Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Congratulations, Edwidge Danticat!

Edwidge Danticat has won a MacArthur Foundation grant!

More information here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Favorite Podcasts: Speaking of Faith

Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett is billed as "public radio's weekly conversation about religion, meaning, ethics and ideas." While of course I am not equally interested in every episode of this program, I have found many of them fascinating and have learned more about different aspects of my own faith, Christianity, and about other religions as well.

During Ramadan, SOF ran a special series called Revealing Ramadan; each day we heard a short reminiscence about this special month of fasting which is central to Islam. (At that link you'll see the regular one hour program but also the short daily podcast.)

Some other thought-provoking recommendations:

Evangelical Politics: Three Generations. In this live public conversation, Krista talks to three evangelical leaders about their approach to politics and how the Church and individual Christians should be involved. Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne are the three guests and this is a fascinating discussion.

In another foray into evangelical Christianity, Krista did a series called The New Evangelical Leaders. In the first part, she interviews Jim Wallis, and in the second, Rick and Kay Warren.

The Need for Creeds is an interview with Jaroslav Pelikan. Krista is hesitant to embrace anything so limiting and defining as a creed, but Pelikan does a fabulous job of articulating why they are necessary. He includes some beautiful examples.

There are some surprising insights on what the Bible has to say about family life in Marriage, Family, and Divorce, in which Krista speaks to a New Testament scholar and a rabbi.

In a rare glimpse behind the scenes, Douglas Johnston talks about the importance of including discussions of faith in our diplomacy. Diplomacy and Religion was one of the first episodes that I listened to.

There's a lot to discuss in Krista's interview with Binyavanga Wainaina on The Ethics of Aid. When are we helping, and when are our well-meaning efforts actually hurting those we want to help?

Living Vodou is an exploration of Haitian Vodou. Patrick Bellegarde-Smith is a scholar and an active practitioner of vodou.

While Krista herself appears to have something of an "anything goes" approach to spirituality, she often interviews people at the very center of their respective traditions, so the information you get is not caricatured. In addition, she is a respectful, well-prepared interviewer. I have learned a tremendous amount from this program.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


How did I miss pointing you to the Daily Photo bloggers' theme day on the 1st of September? The theme this month was BIG and you can see thumbnails here of the contributions from around the world.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Reading Update

I bought books #43 and 44 for my classroom and they are already proving popular. Gone and Hunger, by Michael Grant, are the first two books in what will end up being at least a trilogy. (Nobody writes single books any more - you're always committing yourself to at least three, it seems, when you buy YA books.) It's a fascinating premise - what happens when society is run by teenagers? For reasons that become - well - partially clear later, suddenly everyone over the age of 14 disappears. Now life has become the FAYZ, the quickly-adopted acronym of Fallout Alley Youth Zone. It's interesting to see which type of person emerges as the leadership of the new reality and how the newly-liberated young people use their freedom from parents and other adults. (At first the electricity stays on, and they mostly sit around and play computer games all day. I found this sadly convincing.) One young man, Albert, thinks through the economic situation and becomes an entrepreneur, starting with keeping the local McDonald's open. I found him one of the most intriguing characters. Reviews have compared this series to The Lord of the Flies and Stephen King. As long as we were in Golding territory I was playing along, but once the weirdness started - think mutations of people and animals, super-powers, and a mysterious power called the Darkness - I was less enthusiastic. I don't really enjoy the comic-book characters and the endless, non-stop, pounding action. But I have plenty of students who will.

I was ready for a couple of books written for grown-ups.

Book #45, Exposure, by Brandilyn Collins, was fun, if rather forgettable. The author grew up in Wilmore, Kentucky, and her mother had apparently always told her she should set a book there. This is her response to that request.

Book #46, on the other hand, was the opposite of forgettable. Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier, is the story of Inman, a man coming home from the butchery of the Civil War to Ada, the woman he might love. Both have changed considerably during the years of the war. Inman has seen - and committed - terrible carnage, and Ada, an over-educated young woman, has had to become useful in ways she never anticipated, with the help of Ruby, who shows up to help, demanding that she never have to empty any night-soil jars but her own. To underscore the timeless theme of a man coming home from war, Ada and Ruby read the Odyssey together, but this isn't a book about archetypes but about particularity. Each character has stories to tell, stories of the past before the war, stories of what they have seen during the war, dreams for the future. But one of the most important characters is the landscape. These characters live fully in their surroundings and are aware of the plants and animals and mountains. Ruby is mostly uneducated but knows everything about farming and hunting and every type of tree and flower and herb. And the book is marvelously written - I kept wanting to reread passages or to read them aloud. There's enough action to satisfy the most bloodthirsty middle schooler but there's nothing cartoonish about any of it, and this book is definitely in the grown-up category. Cold Mountain is beautiful, uplifting, tragic, despairing, heartbreaking. Rick Bass is quoted on the back of the jacket as saying, "It seems even possible to never want to read another book, so wonderful is this one." I won't go that far, but I do highly recommend it.

Friday, September 04, 2009


Take a look at this if you need a reminder of what a difference food can make to the starving. On the sidebar, you can donate to Tara's marathon to help feed many more children in just as much need.