Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Part II

This morning I went to a church to watch a live webcast from the conference I wrote about yesterday. Today's speakers were Joan Chittister and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. Both were excellent. It is amazing to me that such profound resources are freely available via the Internet. I certainly plan to listen to their lectures over again.

The Rule of St. Benedict is available online, too, in many languages and versions, including a version with Sr. Joan Chittister's commentary.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Spirituality for today

I just listened to Laurence Freeman's session at the Trinity Insititute's National Conference being held today and tomorrow. This year's theme is "Shaping Holy Lives: Benedictine Spirituality in the Contemporary World."
St. Benedict’s Rule has been shaping holy lives for over 1500 years. One would hardly expect such an ancient spiritual practice to have much relevance today. Nevertheless, Benedictine spirituality seems uniquely suited for contemporary seekers. Why is that? Is it because our basic spiritual needs never really change? Is it because St. Benedict, a layman, designed his Rule (Regula) with regular people in mind? Is it because it’s all about “living the ordinary life extraordinarily well?” Is it because the issues that Benedict raises radically unmask the superficiality of contemporary culture? Is it because Benedict’s pre-modern mind uncannily hit upon postmodern themes like the paradoxical nature of truth, the hiddenness of reality, and the call to community? Or is it all of the above? What is the real shape of a holy life? And why does the Benedictine Rule speak that eternal language so well?
The transcripts aren't available online yet, but the sessions are being webcast. I dug my speakers out from the garage, hooked them up to my computer, and downloaded Media Player to listen to the audio of the session. Fr. Freeman is very perceptive and challenging.

Friday, April 25, 2003

Recycled fashion

Riding the bus is a good way to keep tabs on fashion trends. If I go to work in the mornings, I share the bus with high school students on their way to school. This morning I saw a girl wearing a belt that was made from an old car seatbelt with Coca Cola bottle caps glued around it. Of course, the belt was slung low and didn’t really function to hold the trousers up, not that the trousers needed any help given how tightly they fit….

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Recovering from looting

Here's a report in the CSMonitor about the plans to try recover and restore Iraq's antiquities: "Iraq and Ruin: Archaeologists have been piecing Iraq's past together for centuries. Now they're at it again." By Mary Wiltenburg.
Worldwide outcry over 7,000 years' worth of artifacts smashed or stolen two weeks ago - and over US troops' failure to protect them - has galvanized heavy-hitters in the antiquities and policing worlds. UNESCO wants to send a team to Iraq to assess damage, Interpol has alerted police in 181 countries, and the US has pledged the FBI's help....

[S]trange as it may sound, the world's loss of priceless cultural artifacts could in one sense also prove its gain. Many around the world - particularly Americans - seem to be waking up to the significance of what was lost.

"There's more interest in Mesopotamian archaeology now than there ever has been," says archaeologist Paul Zimansky of Boston University. "That energy could be harnessed."

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Earth Day

The reading from the Revised Common Lectionary for today is a wonderful creation psalm, Psalm 104:1-24. (Put 04/22/03 in the query box and click "Search" to retrieve the text.)
Photo 51

Wow. It's because of programs like Nova's "Secret of Photo 51" that I love public television!

Monday, April 21, 2003

Sea turtles

Yet another endangered species. Did you know that
[t]he leatherback, the largest and oldest of the sea turtles, has been around 100 million years or so -- surviving the asteroid that 65 million years ago struck the Yucatan Peninsula, which scientists believe contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs. Leatherbacks, though contemporaries of the dinosaurs, are reptiles and feed predominantly on another ancient creature: jellyfish.

The turtle gets its name from a leathery shell that has the texture of smooth, hard rubber. Its shell also has hydrodynamic dorsal ridges, which, combined with front flippers that can span 10 to 15 feet, enable these reptiles to soar like giant birds through the ocean.

Leatherbacks dive deeper than hard-shelled turtles -- nearly a mile -- because their supple shells can compress under the intense pressure. They also venture into colder waters because of an ability to regulate their body temperature.

