Saturday, March 21, 2009

My introduction to New York City

I'd never been to New York before Thursday and still only spent an hour driving through, but let me just say this about that: the Bronx is no fun during rush hour.

But ever onward and upward. Hilton Head, SC tonight and Miami-bound. I'll see ya when I see ya.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thin Mints: The Adult Cookie

Dartmouth’s winter term has finally come to a close. I have, in the past week, written over 90 double-spaced pages, most of it in three quick bursts*. As you may imagine, I am exhausted, but there’s no rest for the weary: I am driving to Miami with the Dartmouth Navigators Christian Fellowship starting today for several days of Habitat for Humanity work. Blogging will either be light or non-existent for the next two weeks, just as it’s been for the past two, but I hope to be back with a roar in April. As for this post, it’s one of those personal entries a blogger allows his or herself, as opposed to a post with a point, like all that political garbage I write.

I wrote about 39 of those 92 pages at the Edgerton Episcopal Campus Ministry, where have I spent many a finals period over the past four years. The Edge is always a homey and welcoming place, but the campus ministers try especially hard to make it so during finals. One of the little amenities inevitably laid out, at least during winter term, is Girl Scout cookies.

Two types of Girl Scout cookies loom large over my childhood: Thin Mints and Shortbread cookies. I suspect that Thin Mints will remind me of my dad for as long as they make them.

I will always think of Girl Scout Shortbread cookies as the taste of childhood. When I was a little kid, Mom tended to buy three flavors of Girl Scout cookies: the Peanut Butter cookies in the orange box (that’s the way I thought of them then and I still don’t know their name), which she liked; Thin Mints for Dad; and shortbreads for me (at the time, I thought of them as the bready cookies in the blue box). I was rarely allowed either the peanut butter cookies or the Thin Mints, and when I was, I could only have one or two. I’m supposing the rationale was that I liked the shortbreads, but my folks didn’t, and so everyone could have their favorite cookie for longer if the kids just stuck to their own box.

I never cared much for Mom’s peanut butter cookies, so that was no sacrifice, but I did enjoy the thin mints. Sometimes I would sneak one or two if no parent was around. To this day, even though I eat them more any other flavor, I still think of them as something adult and mature, just like driving, going to meetings, beer, taxes, rated R movies, or flying alone.

And just for the record, as I write this post, I am indeed munching on Shortbread cookies. And they still come in a blue box.

*(If it’s of any interest, the three papers were: 1) a literary review of Mary Crow Dog’s Lakota Woman for an NAS class, 2) a paper on the policies of termination and relocation as seen in David Treuer’s The Hiawatha for another NAS class, and 3) my thesis-turned-independent-study on the decline of the religious right and the new era of evangelical politics. Like I said – it’s my blog and I can write what I want.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Musical Monday on a Wednesday: Vic Wooten

I've written about 70 pages in the past four days, including 20 in eight hours earlier today. So, I feel justified in being a little late with the Musical Monday for the second week in a row. Boo finals.

Here's Vic Wooten, the amazing bassist for Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. I've never seen fingers fly like that before!

The guy he jams with at the end is his brother, Futureman, the Flecktones' percussionist.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

"The fundamentals of our economy are strong"

Dr. Christina Romer, chair of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, was on "Meet the Press" this morning. Substance of her remarks aside, her choice of words brings to mind rhetoric from the 2008 campaign, but not necessarily from the candidate you'd expect. From the transcript:

(Videotape, Friday)

PRES. OBAMA: If we are keeping focused on all the fundamentally sound aspects of our economy, then we're going to get through this. And I'm very confident about that.

(End videotape)...

MR. GREGORY: Are the fundamentals of this economy sound?

DR. ROMER: Well, of course the fundamentals are sound in the sense that the American workers are sound, we have a good capital stock, we have good technology. We know that, that temporarily we're in a mess, right? We've seen huge job loss, we've seen very large falls in GDP. So certainly in the short run we're in a, in a bad situation.

Gee, where have we heard that one before? And what, pray tell, did the Obama camp think of the "well the fundamentals are the workers" back then?

Politics. Psh. Enough.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Now you see me, now you don't

Today is the first day of finals at Dartmouth. The past two days were reading period. I'm still plowing through the research for three large papers all due next week (two literary reviews for Native American Studies courses and the remnants of my honors-thesis-turned-independent-study on the religious right and emerging church). On Thursday - in six days - I'll leave for a Spring Break Habitat for Humanity trip to Miami. There may be some blogging over these busy few days, but I'm not going to make any assumptions just yet.

Next term is a heavier-than-normal course load, but I should be blogging somewhat normally again, and hopefully sooner rather than later. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Musical Monday on a Tuesday: The cast of M*A*S*H

Here's this week's Musical Monday clip, a day late and a dollar short. This one's for Jordan - my all time favorite scene from M*A*S*H, in which the crew sings the beautiful canon Dona Nobis Pacem to their Catholic chaplain, Father Mulcahy.

(It's from season seven's "Dear Sis.")

Monday, March 09, 2009

Rebuilding “Organized” Religion

You may have seen the new American Religious Identification Survey, which shows that Americans have become slightly less “religious” over the past ten years. The survey’s most important finding was that 15% of Americans claim they have no religion – a small number, but almost double the 8% of 1990’s survey. The study contains several other interesting findings about the demographics of America’s religiosity, but the key takeaway is that an increasingly large minority of Americans are rejecting all forms of organized religion.

