Monday, October 20, 2008

Friends on a Raft

Here is a link to Friends on a Raft - something I wrote for our current production of Big River, the story of Huckleberry Finn, which opens on Wednesday.  I am really proud of the production, and wrote this note at the request of the administration to take advantage of a teachable moment with our students on the issues of race and diversity.  I'll be posting pictures when we have them.

Would love to hear any comments you may have.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Why Literature is Bad for you

Here is a terrific article about why books - especially the classics - should come with warnings from the Surgeon General.

Friday, October 10, 2008

My town's smaller than yours is.

As someone who grew up in an even smaller town America than Sarah Palin did, in a town that had an even smaller Main Street (2 stoplights), with a population less than 1/7 the size of doggone-it-you-betcha-ain't-we-cutesy-and-wink-folksy-by-God-wink Wasilla, Alaska, I was glad to read this article about how overrun Washington has been with 'heartlanders' for the last twenty years. There are so many virtues of a small town, as John Mellancamp wasn't the first to say, and I loved growing up there for so many reasons. But as charming as the mentality is, it has consistently proved itself to be severely limited and circular, pre-occupied with the smallest of concerns, narrowly focused on only what has a direct effect on its own citizens. But even that is too broad. The politicians in most small towns even parse up their tiny populations, making government serve their family and friends, disenfranchising those who are new to the area or whose families aren't from the 'right' side of the tracks. I would trust my life to many of the people I grew up with, but not for a second would I presume they would make the right decision for anyone but themselves. Small town politicians are the kings of earmarking and bigotry and xenophobia - truly dedicated to those they know and love and deeply viscous towards those they don't. Enough of Main Street in Washington. Let's get someone with a broader sense of perspective, who doesn't put country first (which really just means city last), but seeks to do what is right by the greatest number of citizens, both here and in the rest of the world. It is this universal thinking that Jesus taught us, and is the ultimate small town value, even though it is rarely practiced there.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Biblical Definition of Marriage

In the debate the other night, both VP candidates agreed that they do not support gay marriage in terms of legal definitions, but both agreed (or seemed to) that the government should not limit any civil rights of gay couples. This is a step forward, since our government (in theory, at least) is based on the separation of church and state. I was really surprised and encouraged to hear Sarah Palin say that she does not advocate limiting any civil rights for gay couples, particularly considering how she supported a bill to deny hospital visitations (which she later was advised was unconstitutional). Palin said clearly at the debate that she would not prevent visitation rights to gay couples, but of course, she also did not say she would do anything to guarantee them, which is the government's most important job.

However, both candidates said they believe (not as a matter of public policy, but personally) that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Biden said that it was a matter for each individual religion to decide and did not identify where his personal convictions come from. We can deduce from the activities of her church, however, that Palin bases her belief on the Bible.

Since I am currently teaching the Bible, I can't help but bring up what is meant by a biblical definition of marriage. This article offers some important points that anyone seeking a biblical definition of marriage would need to address. (Numbers 3, 5 and 6 are particularly instructive.)

If one were to construct an amendment to the Constitution based on a literal reading of the Bible it might well contain the following stipulations:

1. Marriage in the United States shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. (Gen 29:17-28; II Sam 3:2-5)

2. Marriage shall not impede a man's right to take concubines, in addition to his wife or wives. (II Sam 5:13; I Kings 11:3; II Chron 11:21)

3. A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. (Deut 22:13-21)

4. Marriage of a believer and a non-believer shall be forbidden. (Gen 24:3; Num 25:1-9; Ezra 9:12; Neh 10:30)

5. Since marriage is for life, neither this Constitution nor the constitution of any State, nor any state or federal law, shall be construed to permit divorce. (Deut 22:19; Mark 10:9)

6. If a married man dies without children, his brother shall marry the widow. If he refuses to marry his brother's widow or deliberately does not give her children, he shall pay a fine of one shoe, and be otherwise punished in a manner to be determined by law. (Gen. 38:6-10; Deut 25:5-10)

7. In lieu of marriage, if there are no acceptable men in your town, it is required that you get your dad drunk and have sex with him (even if he had previously offered you up as a sex toy to men young and old), tag-teaming with any sisters you may have. Of course, this rule applies only if you are female. (Gen 19:31-36)

Obviously, the question of marriage has changed drastically over the years, and the bible is no better at guiding us in this issue than in the issue of slavery, which it clearly condones. It is much better to look at the spirit of the bible here than take these laws literally. In replacing ten (and hundreds more) commandments with two, Jesus meant to offer not laws but guiding principles, which would help us to work out complex issues for ourselves rather than relying on laws that were written for people who needed them but which no longer apply. The prohibitions on shell fish and mixed fabrics, for instance, hold little sway for us today, and the word used for them (translated in KJV as 'abomination') is the same word used for homosexuality. The spirit of all the laws - Hebrew and Christian - is summed up in the two Jesus chooses: place your ego second in order to discover the ultimate reality, and let non-judgmental compassion be the guiding principle in all your dealings with other humans.

In this light, I have such a hard time denying any right or name or responsibility or legal status or religious blessing to any loving couple. It is so difficult to find love in this world. Why would we not celebrate that every time it happens? Granted, the text does say in Genesis 2:24 (and again quoted or paraphrased at Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:2-12, for example) that "a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and they will become one flesh." Ironically, each time Jesus referenced the Genesis passage, he was not talking about gay marriage. He was condemning divorce. If we really want to protect the biblical definition of marriage legally, we should demand that the Supreme Court outlaw divorce, not gay marriage.

Love is the great miracle, regardless of to whom it happens or how. Common sense and experience (though clearly not the Bible) dictate that monogamy is the most stable relationship in modern society because it is the only type that can last (unless you have been raised with a ploygamous consciousness, like certain sects of the Mormon or Islamic communities). But again, this is not a Biblical law, but a practical application of a spiritual principle - putting the ego second and actively caring for those around us. Surely Jesus, who hung out with thieves and prostitutes, would see that love is a miracle worth celebrating no matter where it may occur.

Palin’s Alternate Universe

Here's an article that examines the real issues underlying the VP debate. We have had 8 years of "charm" instead of leadership (though I still don't get what makes Bush charming). A few quotations:

For Ms. Palin, such things as context, syntax and the proximity of answers to questions have no meaning.

As an English teacher, this is one of the aspects of her candidacy (and Bush's presidency) that bothers me most. The emphasis on charm somehow manages to negate totally any focus on substance, and the most inane answers or non-answers or deliberate dodges are forgiven because she is "folksy," which in another context, with another politician, would just come across as plain ignorant.

But the real issue here is this one.

John McCain has spent most of his adult life speaking of his love for his country. Maybe he sees something in Sarah Palin that most Americans do not. Maybe he is aware of qualities that lead him to believe she’d be as steady as Franklin Roosevelt in guiding the U.S. through a prolonged economic downturn. Maybe she’d be as wise and prudent in a national emergency as John Kennedy was during the Cuban missile crisis.

The hardest part of this for me personally is that I used to admire John McCain. I bought his storyline of being independently driven by morals and common sense. But that McCain has utterly disappeared. This total annihilation of the John McCain I once admired was complete long before he found Dick-Cheney-in-Annie-Oakley's-clothing, but choosing her is the most mind boggling and irresponsible insult to Americans I have seen in a long time.

Here's another article. In particular, this quotation strikes me as important:

The people boosting Palin’s triumph were not celebrating because she demonstrated that she is qualified to be president if something ever happened to John McCain. They were cheering her success in covering up her lack of knowledge about the things she would have to deal with if she wound up running the country.