Males spend their entire lives at sea, making them particularly difficult to study. The biggest male on record was 9 1/2 feet long and tipped the scales at nearly a ton. Females are smaller. Once they reach maturity, they venture ashore every three years, on average, to lay their eggs. That nesting routine provides researchers their only real opportunity to study these ancient animals.
But over-fishing, which traps the turtles in nets and on hooks, and poaching have led to a drop in the number of Pacific leatherback sea turtles, according to an article, "Sea Turtle Is Losing the Race" by Kenneth R. Weiss, in today's LA Times.
Los Angeles

From tomorrow's paper, a column by Mary McNamara: "Personal space in cruising cocoons."
For all its purported body worship and collective gym memberships, Los Angeles is not a physical city. People visiting here are struck by the lack of direct contact required by daily life -- unlike in New York or Paris or Tokyo or Rome, you can go about your business for days in Los Angeles without touching another soul or even bumping shoulders....

Los Angeles is all about being in a city but not of it.


There's another wonderful article in the current issue of The Atlantic Monthly about the wisdom of the old ways of farming: "Carbonaro and Primavera" by Susan Orlean. It features a farmer in Cuba who never gave up using oxen to plough his fields even during the era of abundant Soviet aid in the form of tractors.
Once or twice Humberto rented a tractor, but he didn't like it. "It presses too hard," he explained. "The land ends up flattened, like a Cuban sandwich." Even when everyone else was using tractors, using chemicals, growing only sugar, Humberto ploughed with oxen; fertilized naturally, the way his father had taught him; cultivated tomatoes and corn and lettuce and beans—and sweet potatoes. Humberto never actually owned the oxen. He borrowed them from his neighbor, whose father had fought beside Humberto's father in the War of Independence.

When the Soviet money ran out, the battalions of tractors, now out of gas, rattled to a standstill, and oxen—quaint, anachronistic oxen—were once again worth their weight in gold. It was a lucky farmer who had never given them up, who still had a working team, who could still plough and plant even in the worst moments after the Soviet collapse. Luckier still was a farmer who had stuck with such crops as corn and tomatoes rather than being seduced by the money that had seemed as if it would flow forever from sugar. In such a moment a man like Humberto no longer seemed a throwback. Now in his eighties, slightly lame, wizened, Humberto is everything the new Cuban farmer needs to be: small-scale, efficient, diversified, organic—and, most important, invulnerable to the ups and downs of Cuba's gasoline economy, which once depended entirely on Soviet good will and has since come to rest precariously on Venezuelan.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Easter Day evening

I'm sitting here relaxed and tired but refreshed after a short nap. The long season of Lent culminating in Easter is over. Easter now will linger until Pentecost. But my music duties go back to normal, after six weeks of extra services, including two memorial services. Today I played both piano and organ. A trumpet player played the prelude, postlude, and accompanied some of the hymns. Two altos sang Vivaldi's "Laudamus Te," accompanied by a jazz acoustic bass player. The trumpet player stayed for the beginning of the Spanish service, too.

Yesterday, of course, was spent dreading what might happen today as I wasn't able to practice with the singers or trumpet player until 45 minutes before the service. Then one of the organ pipes needed tuning (a 16' F#, crucial for all the hymns in D major). The person who knows how to do it didn't show up until about ten minutes before the service. But everything turned out fine and was very festive.

This afternoon, to recover, I went for a leisurely stroll at the Huntington gardens. It seems such a civilized thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. In the desert garden the ice plants are in shockingly bright full bloom. I walked around to the Japanese garden to admire the bonsai, rub the California jade river rock "sculptures," and sit quietly and contemplate the Zen rock garden.

Then I went to the William Blake exhibit. I didn't realize he was an artist as well as a poet. Many of his etchings and illustrations are of biblical themes and thus fit with my frame of mind today. I was intrigued by his etchings (and interpretation) of the book of Job.

Friday, April 18, 2003

More on Assyrian antiquities

The looting of antiquities in Iraq and efforts to recover them continue to receive extensive news coverage. Others already have pointed out that oil production facilities were carefully guarded but not the museums, even though there was ample advance warning, based on experience from the 1991 war, that looting would be a danger. I also wonder if troops on the ground might have been more aware of the importance of the museums if ancient history was taught more thoroughly in schools.

A few years ago I heard a fascinating lecture, illustrated with slides, about the history of Assyrian archaeology and its impact on society, as well as biblical studies, in Victorian England. The lecture, by Steven W. Holloway, is now published on the web by the Journal of Religion and Society, complete with wonderful illustrations: "Biblical Assyria and Other Anxieties in the British Empire."

