Friday, February 29, 2008

quotes from Gilead

Gilead: A Novel, by Marilynne Robinson. 2005 Pulitzer Prize. It took me a while to get into, but then I really enjoyed it. This book actually made me think, which hasn't happened in a while. I guess that shows what kind of fluff I've been reading lately! It's essentially a letter or journal written by a dying, elderly man to his young son, whom he knows he won't see grow to adulthood. The man is a Methodist preacher, as his father was before him, and his grandfather as well. While it is primarily a discussion of relationships, faith and forgiveness, a belief in God is not necessary to appreciate many of the ideas. I thought the review from the San Francisco Chronicle summed it up nicely: 'Gilead is a refuge for readers longing for the increasingly rare work of fiction, one that explores big ideas while telling a good story.'

Here are some quotes that struck me:

There is reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn't enhance sacredness but acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.

A good sermon is one side of a passionate conversation . . . There are three parties to it, of course, but so are there even to the most private thought - the self that yields the thought, the self that acknowledges and in some way responds to the thought, and the Lord.

Strange are the ways of adversity . . . My point here is that you never do know the actual nature even of your own experience. Or perhaps it has no fixed and certain nature.

Those people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you're making to be better than you actually are. Which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.

When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So, you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation? If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me . . . you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights.

(talking of a sermon on Abraham and Isaac, and Hagar and Ishmael) Abraham's extreme old age is an important element in both stories, not only because he can hardly hope for more children, not only because the children of old age are unspeakably precious, but also, I think, because any father, particularly an old father, must finally give his child to the wilderness and trust to the providence of God.

I am well aware that people find fault, but it seems to be presumptuous to judge the authenticity of any one's religion except one's own. And that is also presumptuous.

It was Coleridge who said Christianity is a life, not a doctrine, words to that effect. I'm not saying never doubt or question. The Lord gave you a mind so you would make honest use of it. I'm saying you must be sure that the doubts and questions are your own, not, so to speak, the mustache and walking stick that happen to be the fashion of any particular moment.

I don't know exactly what covetise is, but in my experience it is not so much desiring someone else's virtue or happiness as rejecting it, taking offense at the beauty of it.

And the fact is, it is seldom indeed that any wrong one suffers is not thoroughly foreshadowed by wrongs one has done.

(talking of the Depression and the way in affected people)
. . . it taught them there is more to life than security and the material comforts, but I know a lot of older people around here who can hardly bear to part with a nickel, remembering those hard times.
"There is that scattereth, and increaseth yet more, and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth only to want." - proverb

going solo

I chatted with Tommy yesterday. The little punk - he's getting ready for his trip to Rome in a week. Oh yeah - with a side trip to Pompeii for a day. I'm so glad - and jealous! - that he's able to take all these trips, and that he takes the opportunity to take all these trips. Traveling alone can take some getting used to, at least for me.

I was remembering last night one of my first solo trips. Without looking it up, I think it was around Christmas 1989. I decided to go surprise my brother David who was on a mission in Holland/Belgium. Shows how much I understood about mission rules, doesn't it? I went to church with David, and hung out a little bit afterwards, and that was it. Oh, and as I recall he got reamed by his Mission President for his dumb sister coming up to visit from Germany. :)

I remember that weekend as being gray. It was strange traveling alone, and I didn't much like it. I don't even remember the main city I was in - I think Antwerp, because I remember going to a diamond museum. I also remember going to a movie, which cost a ton but was exciting because it was in English with subtitles, as opposed to being dubbed by crazy German actors.

A more recent trip to Paris - but still around 10 years ago - was actually a GREAT experience traveling alone. I went with a friend, who was helping her friend get ready for her wedding. I stayed with Dominique, a friend who was a nanny. Total Cinderella deal - the family had a HUGE, gorgeous apartment in the 13th Arondissement, with incredible vaulted ceilings adorned with plaster relief designs. Dominique lived up the back stairs a few flights in a room the size of a closet - room enough for a twin bed, a wardrobe, and a small sink. You could sit on the bed and wash your hands in the sink - that's how close together they were. There was a common bathroom down the hall for all the nannies in the building to share. In the distance through the window you could see the Eiffel Tower.

