Monday, March 23, 2009

More music troubles

I am bugged. Why?

1. Why would a stake conference (not just our stake, but the whole region) be scheduled for Easter Sunday? We would never do anything like that for Christmas Sunday, and isn't Easter just as important a religious holiday as Christmas?

2. The music for stake conference will not be our Easter hymns. The only chance we get to sing them, but we won't be able to. However, on Mother's Day, we will get to sing Love at Home, and the first week in July, we will sing patriotic hymns. I don't understand why we can't sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today--one of the best songs in the entire hymnbook--for stake conference. Instead, we have to sing I Know That My Redeemer Lives, which in my opinion is oversung, at least in our ward.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

African American History Month

February is long gone, but I have just finished my African American reading project. I read Their Eyes Were Watching God in January and that inspired me to do some more reading.

The non-fiction choices were mostly busts. The Shipler book was overwhelmingly large, and the intro didn’t draw me in. Combine that with my sister in town and the non-negotiable inter-library loan due date, and I didn’t give it much of a chance at all. Sorry Maryanne!

I tried a book on race and institutional churches in the US written by sociologists—they suggest that multiracial congregations are an answer to race problems in the country--but found it uninteresting.

And then, I started Mauss’s treatise on changing racial conceptions in Mormonism. It was dense, and I didn’t have the time to commit to it, so it also went back to the library when it came due. I'll have to try that one again later.

The other non-fiction that I tried went down a little bit better. There was the recently published memoir of a girl not much older than me that grew up in a rich California suburb, surrounded by white neighbors. And I read a lot of Du Bois’s sociological classic The Souls of Black Folks.

The fiction that I read:

Toni Morrison’s Beloved. An amazing story about the long lasting effects of slavery. Morrison has a complicated writing style in this book, and the story slowly unravels from the present to the past and then back again until all the pieces are put together. Sethe was born into slavery, and then as a young woman, escaped. But, she is plagued by the memories of life on Sweet Farm, as well as the ghost of her dead daughter. I wish I would have known that there was a supernatural/fantastical aspect to the story. I kept waiting for the mystery of the identity of Beloved to resolve in some logical way, but it never did. I plan to read more Morrison.

Lalita Tademy’s Cane River. The back story behind this one is most fascinating. Tademy was working as a high powered executive in the Bay area when she became obsessed with her family history. This book is the fictionalized account of 4 generations of women, starting with Elizabeth, who were born into slavery on the Cane River in Creole Louisiana. In the introduction, Tademy describes the way that she felt these four women, and in particular her great-grandmother Philomene, urging her on in her research and writing and in the desire that she felt to tell their stories. I would like to read the memoir version of this. Several of these women had white fathers, to the effect of "the bleaching of the color-line" in the words of one of the family matriarchs. Although in many cases, these men provided land and money for their families, they were legally prevented from giving land to their children or marrying their children's mother. In the story of Tademy's grandmother Emily, this leads to a particularly tragic end.

Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Like Beloved, a Pulitzer winner. I didn't like this one nearly as much, but enjoyed the voice of Celie. The book in written in the form of letters, so Celie's voice is the only one the reader gets to hear for the first half of the book. Then, we get some letters from Nettie, Celie's sister, to provide a contrasting voice. This is a story about the redeeming power of love, friendship, and writing. My favorite line: "I'm poor, I'm black, I may be ugly... but I'm here."

and A Raisin in the Sun, the play by Lorraine Hansberry. I saw a production of this on Friday night, and was so taken with it that I went and got the script so that I could read it. This is the story of a three-generation family in Chicago in the 1950's. The grandmother Lina is the head of the household and the play begins with her about to receive $10,000 insurance money from the death of her husband. The title is taken from Langston Hughes' poem, which wonders about what happens to deferred dreams. In the play, various family member struggle to fulfill their dreams, often to the detriment of each other. And in particular, the drama concerns the battle for the soul and identity of Lina's son, Walter Jr. From a NYTimes review of a 25th anniversary (1983) production:
She (Hansberry) posed all her concerns in a work that portrayed a black family with a greater realism and complexity than had ever been previously seen on an American stage. A writer of unlimited compassion, Miss Hansberry believed that all people must be measured, as she put it, by both their "hills and valleys."

This is a story about redemption and love.

I really liked hearing the distinct voices of black women in these stories. The women portrayed are often poor and seen as basically worthless by society, or at least suspicious characters. Their color alone made them worthy of dismissal at best, abuse at worst. Yet, the authors give life to their stories and make them three dimensional human beings, with dreams and agency and hard times too.

A couple of other general thoughts:

Hierarchy. In these works, white, rich men in these works hold the most power. Black poor women the least. If a black woman has a lighter shade of skin, she is higher up on the ladder than a woman with darker skin. Lighter black women shouldn't marry darker black men. What is it in human nature that makes us so often order everyone?

Empathy. If I had to theorize, I would have said that those people who have been excluded or oppressed by others would be more likely to have empathy for others that are excluded or oppressed. But, that is not necessarily the case, at least here. People who have been dominated and oppressed want to also dominate and exclude. In Baszile's memoir, she recounts a story from her childhood. Once she and her sister became accepted in their neighborhood, they used their social power to exclude another child. Du Bois's essays are full of the way that black men have been emasculated. The language is male-centric. Although he wants black men to be the social and legal equals of white men, he doesn't think that black women should be the equals of black men. (This was also shown in Ulrich's book: abolitionists did not automatically jump on the bandwagon for women's rights.)

