27 January 2011

Gym shorts

I just came back from the Zebra fitness center, where I've had a membership for about a year and a half. Gyms are interesting places for me--there I'm usually hanging out with people I might not otherwise meet. Once in a while I see someone I know--a woman who operates a translation bureau, a cafe manager, and maybe one or two others in all those months. For the others I see there, it seems to be the only space we have in common.

I first started going to gyms back in Richmond, Indiana, about fifteen years ago. The first one I visited was next to the Samsung factory, if I remember correctly, and just down the road from the Friends United Meeting office. I was there every weekday morning at 6 a.m. When it closed, I shifted over to a place in a strip mall not far from Earlham College; finally, a new gym opened up at the original Samsung location and I returned there.

At 6 a.m., the only others in the gym were serious body-builders. Somehow they noticed I wasn't one of them! The owners of the original business at that location were Christians, and one of the larger body-builders came to know that about me, too--we did have that in common. It may have been a mixed blessing--when he found out I was against the death penalty, he made especially sure, with wicked delight, to let me know when someone was going to be executed. When certain talk-radio editorialists came on the radio, he knew he could pull my chain simply by increasing the volume. The truth was, however, that we actually enjoyed each other's company.

At the community fitness center in Portland, Oregon, the ratio of non-athletes to body-builders was a bit more in my favor. However, that's where I got into the habit of listening to music while working out. I began to classify my favorite blues and R&B tracks according to which exercise, or which treadmill speed, they were best suited for. Then I discovered the Roadhouse blues podcasts, and for all intents and purposes I was in the "roadhouse" mentally while my body continued to exercise. Sometimes I realized with a shock that, if I didn't stay more physically aware, I could easily overexert myself.

Here at Elektrostal's Zebra, I continue to visit musical America while doing the circuit of the gym's rides. But one of the things I like about the culture of the gym here--men shake hands when coming into the gym or approaching each other, even if they're not acquainted. It reminds me where I am, despite the music in my ear.

By the way, which century is it? Over the last couple of weeks, I've spent a powerful amount of mental time, not in a blues bar, but in medieval England, under the powerful influence of author Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth; World Without End). I'm frankly awed at the power of a writer--the power to depose kings, build cathedrals, change the course of history with a huge battle or a casual betrayal...the power to make readers cheer and cry and wonder how it came to be 3 a.m. I stop reading long enough to shake my fists at Follett--how dare he manipulate me with his power to evoke a whole era and plant characters in my mind whose fates become so important I have to keep reading even for the five brief stops from Kursk Station to Gorky Park?--and then of course I'm back to the book.

Most books release you after a couple hundred pages, but those two linked novels by Follett go on for almost 2000 pages. I finished World Without End last night and got my life back. Something similar happened to me last summer when I somehow got hooked into reading all six volumes of Winston Churchill's history of World War II. In that case I also had the odd sensation of reliving and revising the impressions I got from the first time I read those books as a pre-teen.

"Don’t You Eva Interrupt Me While I’m Reading a Book!"

Would your church open its doors to Muslims seeking a space to worship? I mentioned this question a few weeks ago when I pointed at this item: "Should churches rent their space to Muslims for worship?" Today I noticed that the conversation on Christianity Today's Web site has continued, with Steve Stone, pastor of Heartsong Church in Memphis, Tennessee, writing "Why We Opened Our Church to Muslims." I think he makes a persuasive case. I also find the "mixed message" argument against providing this sort of hospitality singularly unpersuasive. If someone were to doubt your Christian commitment because of the generosity of your hospitality, I wouldn't advise letting that person be in charge of setting your discipleship standards.

There's a difference between generous hospitality and abject self-effacement. If your guests begin to ask you to hide your Bibles and religious symbols--a highly unlikely request from Muslim guests, I suspect--you might have to explain that there still is a difference between "guest" and "host." Nothing of the sort seems to be happening at Heartsong.

"What is Oprah?: An Interview with Kathryn Lofton." A key question: "What is it about how American religious history is studied now that has left Oprah not well-enough understood?"

"...When we are moved to respond to inequality, when we are disturbed enough to take a stand and to take on the work of peace then we enter into a story that has been going on for centuries." (Wess Daniels on "Peace Through Equality: Lucretia Mott, Paul and MLK (Galatians 3:26-29)."

The writings of Richard of St Victor on the Trinity are about to become more accessible, says Robin Parry.

Friend Madeleine Reeves writes about Kyrgyzstan: "Osh report: quick conclusions, lost opportunities." On the same site: Since Paul Rogers wrote "A World in Breakdown," two weeks ago, events in Egypt and Yemen seem to me to confirm his warning.

This week's item for the Permanent War Watch: "Creeping Caesarism."

Goodbye to a major thinker, Daniel Bell, one of the first public intellectuals I became aware of. (Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for the reference.)

LibreOffice and OpenOffice: "Co-opetition not Competition." Totally by accident, I downloaded LibreOffice (open-source substitute for the Microsoft Office suite of programs) on the first day of its release as a stable, independent program. I'm very happy with it so far. Today I used it to edit a finicky MS Word file with photos and export it to PDF format--with a happy minimum of fuss.

In honor of my students, who enjoyed a fill-in-the-blank exercise based on this song:

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