Monday, October 29, 2007

I've been made an honorary Presbyterian

I spoke about Oprah Winfrey and writing to a gathering of the Presbyterian Women in the Synod of the Southwest this past weekend. I certainly had fun. It was great to be with so many women of energy, discipline and commitment. These are the folks out there providing for less resourced congregations, many of them on Arizona reservations. The theme was "We love to tell the Story," and I heard some interesting stories from women I met, stories of travel, family, widowhood, divorce. The energy was especially remarkable because many of the women were in their 60s and 70s, some in their 80s. In the bathroom, one woman was flossing her teeth. Flossing is a great habit, someone said. Supposed to be one of the secrets of longevity, I added. Huh, said another woman. I'm 84 and I guess I've got that figured out. I was delighted to be made an honorary Presbyterian. They gave me a wooden pin with the PW symbol.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

What I'm reading

The Golden Compass. By Philip Pullman.

It took me forever to get into this and I'm not sure why. Perhaps it's because I don't much like the heroine, Lyra Belacqua; she comes across as somewhat sullen. And goodness, this world is dark, dark, the Aurora Borealis notwithstanding. Given the Miltonic echo of the trilogy, this darkness is appropriate. It's certainly deeply and quirkily imaginative. I adore the daemons and love the panserbjorn. The animals are at least as human as the people, some nobler. Do you want Iorek Byrnison or Lord Asriel as your ally? But I am on to The Subtle Knife, number two in the series.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cultural religion

The French are supposed to be a secular culture -- it's in their constitution . So I was surprised to discover when we arrived in the city of Lyon on Aug. 15 that the town was pretty much closed down, because it was the Feast of the Assumption. Not only that, the basilica -- Notre Dame de Fourviere -- was packed. We could hear the sermon amplified outside. French historian Nathalie Caron notes the paradox of a secular state with a Catholic culture that celebrates a significant number of religious holidays. But cultural practices don't offer evidence of active belief. France is historically Catholic; hence its beautiful cathedrals. In the U.S., scholars refer to our "civil religion" -- which has been misinterpreted to mean that America is (and was) an actively practicing Christian nation, as opposed to one with historic ties to a large number of Christian denominations.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Step class as spiritual discipline, continued

People have regularly asked me how I found the people I wrote about in my first book, The God of Second Chances. How did I find people with amazing life-changing experiences? Research and radar, the last part meaning that maybe they find me because I'm in the right place. Today my step instructor mentioned in passing that she was in a coma 10 years ago. Ten years ago she had a seizure and aneurysms, and was about to have her plug pulled. The day the plug was to be pulled, she woke up. Then came the work of learning to walk, talk, eat again. Ten years later she's a fitness instructor. Just in case you think that things will never change. I tend to forget that everybody has a story, and some of those stories are pretty compelling.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pushing the daisy envelope

The critics are rooting for Pushing Daisies as one of the most creative entries in the fall TV line-up. Hoping spiritual significance would flower in a show about a piemaker who can bring dead people back to life, I tuned in. Last night's premiere had a lot of visual fun, very 60s-mod looking colors. There was less verbal fun, altho parts of the script crackled more than others. I loved the deadpan of Chi McBride, who plays Emerson Cod, Ned's private investigator partner. It reminded me overwhelmingly of the film Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, with visual exaggeration and above all a narrator, whose ubiquitous drone annoyed me. Ned the baker's Pie Hole restaurant also reminded me strongly of the bakery in the whimsy-romance film Stranger than Fiction. Leftover set? I prefer whimsy to fantasy, because the latter can easily shade over to allegorical. And I love it that weird stories can ask large questions and be quite disarming about it. At the moment I prefer Stranger than Fiction; its conceits and concerns with love and imagination were familiar and yet quite fresh. By comparison, Pushing Daisies is pretty far out there, certainly for mainstream TV. Usually cable TV is the home of metaphysics.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Step class as spiritual discipline

Somebody asked me last week at the Religion Newswriters conference in San Antonio if I blogged about religion. Not really, I said. I don't blog about religion news, I should have said. Lots of others do that quite well -- I enjoy Bible Belt Blogger , and the reliably fine work by the team at the Dallas Morning News , among others. But you couldn't pay me enough money to write about the travails of the Episcopal Church over gay marriage. I would much rather write about spiritual discipline in all its modern varieties, and step aerobics is a new and demanding one to me, not terribly trendy, but heck, I'm in the Midwest. Exercise works by faithfulness: you show up, and keep showing up, with consistency. That's the only secret: show up. My Catholic upbringing, with daily Mass attendance, really laid down the tracks for that. By this kind of faith and works are you saved, so tap it out, one-two-three.

Monday, October 01, 2007

New acquaintance

How lucky am I? Last week I returned to the hood and the past, and this week I did San Antonio for the Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting, definitely my present occupation. Former president Jeff Sheler said a few years ago that this group is his peeps, and this year I finally get what he means. I spent less time in panel sessions taking notes that won't yield stories and more time chatting and taking cards of freelance colleagues, since this subgroup is growing in numbers. If religion writers are the weird uncles of the newsroom (thanks to whomever said that), then freelance religion writers are weird uncles, and aunts, at home alone writing to themselves (like now!). How great to be in a roomful of people who read newspapers, have wry senses of humor and can use "premillenial dispensationalist" correctly in a sentence. (I missed that panel, but I can figure out someone to check with.) Free food helps, too.