Doing a bit of networking here for my brother. He has been living in Fairbanks for a couple of years (before that, he lived in Dillingham). His wife just got a job in Pennsylvania and they will be reluctantly selling their beloved cabin in the woods and relocating next month.
If you happen to be looking for just such a spot, go check out their website about the house. It's really quite lovely with the most stunning views!
Most of you have probably at least heard of the "Good Samaritan." It's a phrase that gets watered down in popular culture to refer to a nice or generous or helpful person. Maybe someone who makes a personal sacrifice to help someone else. But the "Good Samaritan" is quite a bit more than just a general do-gooder.
The parable of the Samaritan is actually Jesus's answer to a trick question from his audience:
<i>Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’
He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’
And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’
But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?</i>
"Wanting to justify himeself--" in other words, looking for an out; looking for an easy rule of thumb; a clear, bright line between someone he must love and someone it would be okay to ignore. Jesus then tells the story of the Samaritan. You can read it at the link above but basically, a nice, presumeably Jewish man falls among bandits while travelling and is left by them for dead. Three people walk by and see him there. Two are fine upstanding, good, holy men. They make excuses not to stop and pass on their way. The third is a Samaritan--someone belonging to a group of people related to the fine upstanding Jews of Jesus's time, but spurned by them for supposedly abandoning the proper way and mixing with other, non-Jews. Samaritans weren't Gentiles and they weren't Jews. The Jews of Jesus's crowd thought they were the worst sort of people because they <i>ought</i> to be good Jews but failed.
So the man on the road and the Samaritan were pretty much supposed to depise each other. Like Palestinians and Israelis; like the KKK and the SCLC; like Newt Gingrich and Hillary Clinton. Furthermore, Jesus's audience is on one particular side of this split--the anti-Samaritan side. The "Good Samaritan" is called "good" specifically because Samaritans are generally presumed bad. He's supposed to be unusual for a Samaritan.
After the story ends, Jesus asks his questioner, "who acted as a neighbor to the man on the road?" The Samaritan of course.
And there is the answer to "who is my neighbor?" The answer is, "whoever needs your help, perhaps most especially if that person hates you and is your sworn enemy and/or vice-versa."
As far as I'm concerned, this story pretty much speaks for itself, as Jesus intended it to do. But if you understand Jesus as a reformer of the religion into which he was born (one among many at a time of great upheaval, multiple reforms, branchings and splittings) is that Jesus is also speaking into that context. Here is where I think this passage is related to the one I wrote about last Sunday--the one I told you came from a longer piece addressing (and hoping but failing to prevent) a schism in the early Church. The point Jesus is making is that stupid stuff that divides people in deathly rivalries has nothing at all to do with what he calls "the Kingdom of Heaven." Who the heck cares whether someone picks wheat and eats it on the Sabbath, even without ritually cleansing their hands? Who, especially, cares if someone keeps the Sabbath perfectly but leaves a fellow human being dying on the side of the road?
The point is that there is not "justification" for leaving anyone out of the category "neighbor." Everyone born under the sun counts. Everyone. Including the person you are absolutely certain doesn't count. In fact, that person is at the top of the list. <a href="https://twinklelittlestar.typepad.com/letter/2007/12/two-questions-u.html">See Lisa on a eerily connected topic)</a>
This is another "hard teaching." How do I accept that the most forgotten, most thrown-away people are my neighbors, given to me by God to love as I love myself? How well do I love myself when I shut down the compassion that would let me love them?
I do see this passage as a call to love ourselves. But loving myself is not the same thing as giving myself an easy out.
These days in particular, I am trying to learn to love myself as much as I love my children. Because my love for my children is ultimately only as perfect or as flawed as my love for myself. I can't feel real compassion for them when I am afraid to open my selfup to the feelings I would teach them to embrace. On a simpler scale, I can't patiently prepare their meals when I'm have a moody blood sugar drop myself (I wish I could get this once and for all, it seems I have to remind myself to eat every day!).
