Sunday in Tennessee

July 28, 2008

The NY Times coverage of the church shooting in Tennessee yesterday is as calm and measured as writing about a horrific event can be, the AP take is considerably more sensational, asserting that

An unemployed man accused of opening fire with a shotgun and killing two people at a Unitarian church apparently targeted the congregation out of hatred for its liberal social policies, police said Monday.

Here is why the AP qualifies the Unitarian Universalist Church as the object of hatred:

The Unitarian-Universalist church promotes progressive social work, including advocacy of women and gay rights. The Knoxville congregation also has provided sanctuary for political refugees, fed the homeless and founded a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to its Web site.

Two people were killed before other people at the church, gathered to watch a performance of Annie by the children of the church, physically overwhelmed the shooter. One of these people was Greg McKendry, an usher for the performance, who was described by a fellow church member quoted by the AP reporter as

“Greg McKendry was a very large gentleman, one of those people you might describe as a refrigerator with a head,” said church member Schera Chadwick. “He looked like a football player. He did obviously stand up and put himself in between the shooter and the congregation.”

I’m not one to say, oh isn’t faith beautiful, there is a plan, this was the meaning of his life, to be the big guy who put himself in front of bullets for other people, but reading this story did give me a chill. It’s awful to think about someone’s life ending at the whim of a nutjob. It’s still awful when that death was at least in part a result of a selfless, perhaps Christ-like act.

Whether or not the alleged hatred of liberals plays out to be the motivating factor here (seems like unemployed would be a better bet, but there are many unemployed people and relatively few opening fire on Unitarian churches), this event also provides a sobering counterpoint to the sermon I heard yesterday in the local United Church of Christ church I now attend. It was a “you’re slacking” sermon, about how the church has voted to call itself Open & Affirming (meaning, gay people are super just the way they are and can marry and preach here of course) and Just Peace (which has to do with protesting war as anything but a last resort), but we haven’t done anything to bring these issues into the community, to show ourselves as embodying a way to live that is driven by love despite all hatreds. She was right, and I hope to be a part of the church’s efforts in the coming year to live the words we have committed to.

Making yourself visible, of course, always has its threats. That’s the choice. Be who you are and live with the possibility that someone won’t like it, or hide. Jesus didn’t hide. If we want to be serious about being more like him, we can’t hide either. I can’t stay home next Sunday or next time the church hosts a discussion on sexuality b/c I’m scared of who might show up. I have to go. I have to keep going, if I mean to live my beliefs. It says something that the kinds of stances that get churches like mine labeled “liberal” and seemingly out of step with the so-called mainstream of America (I’m not sure about that, though) are the positions that mean most to me as a human being first and a Christian coincidentally. There is nothing wonderful about recognizing that living in radical ways has the potential to draw harm to oneself. There is something deeply inspiring about realizing, at the bottom of all the fear, that it matters each time you choose not to hide, and it’s only going to keep mattering.

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July 26, 2008

So I went to the annual raku workshop at the local art center this morning. The woman who is in charge spends all year throwing random pots, and then they invite a couple of traveling raku specialists to come and have a firing day for anyone who wants to come. For five bucks, I figured it was the perfect way to have some fun making something that didn’t involve line breaks or punctuation. Raku is a great antidote to controlling-itis, as it is more or less completely impossible to control. The glazes look different every time they are applied, and the final color depends on the idiosyncrasies of the glaze itself,  the day it was fired, the weather, the way it gets pulled out of the kiln, etc. For example, the blue color glaze you see there was called copper sand, and in the demonstration pieces, it usually came out brown. Not today! All I knew is, I wanted to make a funky looking whatever. You can still see where I tried to plan it a little too much, but I had a lot of fun. I could definitely see that getting addictive if you had access to materials on a regular basis. But one pot was enough for me today. Below, the inside view, where I put a special extra sparkly glaze.

This type of response is altogether more human, no?

An immigration raid that arrested nearly 400 people in northeastern Iowa scarred a small town and tore families apart, residents said Saturday. Dozens begged a visiting congressional delegation to do everything in its power to stop federal immigration raids.

Instead of blaming the people who want to work, the Iowans who want to end immigration raids in their state blame the people who hire them illegally and then mistreat them with impunity–what a concept:

“The family that owns that place, they’re the ones who should be prosecuted,” he said. “They’re the ones who should be deported, not the workers.”

Plus, who benefitted from the raid? No one:

“This raid did nothing for this community,” he said. “It downgraded us substantially. It caused people to suffer, and it caused our reputation to suffer clear across the country.”

Fingers crossed that some of the Congress people were listening:

Sires, the New Jersey congressman, said he was convinced.

“I don’t see this type of thing working someplace else,” he said. “We don’t want it to ever happen again.”