The first day was a little strange, but after that I really got into being able to do what I wanted without having to discuss it with anyone else. I spent 3 days in the Louvre, just wandering around and really looking at the masterpieces there. I spent an afternoon sitting in the Musee de l'Orangerie, immersed in Monet's waterlilies. Those silly posters of tiny segments of them don't even come close. I spent hours sitting by the Seine, just watching people. I don't think I even made it inside Notre Dame.

It was funny last night to remember the contrast between the two trips. I'm glad Tom is not such a wimp and is able to just take off and go visit and experience all the different places he's been!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

black and white

I just finished watching 'Letters from Iwo Jima.' I'm a sucker for almost anything about WWII, primarily the war in Europe. I haven't read much about the war in Asia. But now my interest is once again peaked for the area, so my nightstand will undoubtedly be crowded with some thick tome in no time.

Tonight I am most curious about the idea of honor, and how that means different things to different cultures, even at different times. For the Japanese - at least from the perspective of this film, and from the little that I have read on the subject - honor meant dying for your country: no surrender. When the battle became hopeless, retreat or surrender was not an option. Retreat/regrouping was ordered by several commanders at various times, but was countermanded by others with an order for suicide instead.

I can begin to understand the honor in FIGHTING to the death defending your country. These men knew that Iwo Jima would be the staging point for the US against their homeland. One character summarized the point in fighting this futile, unsupported battle as 'one more day I spend defending this island is one more day of freedom for my family back on the mainland.' How is committing suicide when the battle is lost, instead of retreating to another position to fight another day, or surrendering once you know your cause is lost, honorable? And how is it honorable to shoot a man who chooses to live, instead of following your 'honorable cause' of suicide? How is this instilled in a culture? It's more than simple nationalism or wanting to defend liberty, however you might define that idea. Things I think about in the wee hours. :)

Which brings me to my next noodle-cooker. Black and white. We had a discussion on Sunday about what it means to 'keep the Sabbath Day holy.' One guy gave the example that when visiting his family - who are not of the same faith - they go out to donuts Sunday mornings. It's a family tradition. They don't run around the whole day shopping, and this isn't something he does at home with his own family, but when visiting his folks, they choose to honor this tradition. This is a concession they make toward family harmony.

This reminded me of another friend who had bitter showdowns and battles in the initial merging of the family she came from with the family she was starting with her husband. Her family is a Sunday brunch family, which went completely against how her husband was raised, and how they wanted their own family to operate. As you might imagine, this caused HUGE amounts of contention. Sort of going against the whole point of the Sabbath endeavor in the first place . . .

But I digress. A comment was made to the effect that if you've already 'broken the Sabbath,' what difference does it make if you refrain from shopping. To me - and I tend towards hyperbole at times, this is true - that's like hitting someone and saying 'Well, I already assaulted you, I might as well just stab you and finish you off.' Or 'I've broken one of the 10 Commandments, might as well just throw in the towel and do the other 9.' It's so obvious TO ME why that slippery slope argument is nonsense that I can't even articulate why it doesn't make any sense! Yet from this other person's perspective, they really can't see why there's any point in trying to mitigate the damages.

How would you answer this? It might sound silly, but this question is really causing this person a lot of pain and frustration. We can talk about 'judging what's right for someone else' another late night.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

happy valentine's day!

I missed you ALL while I was frosting cookies. Valentine's Day is a PRIME sugar cookie holiday in my book. And this year, I actually made the exact right amount of frosting. This might be a first!

Katie was a hilarious little helper. She 'decorated' a few cookies - with only a few licks between m&m placement - but she was primarily interested in arranging the colored sugars in rows and towers. By the end, she was enjoying putting her entire hand into the pink sugar - now you know which cookies to watch out for!