Here's the introductory paragraph:
British imperialism in Western Asia exercised a staggering impact on biblical studies through, among other exploits, the excavation of Assyrian palaces and the unveiling of the results before the insular public via exhibits in the British Museum and published illustrations of the antiquities themselves. In terms of heritage, the Assyrian monuments attested to the veracity of the biblical tradition that was being challenged on several fronts. In terms of prestige, the ingathering of antiquities from the palaces of the very Assyrian kings railed against by the biblical prophets into the British Museum constituted a victory over the French, who had failed to procure these artifacts for their own glorification, and the despised Ottoman Empire, whose myopic disdain for its pre-Islamic past prompted it to discard its own cultural heritage. This study seeks to illuminate a fascinating moment in early Victorian social history through the exploration of British rapport with the world of ancient Assyria. As the Assyrian kings of the Old Testament appeared in the cuneiform records like scheduled stops along the railway line, they were hailed as epical testimonies to the integrity of the received biblical history. When one biblical king failed to board the train, however, both scholarly panic and denial were given free rein until the absentee monarch was recovered and rehabilitated. This is a story about the British race to conquer the biblical world by annexing both the physical remains of the Assyrian imperial past and its hermeneutical keys, the impact that appropriation had on English society, and the avid quest for missing King Pul that illustrates the essential fragility of the entire enterprise.
Paragraphs 7-9 describe the display (and marketing!) of the antiquities at the British Museum and their re-creation at the Crystal Palace.

Wednesday, April 16, 2003

For those who collect mac and cheese recipes

This recipe by Marian Burros is from a CSMonitor article, "Comfort food still on front burner," written by Seth Stern.
Macaroni and Cheese

1 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups low-fat milk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
10 ounces extra-sharp aged white Cheddar, grated, plus 2 ounces, grated
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
8 ounces corkscrew-shaped pasta (Burros suggests cavatappi)
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a large saucepan, cook the onion in the butter over low heat until it is soft but not browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the flour. Remove from the heat and whisk in the milk until thoroughly blended. Return to medium heat and cook, stirring, until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, the 10 ounces of Cheddar, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and hot pepper sauce.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions until just al dente. Drain but do not rinse. Stir immediately into the prepared cheese sauce until well blended. Adjust the seasonings. Spoon the mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with the remaining 2 ounces of Cheddar and the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Place the rack in the bottom third of an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees F. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the mixture is hot, bubbling throughout, and golden.

Makes 3 to 4 servings as a main dish or 6 servings as a side dish.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Local news

Maybe I should start getting the local paper. I just heard this story about "Residents evacuated due to toxic mold" in a building a few blocks away from where I live. I'd seen trucks parked outside but didn't know what was going on. The Ecumenical Council of Pasadena Area Churches is helping the families try to cope with finding temporary housing.

Monday, April 14, 2003

Looting Mesopotamian artifacts

One of the cover stories in the news the past few days has been the looting of antiquities in the Iraq Museum. One of the pictures in the LA Times' article yesterday was of the so-called Ram Caught in the Thicket, found by Sir Leonard Woolley in the royal tombs of Ur. I saw the University of Pennsylvania Museum Near East section's traveling exhibit The Royal Tombs of Ur a few years ago when it was in the LA area. The Ram was one of the prominent artifacts. This CNN article has an interactive display of more of the exhibit.

I don't know if the exhibit is still here in the States or if some of the artifacts were sent back to Iraq as the picture in the LA Times article suggests.

(A very readable book about the early days of archaeology in Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and South America, including the many colorful characters, is Gods, Graves, & Scholars: The Story of Archaeology by C. W. Ceram.)

Saturday, April 12, 2003

Not tired

I think I'm still a bit out of kilter from the change to daylight saving time. It's after 10:30 and I'm not even tired. Maybe I'm just so pleased at having done my taxes this afternoon. Lesson for the current tax year: start putting receipts and making notations in the 2003 income tax file now.

But tomorrow is a full day and the beginning of a packed week, so off to bed I go.

Thursday, April 10, 2003

Prayer and work

From Life Together (Gemeinsames Leben) by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
In work the Christian learns to allow [herself] to be limited by the task, and thus for [her] the work becomes a remedy against the indolence and sloth of the flesh....But this can happen only where the Christian breaks through the "it" [work] to the "Thou," which is God, who bids [her] work and makes that work a means of liberation from [herself].

