18 March 2010

Spring shorts

Painting in photo is a mountainscape by Nikolai Gutov, an artist and retired architect in nearby Pavlovsky Posad. The snowdrifts outside our windows are not quite this big....

No, seriously. As I write this, it is about 25 degrees F., but we're promised 33 degrees tomorrow, and 39 by Sunday!! Best of all, today's sunrise and sunset were exactly 12 hours apart--6:35 a.m. and p.m. I'm not letting the predicted mix of rain and snow dampen my spirits.

For some reason, this winter has seemed rougher on me than usual. Maybe it's because I've slipped and fallen on ice three times this winter, after years since the last time I can remember falling. Elektrostal's supposed radioactive past has no terrors for me in comparison to its slippery present.

The mother of one of our students told me that my interview with Kristina Aladysheva of the local TV station was broadcast recently. That might explain some of the recent looks we've been getting on the street. Right outside the wallpaper and tile store, Judy overheard one person directing her neighbor's attention to the American teachers passing by. This is census year here in Russia, and I'm looking forward to constituting a tiny little American blip in the Elektrostal stats.

The Elektrostal TV camera spent some time in one of my classes, to supplement the taped interview. (More about that visit here.) We've continued working with the book Good Grief, by Lolly Winston. Last week we got to a passage that was particularly poignant for me. Sophie is telling us readers about a dream she had, in which she saw her late husband.
Last night I dreamed that Ethan and I were baking French bread on the big pine kitchen table at Colonel Cranson’s. As he punched down the dough, there was color in his cheeks and his eyes were bright. Then I was awake, fumbling under the covers, expecting to feel his arm or leg or the river of his pulse running through his belly. I snapped on the light and recorded the dream in a notebook that Sandy said we should keep by our beds. I was relieved that Ethan was not ill in the dream. No tubes or bandages. It seemed possible that I might never dream of Ethan sick again, as though the cancer had gone away, as though he’d finally gotten better.
About two years ago, I wrote about the dreams I used to have of my sister, and how they ended. For some reason, I felt led to tell my students about my dreams of my sister Ellen and about the bitterness of waking up, and how they ended after the memorial meeting that our church gave her (and me) twenty years after her death. I wasn't particularly banging a religious drum in telling that story, but afterwards Judy and I reflected that the story says a lot about the importance of community.

I just realized that another twenty whole years have gone by since that memorial meeting. Forty years since her death.

Glenn Beck, a celebrity on whom I normally waste no attention at all, certainly has irritated a lot of people with his call to get out of any church that preaches social justice. My guess is that zero people will cut their relationship with their own church based on his demand, if that relationship has any substance at all. But he certainly has given us a not-to-be-missed chance to get all righteous, as Pat Robertson did earlier this year with his smarmy comments blaming Haitians for their own misery. I've gotten half a dozen e-mails from various progressive organizations with ill-concealed delight at the juicy bone that Beck threw them.

I've also read some of the comments on various forums from those wanting to explain and defend Beck. The common thread: he doesn't have anything against justice as such, but it shouldn't involve social structures and transfers of wealth. Is the culture of public discourse, even among Christians, losing any capacity to synthesize, to take moderate and nuanced positions? Is our understanding of community, in the West, reduced to various individualistic ideologies at war with each other--without a healthy respect for mutual obligation?

As for the original controversy, I'll let Martin Marty's words speak for me:
Biblical verses wisely do remind readers, "Put not your trust in princes." That usually means governments; "princes" in the media, banking, punditry, universities, and, yes, churches demand scrutiny, and their programs deserve careful evaluation, as well. But those who say that you have taken care of biblical injunctions if you simply keep government out of everything face biblical reminders with which they have to contend: The Hebrew prophets all dealt with "nations," and the apostle Paul, writing to people suffering under Nero, also said that civil "authority…is God’s servant for your good" (Romans 13:4). Paul even goes so far in 13:6 to urge believers to "pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants." Come on, Paul, don’t press your luck in Beck’s world!

More links:

There's been a lively discussion on the Northwest Yearly Meeting pastors' e-mail list about the various merits and de-merits of Wal-mart, leading to some reflections on elitism, stewardship, buying food locally, and so on. One participant drew our attention to this article by Michael Pollan, "You Are What You Grow," which I missed when it was first published about three years ago.

If I ever get to the point where winters in Russia just seem too darn mild, I know where to go. (Oh, and this frosty seed archive was back in the news recently, having received its 500,000th deposit.)

Hal Holbrook's best performance? Christianity Today interviews the writer/director of That Evening Sun, whose limited release doesn't include our theater here....

Whittier Daily News interviews Whittier First Friends' new pastor, Becky Memmelaar.

A hard piece of news: an extraordinary friend and Friend, Jay Worrall, has died. Deepest thanks to Helena Cobban for her post. Along with the many other involvements mentioned by Helena, Jay was a great encouragement in the early days of the work of the Quaker US-USSR Committee, now the Friends International Library. Judy and I were in Charlottesville Meeting for just two years, but Jay and Carolyn made a deep and lasting impression on us.

Alice Stuart knows right from wrong.


Anonymous said...

that's a beautiful painting!

39 degrees is not exactly shorts weather!!! LOL!!! please give your ass a rest and stop falling on it. :)

who the heck is glenn beck?? and why would anyone care what he thinks? seems like he is taking the currently popular position...that of no transfer of wealth from the wealthiest to help people in need. i've heard this point of view echoed a lot lately...glenn beck is just one more jerk trumpeting the same old crap.

alice stuart's vid doesn't show. :(

Johan Maurer said...

I hope her video is showing now... seems to be ok in my Firefox browser.

Anonymous said...

now i see it, but it won't play.

Johan Maurer said...

It works for me--but maybe you should try viewing it on YT: www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjWEp-S4uKA.