The New York Times issues a list, weekly, of their
most-emailed stories. They are usually great reads.
Now they’ve issued a list of top ten for 2007. It includes
recipes, an op-ed by Stephen Colbert, and, of course, a piece by Michael Pollan. But
number one? Amagazine piece by Viriginia Heffernan about the newly released “vintage” Sesame Street episodes, in which it is
revealed that some content is now deemed inappropriate for small children.
I read this story in the magazine weeks ago and thought
about blogging on it. Advent got in the way, but it struck me as a great
commentary on the assumptions we make about children and what they need—then and now. Then, Cookie
Monster was just every three-year-old’s id
in action, no impulse control and lovable for it. Now, he is a reformed sugar
addict who advises us to eat our carrots too. Then, Alistair Cookie had a pipe.
Now, kids’ parents don’t watch Masterpiece Theater either, so the whole thing makes no sense. Then, Snuffleupagus was simply an oversized imaginary friend; now, we are too worried that parents seem out of touch, so he’s
visible to anyone.
What’s fascinating is how this story is the TOP NYTimes story of the
whole year! Who are these people reading this and passing it on? Gen X’ers
like me who learned to read via Muppets? My parents’ generation trying to
figure out their grandkids? Incredulous Gen Y’ers who can’t believe that Elmo
wasn’t begotten of eternal God? I’m not sure what this story’s popularity means
for the country, but it's a fascinating window into who reads the Times.
I love lists, and every year I resolve to read some of the
top picks from the New York Times Book Review list of “ten best.” I am usually
a year or two behind on these “best of” books (as you'll see below), and I
don’t read nearly enough to justify generating my own list of top ten
recommendations. But here are the ones that resonated with my year. (I feel churlish, of course, leaving out some of the best fiction, but in terms of influence on my life, this is where I was this year. . .)
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
beginning of 2007 was marked by a number of deaths, many of them tragic,
touching me, my congregation, and my clergy colleagues.
Joan Didion’s memoir of her husband’s sudden
death and the ensuing grief is the best window I’ve seen into what death does
to the heart and mind of a mourner. Absolutely a must read for anyone trying to
understand the grieving.
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan
been a fan of Michael Pollan’s journalism on food production and its political
and environmental implications, but this book blew me away. I learned
more than I ever wanted to about what is wrong with our relationship with food
and farms in this country, but I also felt affirmed in taking a basically human
approach to what I personally eat. Yes, what we eat is political. But we are
cultural, social beings as well, and Pollan never loses sight of the many roles
food plays in our lives. This book was a tremendous comfort as I sorted through
some new health issues in my life and experimented with some nutritional
solutions for them. Pollan has some spirited defenses of food as food (which I
expect we’ll hear more of in his new release in January), not as a list of
nutritional elements, and his writing kept me from feeling like I’d stepped out
into a netherworld of supplements and ingredient lists.
Summer: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
What can I
say? Our high school youth mission trip departed the morning after Book 7 was
released, and I spent a week with teenagers absorbed in a 700-plus page
book. I didn’t get around to reading it
myself until August, but I enjoyed it and look forward to the day my own kids
will read these books. Rowling is no
J.R.R. Tolkien, but ultimately her tale is also one of redeeming love. What’s
not to like?
Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles
itchy at work lately, trying to move my congregation to think about its mission differently,
and struggling to help Baby Boomers understand that their own issues with faith
don’t necessarily resonate with younger generations. Sara Miles’ memoir of her
own conversion to Christianity and involvement in food pantries is one I’ve
been passing around. For socially concerned Christians who usually find
themselves reacting against the fundamentalisms of their own childhood, Miles’
fresh lens on the church brings new clarity about the treasures and the
pitfalls of life in community that we so take for granted. Here is a woman who
wasn’t put off by Holy Communion, but actually drawn to Christianity by it, and saw in it a calling to share bread with all God’s children. Her account of her marriage to her partner at San Francisco’s city
hall, though a sidelight to the main narrative, brought me to tears.
What's next for 2008? Expect to see more fiction (I have a sabbatical coming up!) and something about China, where I'll be traveling in July.
At my congregation we are wrapping up our series on the St. John's prints with, of course, John 1. I'm not the world's biggest fan of John, on the whole, but chapter one cannot be beat. The trouble is, it's very difficult to say anything ABOUT it, because talking about poetry is as hard as talking about music.
Likewise, there is much about the Incarnation that is best left to poets and musicians. As soon as we get into heavy discussions of historicity, we've lost much of the beauty of it. God's intention, as far as I'm concerned, far outweighs the mechanics of how Christ came into the world. (And while I don't want to reduce John 1 to a "point," that does seem to be one of them).