I don't think these various personal reforms (learning to love myself, learning to love my children, learning to love the unlikliest of my neighbors) are tiered or prioritized. In other words, I don't have to be perfect at one before I can move on to the next. That would be a great excuse, wouldn't it? "Sorry, neighbor, I'm too busy learning to properly love myself, I'll get to you when I've mastered that!"
In fact, loving--through action, however grudgingly offered--my neighbors (whether friendly ones like my kids or less friendly ones like the telemarketers who call at 8 pm on week nights) is an exercise of my love muscles that ultimately helps me love myself better, too. I can practice on anyone, any time. I'm not saying I do this well, or at all half the time. But if I remember that encounters with my neighbors are "love exercises" that will eventually benefit me, I tend to make it through the day with a better attitude.
Keeping in mind last week's passage, that "God is love" well, wow. Added to the lessons of this passage, I start to think that God only has a fighting chance of having any effect on this world when we offer God to one another through the practice of love, whether we always "feel" it, or not.
I'm not talking about martyrdom, here! If you are thinking that's what I mean, please return to the bit above about cooking for others when your blood sugar is dropping. Martyrdom is rarely love, it's usually a selfish attempt to make oneself the center of attention. If you're just a pretty happy, well-fed person yourself, you don't get to be the big dramatic, suffering star of the show. There's time and energy to put your love into practice.
It seems more to me like a balancing act that is in constant motion and needing constant adjustment. Not easy. But when I think "love my neighbor as myself" it helps me adjust the balance. Maybe I think "geez, poor neighbor!" and I know I need to attend to myself. Maybe I think "geez, I guess I could forego the new dress I have nowhere to wear anyway and buy a bag of groceries for the food drive." The passage helps me balance.
And when I'm absolutely sure that someone is definitely, certainly, could not possibly be my neighbor...that's when the little bell in my head goes "ding!ding!ding!" and I have something to chew on for a while.
She will be three at the end of February. She is starting to read phonetically. Not with skill and ease and not with comprehension or consistency, but still.
Caveat: I have no interest in having a 2-year old who can read. In fact everything I've read says woe unto the early reading child and woe unto the early-reading-pushing parent. They burn out. They all catch up by age 6 or 7 anyway and earliness in reading provides no lasting benefit for later intellectual development.
But Nat is just a fan of letters (and numbers, I'd add--she can count like the dickens and is nailing about 25% of the skills in a kindergarten math curriculum book I bought--again, by my casual assessment, not because I've been "teaching" her). She is also a fan of a new Sprout show I intensely dislike because of what I consider bad music, bad animation and bad pedagogy. But it's one of those "teach-little-kids-phonics" shows and it's seems to be, er, um, teaching her phonics. You know, along with Sesame Street, Reading Between the Lions and other "educational" kids programming. Because like I said and will say again, I'm not "teaching" her to read myself.
Nat likes more age-appropriate language activities too, like pretend-reading books she has memorized (which includes "reading" her favorite memorized story out of any gosh-darned book at hand). Before nap or bed, I read to her, then she takes the book and "reads" back to me. We focus a lot on what's going on in the pictures. We focus a lot on how fun books and reading are. There is no pressure.
See how defensive I am about it? I am really defensive about it. I don't care if she doesn't read until she's ten!!!
But gee whiz, she seems to be kind of picking it up at two. And I can't help but go "wow" a little. Just a teensy bit down in my heart of hearts.
I started to realize this only in the last week or so. I didn't know she knew all the phonemes of the letters, but lo and behold, she started picking refrigerator magnets off of Donita's refrigerator at a play date and announcing "Letter T! t-t-t! Letter B! b-b-b! Letter S! ssss...." and on and on and pretty much on from A to Z. Now she will announce, "let's spell [fill in the blank]" and tell me the beginning sound, then the beginning letter of the word. She will go (with a little encouragement) right on through all the sounds of a word as I write the letters until we've spelled it together. And she can reverse this process by pointing to letters in a word, announcing each sound and "sounding out" the word.