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Thanks for calling me back. It is Illinois on the other side
of your state, it turns out. Funny how even the most local
geographies can be left blank in our minds, like the side
of the bed I don’t sleep on.  I’m almost to the border.
And after that? The map is on the passenger side,
tucked between the bag with truly important papers
and the seat back, and I don’t want to take my eyes off
the road, which keeps unfurling each mile more
grassy, less hilly. Sometimes I think I’m not moving
to a new state, I’m having a 1500 mile sing-along. I’m going
down to Liverpool to remember when I had so much
promise then, it was my wings that made me
want to drive all night. What is the road
but another way to become a song, and isn’t that all
we’ve wanted? I’ve been thinking lately about how
I will explain driving, not like this, to move for a year,
but the way we used to do it, for no reason but to moving
as air and song poured across us, to children I might have.
I’ve been thinking about the way we decide things, big
things, and then take another drink. How we usually only
talk about the big things in small boxes, like the one
this page is making. I hope that job works out. I hope
this job works out, so that in a year I can say
I had to do this, I had to begin in this raw, sudden way.
You know? Can this finally be a story, and not a gap
in the story, a side of the road where we’re all
stalled in the dust of a rainless summer? Of course
we also know that this is also motion, not matter
how it looks or feels, our peculiar form of
road that no one else is seeing yet. Here’s to us,
slipping across the line into the next state.
Say hi to AH for me before you leave OH & take care. SJ

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Flock to it

July 25, 2008

Come Flock with me, in my Mozilla-powered social web browser. It took me about 10 minutes to get it all set up. And you can blog straight from the browser, to multiple blog accounts. Fun.

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I’ve been thinking about how my thesis would look as a world cloud for a long time… and along came Wordle to make it happen! Cool!

Close call #1

July 22, 2008

So, on Sunday night, I went to bed after a lovely weekend of all things summer–trip to the Farmer’s Market, iced coffee at the cafe, fresh peaches, a blockbuster movie–with cooling night air and the sound of crickets coming through my open window. Several hours later, I woke up to the sound of wind. And thunder, and rain, but mostly the wind. The power had gone out, so the house alternated between pitch black and greenish white from the intense lightning. I tried to look out the window, but I couldn’t see past the curtain of rain being blown sideways by the wind. But I couldn’t hear the rain, then, I could only hear the wind, which was getting louder and louder. I remembered that I had left the living room windows open to get the cool air at night, so I walked out to shut them. I put my hand on the first window, and I could feel it shaking . I could feel the gusts of air coming in it, soaking me with rain and pushing me backwards. That’s when I forgot about the windows. I went back to my room, put on flip flops, remembered that I had dropped a hoody sweatshirt at the end of my bed, and put that on too. Then I got the cats, first the big one who is scared of everything and then the smaller one, one in each arm, and I headed for the basement as fast as I could. The smaller cat jumped out of my arms and ran down the stairs of her own accord, but the bigger one started yowling and lunging out of my arms to stick her claws in the wooden railing on the way down. I had to stop and pry her feet away from the railing to make it all the way down.  Meanwhile, the wind is yet louder and the door is shaking in its frame.

As I’ve blogged about earlier, I’m not a big panicker about this stuff, but I do take it seriously. It was only when I was sitting on the basement steps (to prevent any cats from running back upstairs) that I realized that I was shaking. I had absolutely no desire to make a return trip up the stairs to grab something else valuable. No way. My cell phone and glasses had been right next to the bed, but I didn’t think to grab either of those. So all I could do was wait, and listen for the sound of something coming, at which point I would have tried to grab the cats again and get under the stairwell itself.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. There were no tornadoes in our vicinity (one funnel cloud 50 miles away that never touched down), although there were straight line winds up to 100mph. I will say this: I never used to be able to imagine what the freight train sound would be if a tornado came, but now I think I can. Imagine it. We lost power for six hours, which I guess is a long time for Iowans, but nothing for me. It definitely shook me up a bit–I had a hard time falling asleep last night, in part I think b/c I was nervous that it was going to happen again. Which it might any time during the summer. But next time I’ll be more ready.

After it was much quieter, I did go back up for my cellphone, and called D to check the map. He confirmed that there had a been a severe thunderstorm, and that it had formed quickly. The weather service called a severe storm warning at 4:05am, and I was probably in the basement by 4:20.

As I calmed down, I realized that I really really need a better plan next time. Flashlights are useless in the closet. I had no time to feel around in the closet. I now have one by my bed and one already in the basement, along w/ a change of clothes and the hand crank radio. The cat cages are down there now too. And oh yeah, I’m going to find out what my renter’s insurance needs in the way of proof of ownership, so that there is never a temptation to go grab stuff. Not that there is when you’re really scared.

Anyway, if there’s anything of universal value in my experience here, I would say it’s just that I can confirm that when things get scary, you don’t think as you normally would and you don’t have much time. I only managed to do what I had run through in my head many times in the past when thinking about tornadoes: put something on your feet and over your arms, get the cats. Like I said, I forgot my glasses and my cellphone even though they were right next to me, b/c they were not part of the plan. Have a plan. Practice it mentally. You might need it.