, God?

What are you thinking here, God?

Exactly what is the point, God?

God, I’m waiting. Are you listening?

Habakkuk complains. And the Lord answers. Habakkuk complains again. And the Lord answers again. The third time, Habakkuk doesn’t complain. Instead, he prays.

As Feinberg notes in her book, the prayer is rather remarkable. It comes down to this: no matter what happens, I will rejoice. I can starve, but I will rejoice. I don’t understand Your ways, but I will rejoice. Always.

That’s the point Feinberg comes to. No matter what, she will rejoice.

And she does. She even gets reprimanded for singing a hymn while getting an MRI.

She was supposed to stay still, but rejoicing people have difficulty with that.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Fight Back with Joy. To see more posts on this chapter, “The Side of Joy No One Talks About,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.