Sometimes, she guesses a word kind of close in sound to the right one and gets it wrong. Like the label on our sink. "K-O-H-L-E-R!" she'll declare excitedly, "Cole-Mom!" Um, darn close, there, kid.
She named a stuff dog someone gave her a month ago "Kika." This was a weird mystery because she never names anything. Her babies are all called "baby" or "doll" and her animals are "elephant," "cat," "bear," etc. We told her her bedtime pal was "Baker" having named him ourselves after a woman who owns a dog-biscuit bakery gave him to her. But when someone asked her the new dog's name, "Kika!" she said with absolute certainty. Later I noticed the dog has a prominent I.D. tag around his neck that reads "Ike." I started to wonder...could "Kika" be a sort of anagram for "Ike?" Had she tried to read Ike and come up with Kika?
Cue Twilight Zone theme here.
So homeschooling Nat is beginning to look like it's going to consist of throwing books her way and waiting to see what will happen. Sure, I have started to say, "yep that's a big letter P, what sound does P make?" when Nat points out the public parking signs in town. Sure I follow her interest casually. But I am not about to sit my two-year old down and make her study hooked-on-phonics or whatnot.
1, 2 and 3 John got me in trouble once. In a New Testament class at seminary, we had a long lecture about these texts and their portrayal of a big fight within the early Church about what was real Christianity and what was heresy and the rift it caused. When the time came to raise our hands and question the lecturer, I raised mine, and instead of continuing the theme of my classmates (and professors) of how important it is to draw bright lines between orthodoxy and heterodoxy, I said "maybe the whole thing is an example of what not to do, seeing as it all fell apart in the end. Perhaps we should take this as a lesson and refrain from worrying about who's in and who's out."
To get the full effect of what happened next, I need to tell you that it was a required 101-type course and 200 people were in the class with me. I need to further mention that I came in late, couldn't find a seat and had settled in a window sill.
200 heads turned at once and scowled at me while 200 voices murmured in low, disapproving tones.
But all that aside, I do love this first lesson of the story (whether the original audience learned the lesson or not). When in doubt about nearly anything, I remind myself that God is love:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love...
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us...
You can see the entire passage by clicking my link above, but the ellipses cover what is no doubt key to the writer, that the gift of Jesus Christ is proof of God's love. Yet, I don't think that one must believe in Jesus Christ to be called out by this passage. Even in the passage, Jesus is an example of God's love, not the sole substance of it.
In fact, the passage here and further on insists that our only real touchstone for the love of God is each other. And that is the part that strikes me as most important:
Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
"Liars" is pretty strong language to use for people who claim to love God and "hate" their fellow human beings. Who among us doesn't sometimes feel tempted to hate someone? Ouch. Just seeing GW Bush's face on the screen makes me want to throw a brick through my t.v. And to do it makes a liar of me if I claim to love God? Tricky. Pesky. "A hard teaching" one of Jesus's lunk-headed disciples might say. But there it is.
I am cutting and pasting this poor text to death, because really this bit comes between the two passages above, but I wanted to talk about it last because it is another very helpful thing for me to remember when I am uncertain about the right or the wrong of any given decision in life:
God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them...
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us.
"There is no fear in love." So there is no fear in God. Fear it seems is love's opposite, God's opposite. Not hate so much as fear. After all what is hate but fear? To have fear is perhaps not always uncalled-for. But I gather from this passage that we will find God within the act of moving through and past our fear, we will find courage in God. And I also gather from this passage that to willfully cause fear in others, to terrorize or threaten them is evil.
This is useful to me because many times I fear doing the right thing. Many times, our society tells us that there is something we all ought to get together and fear and perhaps gang up on. Some of the worst evil seems to occur when we heed that fear, eventually letting it lead people to turn around and terrorize those they fear.