Hair. In Baszile's book, the measures black women go to to straighten their hair are incredible. Hair comes up in Raisin too. The character from Africa calls treated hair "mutilated" and the lye treatment Baszile describes does seem like a kind of torture.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

This weekend

I'm on the verge of going away. I'm leaving my family to go to a nice hotel. I am going to a play, a museum, a bookstore, and to some nice dining establishments. I am bringing lots of reading material (that I just got in the mail today!!! Thank you efficient BYU Bookstore. It made me happy that whoever filled my order put it in a BYU Bookstore bag). I have a map. And I'm bringing my laptop so that I can write about all the things I've been thinking about and reading about. Where is this location? Downtown. I'm going downtown, 20 miles away. But, I am going all by myself to do whatever I want to do for 24+ hours. I am so excited! The forecast for tomorrow is 56 and sunny, so I can walk everywhere I want to go. Could it be more perfect? Remember, it's only mid-March in Minnesota, and that means spring is usually still a good 6 weeks away. Amazingly, it will be the first time since baby Z was born that I will be away from him. And I love my AJ for pushing me to do this.
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Speaking of Faith on Depression

I have just been listening to the recently rebroadcast Speaking of Faith episode entitled The Soul in Depression. This should be required listening for all who suffer from depression and for those who seek to help someone in depression. Very poignant and penetrating insights.
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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vintage T

We had spaghetti for dinner, and I remembered when T was about one and we got this shot of him. Is Ragu all natural?
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No Lost...

I was a bit depressed yesterday because Lost had the week off. I have rhythms that revolve around Lost. The diversion on Wednesdays is the perfect mid-week break. And all of my blog crawling afterwards to put the pieces together after an episode is thrilling. And highly anticipated.

Oh, well. Next week.

In the meantime, is this not awesome or what? An Ace of Cakes Hurley figure. I found the pic on Jorge Garcia's blog with a post about the cake they made for the 100th episode of Lost.

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More first birthday

A card from big brother: "Happy Birthday Zane---No Being Loud" (Not sure where that came from, but I like the sentiment)

One of AJ's famous birthday cakes. I am trying to get him to take the Wilton cake decorating class at Michaels. Just think what he could create if he learned how to do fondant.

The birthday boy was reserved the whole night. I don't think he knew what to make of everything.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

1st Birthday, Decorations by Auntie Mel

My sister spent the week with us. Among the many things she did while she was here was to hand make amazing decorations for Baby Z's first birthday. I think she should give them to all the little people in our family who will be turning one this year because they were so perfect.

Party flags with Baby Z's face on them

A happy birthday banner

Birthday hats with a crown for the birthday boy

A close up of a hat and flag

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More on My Life With the Saints

Well, I haven't finished this yet, but I need to return to the library stat. It is several days overdue, but because superdesign sister was in town last week, I didn't have much time to read or do anything else except to make my house prettier. More on that later. I'll have to finish this book another time. Each chapter--a profile of a saint with the author's experiences woven in--can stand alone, so it will be easy to pick up again.

Mormons look down on the Catholic practice of sainthood and praying to saints. As a missionary, I heard it compared to idol worship. Mormons believe in only praying to God the Father. But, I like Martin's introduction which explains his relationship to and feelings about saints.

First, he describes them as models of discipleship, each one individual, with a unique mission. "Each saint was holy in his or her unique way, revealing how God celebrates individuality. As CS Lewis writes in Mere Christianity: 'How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: how gloriously different are the saints.' " As Martin learned about the lives of the saints, he studied not only their miracles and saintliness, but also their foibles and struggles, which in turn encouraged him in his weaknesses.

He also describes the saints as companions who can encourage us along the way. "Why not accept the gift of their friendship and devotion? And there's no reason to feel as if devotion to the saints somehow takes away from your devotion to Jesus: everything the saints say and do is centered on Christ and points us in his direction."

In some ways, his view of saints reminds me of how Mormons think about angels (except that there aren't nearly as many famous angels for Mormons as there are saints for Catholics). But Mormons believe that there are people who work for our benefit beyond the veil of earth, who can help us and comfort us, and who we could even talk to. We wouldn't call this praying to them, but prayer is a form of communication.

Here are a few other things that I liked from this book.

From a prayer by Thomas Merton:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

St Ignatius detailed a way of praying called the examination of conscience or the examen, after the Spanish word Ignatius used. He describes this way of communicating with God as a prayer of awareness, that helps God's presence to be more noticed in everyday life. These are the five steps.

1. Ask God to be with you
2. Recall the events of the day for which you feel grateful. These can be anything--small or large. "Offering gratitude help you recognize God's presence in these moments."
3. A review of the day. "Here you try to notice God's presence in the day, seeking an awareness of where you accepted (or did not accept) God's grace. I like to think of this as a movie of the day being replayed. When you recall someone offering you a kind work, you might say to yourself, "Yes, there was God." Conversely, when you recall treating someone with disrespect, you might say, "Yes, there I turned away from God."
4. Asking for forgiveness of any sins
5. Asking for the grace to follow God more closely during the following day.

Martin profiles quite a few saints, and a lot of them are women, including Joan of Arc, Mary, Dorothy Day, and Mother Teresa among other. I like that saints can be women as well as men, and I liked the stories he told about them.

A good read. I was impressed and inspired multiple times in reading what I did.

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