One interesting reading of John 1 (thanks, Mary Hinkle Shore) puts the phrase "he gave power to become the children of God" at the center of this chapter. God's gift, the telos of this incarnation, is to make us children of God. It's an intriguing reading, one I want to follow for December 30, because we also have 3 baptisms in our congregation that day, and it seems to me that our theology of baptism too often suffers from the same un-poetic thinking that we apply to the Bible. Instead of hearing the grace, the gift of baptism, too often people jump to the logic of it: "But what about those who are not baptized? What about babies that die before they are?" and so on. We humans have a gift, it seems, for taking a thing of beauty and grace and wringing the life out of it.
May you receive this gift of beauty, of grace and truth, with mind and heart this Christmas. And sing like crazy. The artists got it right.
I’ve been toying for weeks with my Christmas Eve sermon,
based on the notion that Christmas and weddings in our culture have come to
resemble one another way too much. It
seemed like an original thought.
Yesterday, I picked the local paper and found, on the
weather page no less, Paul Douglas printing the same idea. Argh! One can’t
exactly begin a Christmas Eve sermon with a disclaimer – “I thought of it
before Paul Douglas, and no, I didn’t just start my sermon on Friday.” So I
guess I’ll just have to take my chances and hope that most people don’t read
his daily paragraph as religiously as I do. I’m not about to start over.
It's a relatively slushy day here, but also a dark one. I have never understood the people who complain about cold in the winter without recognizing how many lovely sunny days we get here in Minnesota. Give me 5 and brilliant over 35 and gloomy any day.
There are random idiots who suppose that climate change will be a good thing because, well, they hate cold weather. What they don't get is that: a) the nights will be just as long as they always are in your latitude, b) global warming just means more energy in the system, which probably means more storms and extremes, not necessarily nice moderate sunny days; and c) Everything you think you know about how the world works depends on our complex climate; when that is messed up, so is what you eat, how you travel, where there is livable land, and so on .
Our congregation used to regularly sing an Advent hymn called "Warm the time of Winter." I get that 'warming' in this case is just a metaphor, but the last few years I haven't been able to bring myself to sing it. I refuse to pray for an end to winter. It will come.
I do, however, long for the light. It's no accident that the O Antiphon for this winters' solistice day is about dawn:
O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
Will and I have often talked about how our apparently
unrelated fields of work intersect. In fact, we’re co-writing an article with
the working title, “Actually you did
go to seminary to solve parking problems.” But it’s rare for us to see these
two areas intersect in anyone else’s mind.
But here it is, in no other place than a New York Times’
article about Radiohead’s decision to put their latest album up for download on
a whatever-you-want-to-pay basis. Basically, they couldn’t imagine signing
another major record deal. Mr Yorke explains:
it’s tempting to have someone say to you, ‘You will never have to worry about
money ever again, but no matter how much money someone gives you – what ,
you’re not going to spend it? You’re not going to find stupid ways to get rid
of it? Of course you are. It’s like building roads and expecting there to be
you have it: human fallibility and traffic planning, straight from Radiohead.
My story of the week: This year we're putting together a children's Christmas program for December 23, even more haphazardly than usual because we are down one musician/ choir leader at church and because no volunteer really wanted to call themselves in charge. Anyhoo, one mother's girls were particularly excited about the program. One of her daughters had been Mary and wanted to play the part again. The younger daughter was also eager, but missed the first week of practice. She came back from the second week, however, a bit disappointed. "Mom," she whined, "it's the same show as last year!" "what do you mean, honey? I heard you practicing a different song than last year." ''No, mom! It's the SAME show! It's about Jesus AGAIN!"
Christmas is the one time of year people usually do not complain about repetition. We sing the same carols, hear the same story, and generally no one complains or asks why we didn't try out an entirely new liturgy for the occasion. Preachers sometimes torture ourselves thinking about how to make the same old story in some way fresh, that is, to make it about us, now. But, in the end, it's not about us. It's about God's gracious love for the world, and it is indeed good news that we can get over ourselves. On Christmas Eve we gather in candlelight, settle in next to our loved ones, listen to that very familiar story, and we listen to the angels' song. It's about Jesus again. Thank God.
My in-laws came to visit for Johannes' 3rd birthday this weekend, and my mother-in-law was eager to see Juno, so the two of us and about 800 people younger than we wedged into the Uptown Theater last night. What all the critics are saying about the acting is true. The dialog is so hip that I missed many of the gags, but I didn't care because the people were emotionally more real than the way they talk. (My mother-in-law, the classics scholar, was quick to point out that drama frequently involves dialog that isn't how we really talk.) This story of a teenage pregnancy is full of lovely people you want to hang out with.
I particularly appreciated the movie's portrayal of Juno's parents, who are warm, down-to-earth and funnier than parents of teenagers are ever allowed to be in the movies. Even I've seen 140 episodes of West Wing three times each, I found Allison Janney's portrayal of the Good Stepmother believable.