So we are called to love one another because this is the only way we can begin to know God. We are called to be courageous in the face of fear, knowing that the love of God will lead us to good things, even when following its call is scary.
Today we are headed to Chicago to spend some time with Mama Fern. We do this from time to time and I will tell you that it can be scary. Not "ohmygodwhatifshestealsthebaby"-scary, but getting to know someone across gulfs and gulfs of difference-scary. And yet we feel quite strongly that it couldn't be more the right thing to continue cultivating and nurturing this relationship.
Long ago when NaBloPoMo was rising from the primordial ooze, sster asked me:
I'd like to see some posts on how you locate yourself within feminism, as a woman, lesbian, stay-at-home mother, partner, etc., or any other matrix through which you see yourself engaged with feminism.
There is a very short, very simple answer to this question. Then there's the answer that sster and the rest of you probably want to hear. but the shorter, simpler one is more true for me, so I'm going to give you that first and tell you right now that it is the only answer that matters to me and everything else is just details.
Short, simple answer: I define feminism as the belief that women are fully human. Given that belief, pretty much anything one does is done within a matrix of feminism.
I arrive at this definition of feminism by way of a few important moments in my life:
-- My Catholic girls' school in which the word "feminism" was never spoken to my memory because it was quite unnecessary to speak it, as it was the soup we all swam in daily. Everything that happened there assumed feminism. We were taught to say the Lord's Prayer "Our Mother..." No one said this was a feminist choice, it was just the logical choice in a women and girls' community--and I'll add, a feminist men's community as many wonderful male teachers who believed women and girls were fully human taught there with clear commitments to that belief.
-- My first year of college, where I learned that the whole world wasn't like my high school and maybe sometimes you needed that word, "feminism" to clarify where you were coming from. Girls there called me this word in an attempt to make me less appealing to the boys in my social circle. Thus I encountered competition among women for the attention of men for the first time in my life and I was dumbfounded. It took me pretty much all of college to incorporate this into my sense of reality and to figure out how to live in such a world. The summer after my freshman year of college I read The Feminine Mystique, having gathered it was a sort of canonical text of this so-called "feminism" thing and what I learned was that sure, okay, I was a feminist. Well, duh!
-- Also in my first year of college, I read a lot of classic and antique texts for my honors program seminars and there I learned that certain church fathers had considered women to be "misbegotten men." That was my first glimpse into the idea that gender ideology naturalizes maleness and mark femaleness as "other." I suddenly started seeing how this idea was far from dead in contemporary culture.
-- When I decided to go to seminary, I thought I'd brush up on the subject of theology. I wasn't sure exactly what theology really was, so I decided to read something theological to lay some groundwork for what I'd learn. So I read Sexism and God Talk by Rosemary Radford Ruether. Just a little standard theology, you know. And she really covered a lot of history in that book--history of the way different ancient and modern traditions, religious, spiritual and philosophical have viewed women and their place in the cosmos and indeed, I laid myself quite the useful ground for seminary. I got into all kinds of trouble in seminary--especially in theology classes, ahem.
-- When I was teaching composition to first-year college students myself, I used a little essay from Katha Pollitt's collection, Reasonable Creatures. It was in the introduction I believe (it may have been the first chapter, I'm too lazy to go looking for it now), that she claimed that feminism is the radical idea that women are human. I thought of Aquinas and went "yeah."
So, being human and all, what I do with my life hardly matters. Anything I do is "feminist" in the sense that I claim full humanity with its good and bad and ugly; its justice and injustice; its kindness, its cruelty.
I think that many times when I see women getting into these arguments about what kind of life decisions and paths count as "feminist" and what kinds don't, what they're really talking about is whether and which choices further the cause of women's liberation. And that is a completely different question from whether a woman or her husband or her kids or her parents or her boss or her professors or her law partners believe women are human.
