Monthly Archives: September 2014

Transitions

It’s been a bittersweet year for us as we’ve seen two kids off to university. While we’re delighted for them, we have felt and will feel their absence keenly.

Last year, during our final camping weekend of the summer before Maddie left for school, Sarah took this shot that captured the moment beautifully.

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I felt much the same about this shot of Jake.

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These are some of the best and happiest times for us. As our children turn and walk down new roads, however, I’m finding that it’s not nearly as easy as I thought it would be.


Football, the Reality

Hypocrisy abounds, along with the ugly exposure of interests and ham-fisted public relations, in the range of issues professional football has had to face. I’ve been thinking recently about how easy it is to point fingers at certain players, teams, and league officials, when there’s a larger complex of forces, including fans and media outlets (e.g., ESPN, major networks that carry football) that work together to create the kind of people that many football players have become.

Serge Schmemann, summarizing the news over the past week, puts this quite well in his final paragraph:

Disclosure: I love football, and when stationed as a correspondent in Moscow in the 1980s I had video cassettes flown in so I could watch games. But football fans can no longer close their eyes to the price the game exacts on the players and their families.

For one thing, there is no longer any dispute about the damage to players. The N.F.L. has acknowledged in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems.

Then there is that video of the running back Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée in an elevator, and the revelation that Adrian Peterson, perhaps the best running back out there, viciously beat his 4-year-old son with a switch. More names are coming out and more will surely follow, raising all sorts of questions about the N.F.L.’s standards and leadership, about the maturity of the players, and of course about us, the fans, who like ancient Romans in the Colosseum cheer on the latter-day gladiators to ever greater “hits.”


Interchange & Improvisation

There’s a fascinating piece on the Kronos Quartet in the NY Times where they discuss their communication with one another and how they improvise. It’s fascinating in itself and beautiful to watch, but it also might serve to illuminate the manner in which we speak of relationships and community dynamics.

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I was especially struck by David Harrington’s comment about the necessity of openness. He might prepare and practice and come to resolution about the manner in which a piece ought to be played, but when he joins the others, he needs to be open to the manner in which interaction with other members of the quartet will shape how he must play.


Clarifying the Privileged Imagination

In assessing Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony, by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Jennifer McBride offered the following comments clarifying the manner in which white American Christians envision their situation within the wider culture and how they ought to do so.

It is disingenuous for white Protestants to deem ourselves alien to a culture and society we benefit from and have created. Certainly, the call to think of ourselves as resident aliens is normative: we should be resident aliens in that we should not participate in the destructive forces of American society even if, at present, we foster and maintain them. But their use of the term is also descriptive—as Christians, we are resident aliens—and this description is profoundly self-deceptive.

Given the dominance of white Protestantism in our liberal-capitalist-democratic culture and given the privilege that naturally follows, the first step toward a more faithful existence is not to deem ourselves alien to this society but to name our complicity as residents in its sin and repent in concrete ways: by becoming allies in our everyday lives or joining coalitions working to undo racist structures like prisons.

See the rest of McBride’s comments.


Dear Committee Members

The academy’s a funny place. And by “funny” I mean pretty bizarre.

I’m reading Dear Committee Members, a novel by Julie Schumacher that wonderfully captures the character of relationships and the varieties of inter-departmental dynamics on a college campus. It reminds me of Stanley Hauerwas’s comment, in Hannah’s Child, that academic departments are hives of envy and professional jealousy.

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The novel consists entirely of letters of recommendation that English professor Jason Fitger writes for students and colleagues for jobs, applications to grad school, and faculty promotions. He’s angry about his failed marriage and several other relationships, about a variety of professional slights, the university administration’s treatment of his department, and also filled with angst over the general state of the academy. What’s hilarious is that much or all of this comes out in his letters of recommendation.

This is an excerpt from one of his letters in support of a student applying to law school:

I have known Ms. Zelles for approximately nine months. She sat in on my undergraduate workshop last spring—boggling the minds of the younger students with irrelevant theoretical asides—and is currently enrolled in what may be the last graduate-level fiction class ever taught at Payne. (I’m sure you read my screed last month in the campus rag.) Her work is meticulous but not very interesting. Moment of truth: personally, I don’t care for Ms. Zelles, who may be ideally suited to law school. She is obviously brilliant, but I find her off-putting and a bit of a cipher. She has a mind like a bric-a-brac storehouse of facts: a surplus of content put to questionable use.

Fitger weaves into many of his letters complaints about the state of the humanities in academia, takes shots at former colleagues to whom he’s writing, and often berates companies to which he’s writing for not being worthy of employing a student whose application he’s writing to support.

I’ve found it brilliant and difficult to put down. And I must say that I’ve been struck that perhaps I haven’t really explored the possibilities afforded by the letter of reference genre. Perhaps some creativity is in order, next time I’m asked . . .