The work does not cease to be work; on the contrary, the hardness and rigor of labor is really sought only by the one who knows what it does for [her]. The continuing struggle with the "it" remains. But at the same time the break-through is made; the unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day is discovered....

Then from this achieved unity of the day the whole day acquires an order and a discipline. These must be sought and found in the morning prayer and in work they will be maintained. The prayer of the morning will determine the day. Wasted time, which we are ashamed of, temptations that beset us, weakness and listlessness in our work, disorder and indiscipline in our thinking and our relations with other people very frequently have their cause in neglect of the morning prayer....Decisions which our work demands will be simpler and easier when they are made, not in the fear of men, but solely in the presence of God....Our strength and energy for work increase when we have prayed God to give us the strength we need for our daily work (pp. 70, 71; emphasis mine).

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

Food and the Bible, part II

See the earlier post today for (personal) background. Here's an initial bibliography:
Reed, Stephen Alan. "Food in the Psalms." Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1986.

Knierim, Rolf P. "Food, Land, and Justice." In The Task of Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995.

Cosmos, Nature, Environment
Leopold, Aldo. "The Forestry of the Prophets." In The River of the Mother of God and Other Essays by Aldo Leopold, ed. Susan L. Flader and J. Baird Callicott, 71-77. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1991. Repr. from Journal of Forestry 18 (1920): 412-419.

Spring, David and Ellen, eds. Ecology and Religion. New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1974. (Includes reprints of "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" by Lynn White, Jr. and "Man and Nature: The Ecological Controversy and the Old Testament" by James Barr.)

Steck, Odil Hannes. World and Environment. Biblical Encounter Series. Nashville: Abingdon, 1980.

Knierim, Rolf P. "Cosmos and History in Israel's Theology." In The Task of Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995. Repr. from Horizons in Biblical Theology 3 (1981): 59-123.

Lamberty, Brett D. "Natural Cycles in Ancient Israel's View of Reality." Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1986.

Rolston, Holmes, III. Science and Religion: A Critical Survey. New York: Random House, 1987.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Gaia & God: An Ecofeminist Theology of Earth Healing. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992.

Gilkey, Langdon. Nature, Reality, and the Sacred: The Nexus of Science and Religion. Theology and the Sciences. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Attfield, Robin, and Andrew Belsey, eds. Philosophy and the Natural Environment. Vol. 36, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Habel, Norman C. The Land is Mine: Six Biblical Land Ideologies. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995.

Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. New York: Vintage Books, 1996.

Habel, Norman C., and Shirley Wurst, eds. The Earth Story in Genesis. Vol. 2, The Earth Bible. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press; Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2000.

Habel, Norman C., ed. The Earth Story in the Psalms and the Prophets. Vol. 4, The Earth Bible. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press; Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2001.

Kellert, Stephen R., and Timothy J. Farnham, eds. The Good in Nature and Humanity: Connecting Science, Religion, and Spirituality with the Natural World. Washington: Island Press, 2002.

Wallace, Mark I. Fragments of the Spirit: Nature, Violence, and the Renewal of Creation. Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 2002.
Food and the Bible, part I

I just got back from picking up salad mix and broccoli at the Path to Freedom home. The "yard" or rather, garden, is beautiful. It's sunny and warm today. Butterflies were fluttering amongst the blooming plants. Their two cats were prancing around, chasing the butterflies and bumble bees, climbing the peach tree, and utterly enjoying the beautiful weather and garden.

Meeting the Path to Freedom family has prompted me to remember my growing up years in Zambia. I used to go with my mother early in the morning through the tall, wet grass to the hospital market where we bought extra produce that was grown in the hospital gardens to feed the patients. My parents also had gardens at our house. One was below the house by perpetual springs. The soil was very dark. Not far away you could hear the thumping of the mechanical rams that pumped water from the springs up to a holding tank, from which it was piped to houses.

The other garden was above the house. We also had lots of fruit trees: avocado; papaya; mulberry; tangerine; lemon; navel orange; guava; mango.