My response to the question of how I see feminism (women's liberation activism) in my life is that sometimes it is pretty strong and bold and obvious and active and sometimes it is lying there, not dormant exactly, but under the surface, waiting for the need or the opportunity to rise up. I think most decisions and life paths women choose can be used to further or to impede women's liberation. You can have a high-powered lawyer, doctor or politician who uses her power to disempower other women and this is especially so when you add to the matrix, class, race, region, religion and a number of other factors. You can have women with little power--mothers, nurses, teachers, let's say--who spend their days toiling away for the revolution, whether by teaching their students women's history, teaching their patients control over their own bodies and health or teaching their sons to cook and clean.
In my life, feminism is a given. Women's liberation is going to be a changing thing. Right now, I feel most interested in furthering the empowerment and recognition of the humanity of women like my daughters' first mothers. Because I find myself here at home, working for pay and for free, raising up smart, strong, confident baby women and teaching college kids and writing a blog and occasionally something more demanding than a blog, I am thinking all the time about how I can do these things within the assumption that we live in a universe in which poor women of color are fully human. I can do that in conversations with acquaintances about adoption, I can do it in teaching Zora Neale Hurston to working, adult single moms online, I can do it next semester by teaching ideologies of gender in the United States and how they are inflected by race and class. I can do it by creating an environment that leads my daughters to simply assume that they are fundamentally beautiful (yes, beautiful, because that's a liberation issue for Black women) and smart and worthy of God's love and the respect of all people.
Other women are going to be doing other things in other places. I dislike arguments about what everyone who desires justice ought to be doing the same. Because I firmly believe that for the real revolution to occur we are going to need everyone, everywhere doing everything.
Now, thank god November is over! Hope you all enjoyed it in spite of my many lame, lazy posts of the last week or so. Feel free to keep your questions coming. But I will answer them at a more leisurely pace hereafter.
We have been having tons of fun watching old Sesame Street shows on the Old School DVDs I got last weekend. Cole predates Sesame Street whereas I am a Sesame generation kid. I'm loving introducing it to her. She's loving watching me get all nostalgic. And in spite of the disclaimer that the shows are "for adults" and "may not meet the needs of today's preschool children" I figure it's better for Nat than a yellow pants-wearing porifera shrieking hyperactively.
It is now 7:45 pm and I am going to bed. That is how tired I am. But I am two days away from nailing NaBloPoMo and I'm not giving in now.
I know I owe sster a feminism post. I have just been too brain dead to think that hard. There may be feminist commentary in that alone, but I'll try to rest up and make it the grand finale...
I heard about the One Laptop Per Child program on the news. The idea is to get every child in the world a networkable laptop computer. I think it's a groovy idea. As a teacher, I don't necessarily think computers are more useful teaching tools than other things, but I do think that networkable computers are necessary for people to fully participate in power. So the idea of getting computers to kids who may not have running water appeals to me (not that getting them running water doesn't appeal to me too). The computers are durable and resistant to water, heat, humidity, and dropping.
Sounds appealing to the parent of a toddler, no?
So I was wishing I could get one for Nat, who suddenly wants to play "checking my email" all the time. I'd love to introduce her to computing without really letting her go anywhere near my beloved Mac. Just when I was starting to say this aloud, the news told me that the organization distributing these little guys has a clever way of getting donors for the program. You can get one, if you give one. For $400, you can buy two of them, donate one and keep the other. It's the only way you can get one and you can only do it until 31 December, or while supplies last, whichever comes first.
And this is what I'm planning to do with my jewelry money. I have about $150 now and I'm hoping to have the $400 before they run out. I don't need it for the holidays per se, and once I have it, I probably won't even give it to Nat until at least February (her 3rd birthday). So here I am, encouraging you to get one yourself (and thus give one) in spite of the fact that this puts you in competition with me to get one. And if you don't want to get one, you can help me do it by (bet you'll never guess!) buying some jewelry from me.