We wish you were all closer to come and eat cookies with us, but I guess I'll just have to enjoy them for you. They are delicious as always!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

just for you, mag

Here's a tea-set action shot for you. Notice that the cups are turned over. Katie kept saying 'Where's Gus-Gus?' For those of you not up on your Cinderella, there's a scene where Cinderella is preparing breakfast to take up to the evil step-sisters, and Gus-Gus hides under a cup. Lucifer the cat lifts up the cups looking for him. Katie might like to dress up like a princess, but she asks me to skip over the romance/dancing part of the movie. She likes the mice the best.

Slightly out of focus, but here are the 'ruby slippers.' She was very sad last night that they wouldn't fit over her PJs, but they did look fabulous over tights today with her sunday dress.

Sort of small, but you get the idea of the sassy sandals. She stumbled the first couple of steps in them, but then took off running. We'll be shopping for Christian Louboutin's in no time. ;)

Friday, February 8, 2008

happy birthday katie!

Katie Marie is 2 years old! I can't believe how fast the time has flown by! She is definitely old enough to understand that it was HER day - more like WEEK, since the party went on every day for about that long.

Last Friday we went to our friends' house and they had a surprise birthday lunch set up for Katie. Her little friends Matt and Ryan made heart-shaped PB&J sandwiches and had picked out a princess dress for her so they would have someone to rescue with their swords. That was cake #1.

We made a 'Pablo' - from the Backyardigans - cake for Katie's birthday. All day long she kept climbing up on the table to look at it, and liked that his eyes seemed to follow her around. Birthday morning she got to open up her present from Aunt Lizard - a year's supply of candy, complete with her favorites, Skittles and M&Ms. We got some balloons for her party, and Katie spent the day running around dragging the balloons behind her. Why did I go shopping for birthday presents? Balloons would have been good enough on their own!

For lunch we had some buddies over for hot dogs and cheetos - the mom's had real food - and lots of sugar. Naturally, all the kids licked the frosting off of the cupcakes and showed no interest in the cake. There was lots of jumping around and playing with balloons, and only a few tears from kids who sad it wasn't their turn to be opening presents. Girlfriend spent the rest of the day prancing around in the strappy sandals from Oma. The pink sparkly shoes are today's current favorites. She was able to tear herself away from her tea set long enough to have a little Pad Thai for her birthday dinner.

Thursday night we had the birthday celebration with Oma and Opa and Uncle Mark. Katie finally got her hamburger and french fries, but was really only interested in the chocolate shake (notice the look of glee in the first picture). The present fest concluded with additional train tracks and a super fun alphabet zoo from Aunt Mag.

Sometime around midnight Katie got out of bed and came out to the living room. Rog asked her what was up. Katie replied: 'I'm just looking at my toys.' She took a train engine with her back to bed and slept the rest of the night in peace.

I love that our little princess, who loves to have her nails painted and play with dolls, loves her trains and cars just as much!

Friday, February 1, 2008


Listening to NPR the other week, I heard a segment about a documentary detailing the homicide of a detainee in a prison in Iraq. The researcher found a report that detailed a 'frame shift' phenomenon. When the people at the top relax the rules, they don't have to give specific or direct orders to others to do bad things, the envelope just get pushed. The environment is set by default. If no one stops a practice, the lack of a negative becomes accepted as tacit approval and the underlings tend to push the envelope even farther.

Groundbreaking findings, huh? Do these people not have children? I always find it funny when a study is funded to prove things that are obvious in actual real-life practice. Most children push against their parents to find where the wall is - where is NO, and is it the same place today as it was yesterday? I supposed one might assume that as children become adults, they no longer need to have someone else tell them how to act, but again, the real world doesn't prove this out. Why do businesses use time cards? I think we'd like to believe or hope that people will act morally without being given explicit rules to follow, but this just doesn't seem to be true much of the time. Many times people are happy to take the easy route and put their behavior off on someone else.

Breaking the speed limit generally doesn't result in any huge consequence. More times than not you won't even get a ticket. And when you do, it might make you change your behaviour for a time, but before long the needle on the speedometer begins to creep up again. In other situations, the dangers of not enforcing the rules can lead to far more drastic outcomes. This story was just a reminder to me of how important it is for the 'folks on top' - whatever they might have responsibility over, be it children or employees or guards at a prison - to be consistant and maintain their chosen boundaries for behavior.