Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Oprah's new pick

No, it's not Hillary Clinton. I'll make hay another time about the correlation between Oprah appearances for him in Iowa and South Carolina and his victories there. Meantime there's a new book club pick, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. Number 38 already at O singled out The Power of Now a few years ago and thereby helped sell a few hundred thousand more. I interviewed Tolle in 2003 for Religion News Service when he published Stillness Speaks, which followed The Power of Now. You can read it here . He was then slightly reclusive, or at least not much given to lots of publicity. The O platform is quite the change. What I'm struck by is his use of "purpose" in his title. Post-Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, purpose got borrowed a couple times by other authors. Eckhart is an original, however, and so much more O's style than Warren. I'm staying tuned, and am in line for the webinar with him and O.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The birds got confused

Last week my husband and I enjoyed our annual retreat to Starved Rock State Park along the Illinois River near the town of Utica. During the winter on a weekday, the place is deserted and we can walk for miles without seeing anybody. We saw things we hadn't seen before, including LaSalle Canyon, with a semi-frozen waterfall. We could walk under the falling water; the rock area was iced and slippery. Equally awesome in a much different way was the flood covering the parking lot of the visitors center. The Illinois has been swollen by snow melt from our temperatures in the 60s in January. We saw park benches and picnic shelters sitting in the river water. We also didn't see things we usually see, namely, wintering bald eagles. Usually a dozen can be found roosting and fishing along the river. This year we saw one on the wing, disappearing. We asked at the lodge (a handsome building of WPA vintage, a memorial to truly useful public work) about the eagles. The birds got confused by the warm weather, someone told us, and were around, but not always.

Monday, January 21, 2008

On MLK Day: remembering the Chicago Freedom Movement

I was 13 the summer of 1966 when activists marched in my Chicago neighborhood, Belmont-Cragin on the city's northwest side. The demonstrators sought an end to slum housing and segregated housing patterns. I was much more interested in the Beatles; my vague memory is of marchers on Central Avenue, a few blocks from my home. I have no memory of the hostile reception the marchers received. Dr. King was in Chicago that summer; in one of the demonstrations, he was hit in the head by a rock hurled at him during a march in Marquette Park/Gage Park, on the city's southwest side. He said later that people from Mississippi should come North to learn how to hate.

The Chicago Freedom Movement is regarded by historians as a failure. Measured by its immediate effect on housing patterns, that's true. A seed fell in my heart, one heart, which is where freedom takes root (as well as in laws). I don't remember exactly when I began the habit of quizzing my parents whenever they used the term "colored" to describe black people -- what color ? Sure, it was obnoxious, and my father died a frightened white working-class Democrat defected to the Republican Party of Ronald Reagan. But it made a difference to me, and in the next few years I volunteered for the brand-new Head Start program during the summer, and the Chicago Area Lay Movement (CALM) to tutor kids who lived in the south side projects on Lake Park.

A recent local newspaper column prompted me to look up King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
Its eloquence is breathtaking -- a man sitting in jail writes this. King could as easily speak for justice as he could write his own name: two habits. This is a radical letter that calls on us to be extremists for love ("Jesus Christ was an extremist for love, truth and goodness") and carefully explains the grounds for civil disobedience. Dr. King's image has been softened over time. But history is memory for those who were there. King was radical. The Declaration of Independence was radical in its time, too. Having missed the MLK special at the Church of Oprah this morning, I'm glad to have spent some time today reading this forceful letter.

Monday, January 14, 2008

At home beyond
I was saddened to learn that the Irish writer John O'Donohue, who had a bestseller several years ago with Anam Cara, died on Jan. 3. I loved his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace . It forced me to remember the beautiful in art and literature, especially poetry. O'Donohue was a poet, one of the few philosophers I can think of who transmuted the dry abstractions of philosophy into poetry: "our joy in the beautiful is as native to us as our breath," he wrote. I didn't realize he was an environmental activist as well as a writer, and a former priest as well (that part sure figures). Tributes at his site from people intimately familiar with him and his work are lovely. The last lines of Beauty:

As twilight fills night with bright horizons
May Beauty await you at home beyond.

Rest in peace, John O'Donohue.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

People just want to be heard

While doing some reporting at a preschool this morning (I like those tiny chairs, and the walls are always covered with pictures of animals like Wilma Walrus) I had occasion to talk to one of the children's parents. She is an architect trained in the Philippines. Somehow she started to tell me about her father's role in World War II, helping Americans find occupying Japanese soldiers, after the Americans shot her father's cousin, not knowing who or what they were dealing with when they first encountered the Filipino men foraging for food. The Philippines were an important part of the Asian theater in World War II -- it was that country to which Gen. Douglas MacArthur promised to return. Every person has a story, and this woman has a bookful. Listening is a great discipline.

The sun was shining -- the weather is unnaturally warm for January -- and another generation of four-year-olds is getting ready for kindergarten. At this stage in their lives everything is a lesson; both my 4-year-old subjects said the best thing about school was playing.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Holding Kenya in the light

Evangelical Christians say they "have a heart for" something that especially worries them. We Friends "have a concern." I have a concern for Kenya in light of the violence following the contested election there. Kenya has more Quakers -- 300,000 -- than any other country in the world. (The US has 200,000.) Kenyan Friends have visited us at Illinois Yearly Meeting, and that was spiritually refreshing. Because some of our members have ties to Kenyan Friends, including marital ties, we have access to more information about Kenya (another good blog is here) from people who are there in order to understand what has happened and, more importantly, why. This is helpful, and also hopeful. The press has not done a good job of providing any kind of context, another illustration of messed-up priorities.