When I was very young, we kept chickens. However, the chickens attracted poisonous snakes, and my mother was afraid I'd get bitten. Even without the chickens, you still had to watch out for snakes. One of my favorite stories about my young sister and our dog, Cleo, who followed her everywhere, is about the time she was picking fruit (mulberries?). Suddenly Cleo dived into the bushes next to her feet, pulled out a puff adder, and tossed it into the air. Somebody who was nearby quickly killed it. Cleo was very protective of my sister. Whenever my mother wanted to know where my sister was, she would just call the dog, and from where ever the dog would come, she would know my sister was there.

Which brings me to the subject of food and the Bible. In traditional Christian theology, food isn't exactly a topic of much concern. However, it is a topic of great concern in the Bible, especially the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament). I'm just beginning to ferret out studies that focus on food. I'm fortunate to be working with a professor who has paid attention to the subject of food and, more broadly, the environment or nature in the Hebrew Bible. (He has a garden in his back yard you can see from his study.) The start of a bibliography is in the next post.

Friday, April 04, 2003

Beating the blues

The weather turned grey, cloudy, and colder—and matches my outlook on things at the moment. There's just a lot to do: taxes, which are different this year and therefore need to be figured out; extra music for additional services at church during Lent, plus a memorial service tomorrow; and the rest of the list I've mentioned here too many times already. And, of course, the constant reminder that we're at war. I don't watch the news on television, not even PBS anymore. But I read the paper every few days, listen to the radio sometimes, and see the headlines on the internet.

Via one of the sites I came across when I was reading about grass-fed beef (April 1 below), eat wild by Jo Robinson, I found a site publicizing a book on which she collaborated, When Your Body Gets the Blues. The research was done, appropriately enough, by a professor at the Univ. of Washington School of Nursing. The results of the study of mildly depressed women determined that the following activities improved their outlook:
  1. Walking outdoors at a brisk pace for 20 minutes, 5 or more days a week.
  2. Greatly increasing their exposure to natural and artificial light during the daytime but decreasing their light exposure in the late evening hours.
  3. Taking the following six vitamins and minerals in these doses: 50 mgs each of vitamins B-1, B-2, B-6; 400 mcg folic acid; 400 IU of vitamin D; and 200 mcg. selenium. (Most of these doses are higher than those found in one-a-day multi-vitamin tablets, but all are within safe limits.)
Very simple but effective.

One of the items sold at the online store reminded me of a once-upon-a-time fashion trend: bubble umbrellas.

I guess in Washington you have to try every trick possible to get as much light as you can!

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

Slow food

I was excited to read Corby Kummer's Food essay in the May Atlantic Monthly (not online yet): "Back to Grass." It's about cattle farmers who raise grass-fed beef, beef that is tastier, healthier and from cattle that are well-treated.
Ideally this refers to animals raised in open pastures and fed grass and silage all their lives after weaning. Grass feeding results in far lower levels of saturated fat and high levels of both omega-3 fatty acids...and the newest darling of the nutritional world—CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), polyunsaturated fat that may help prevent cancer. These benefits, and also higher levels of antioxidants, appear in all food from all animals that eat grass, milk and cheese as well as meat (p. 138).
Kummer points to the book Fast Food Nation and a New York Times article, to which I linked last April, as raising people's consciousness of the problems in the mass-produced, corn-fed beef industry. Kummer also profiles some farmers who raise grass-fed cattle, Tom and Dale Lasater, Tom Gamble and Bill Davies, and those associated with the New England Livestock Alliance.

Re: a related subject, Kummer has documented the Slow Food movement in his book The Pleasures of Slow Food: Celebrating Authentic Traditions, Flavors, and Recipes. Here's an interview with Kummer about food and his book: "The Values of Good Food."
You traveled to Italy, Germany, Australia, and other countries in writing this book. How would you compare our attitudes about food—and about the type of values that Slow Food represents—with those of other countries?

I would say that the Europeans are pretty much converted already. In Europe almost everyone has memories going back over generations of food with actual flavor, food that's carefully raised. So Slow Food has appealed not just to rich people who like better things but to pretty much everybody who knows that there was once actually good food. Whether or not they can afford it, whether they feel they have time to make it, they know it's there, and that it's something to appreciate.

There's a real problem with Slow Food in America, and it's this: we don't have that memory bred into us, so it's still a movement of the elite. The goal is to get it to appeal much more to a grass-roots level, and that means making people taste it.