Why are Americans turning away from organized religion? Three reasons occur to me, and number three will be the focus of this post. One, the social climate of today makes it more acceptable for someone to be an atheist or a member of an “alternative” religion like Wicca than it was two or three decades ago, so such people are more likely to “come out,” as it were. Two, is important to recognize that when the uninitiated look at organized religion, they think of the hierarchy and authority of the Catholic Church, the violence of modern Christian history, the divisiveness of the Religious Right, and the moneyed country club hypocrisy of so much mainline Protestantism. They think organized religion seeks to control what people think, and want no part in its hypocrisy.

Organized religion has its flaws, that’s certainly true. The Catholics know worship and history like nobody’s business, but many bishops hid the pedophiles. American Evangelicals know the benefits of grace and technology, but fail to take into account the complexities of the wider world. Even the emerging church, for all its wisdom on social matters, gets a little full of itself from time to time. But I think the real reason so many Americans are turning away from organized religion isn’t because they do know its negatives, but because they don’t know its positives. The USA Today article about the ARIS survey supports this hypothesis:

Don't blame secularism for driving up the percentage of Americans who say they have no religion, says Barry Kosmin, co-researcher for the 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS). "These people aren't secularized. They're not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they're not thinking about it at all," Kosmin says.

There’s also this painful anecdote about the most basic tenant of the Christian faith:

In a nation that has long been mostly Christian, "the challenge to Christianity … does not come from other religions but from a rejection of all forms of organized religion," the report concludes… The Rev. Kendall Harmon, theologian for the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, blames social mobility. "Mobility means your ideas are more challenged and your family and childhood traditions have less influence, particularly if you are not strongly rooted in them. I see kids today who have no vocabulary of faith, and neither do many of their parents."

Harmon recalls, "A couple came into my office once with a yellow pad of their teenage son's questions. One of them was: 'What is that guy doing hanging up there on the plus sign?'"

This ignorance reminds me of a quote from the Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson: “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, and the chances are I don’t believe in that God either. Let me tell you about the God I believe in.”

Let me tell you not just about the God I believe in, but about the church I attend. What I think of when I think of mainline Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Presbyterians, or of the emerging village, is of people engaged in a dialogue about powers bigger than themselves, powers that are loving and creating. My church does not tell me what to think, but it does give me a community in which I can explore the mysteries and the love of God with other people equally lost along the way. In worship, I encounter and know God, and am able to take that feeling out into the world and apply it to my daily life, lived in God’s commands. All of us are looking for God, whether we know it or not. In today’s society, we like to lead these personal journeys alone, but the fact is there’s always someone smarter than you or me. We can look to religious communities, church councils, and classic theologians for guidance and advice without surrendering our personal control.

So how do we show them the other side of things? How do we cure people’s ignorance and let them understand the choices before them? How can we show them that yes, there is hypocrisy in the churches just as there is outside, but there are also smart people and books that can help you find answers, a message that can help strengthen the world’s ills if you look for it, and worship traditions that can bring you closer to your creator parent?

I’m no expert on congregational growth, but I am drawn to this quote from Megachurch Pastor Rick Warren. Say what you will about his recent quotes on homosexuality and his meddling in internal Episcopal Church affairs; he he does know how to build a church. With a hat tip to author E.J. Dionne, here’s how Pastor Rick founded Saddleback and got the disenchanted interested in church again:

I decided, why don't we be a church for people who hate church? There are plenty of good churches around here. Why don't we have church for people who hate church? And so I went out and for twelve weeks I went door to door, and I knocked on homes for about 12 weeks and just took an opinion poll. I had a survey with me. I just said, "My name is Rick Warren. I'm not here to sell you anything, I'm not here to convert you, I'm not here to witness to you. I just want to ask you three or four questions. Question number one: Are you an active member of a local church – of any kind of religion – synagogue, mosque, whatever?" If they said yes, I said, "Great, God bless you, keep going," and I politely excused myself and went to the next home. When I'd find somebody who'd say, "No, I don't go anywhere," I'd say, "Perfect; you're just the kind of guy I want to talk to. This is great, you don't go anywhere. So let me ask you a question. Why do you think most people don't attend church?" And I just wrote the answers down. I asked, "If you were looking for a church, what kind of things would you look for?" And I'd just list them. "What advice would you give to me as the pastor of a new church? How can I help you?" So they'd say, "I think churches exist for the community; not vice versa," and I'd write that down.

Now the four biggest reasons in my area why people didn't go to church – here's what they were: Number one, they said, "Sermons are boring and they don't relate to my life." So I decided I had to say something on Sunday that would help people on Monday. Number two, they said, "Members are unfriendly to visitors; I feel like it's a clique." Number three, they said, "Most churches seem more interested in your money than you as a person." And number four, they said, "We want quality children's programs for our children."

Now it's interesting to me that out of the four biggest reasons why people said they didn't go to church, none of them were theological. They were all sociological. And I had people say, "Oh, it's not that I don't like God. I like God; I just can't stand church." I go, okay; we'll build a whole new kind of church.

(Picture courtesy Robert Peterson of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Coeur d'Alene.)

Friday, March 06, 2009

Kongar-ol Raps

You've probably heard of Tuvan throat singing... but have you ever heard of Tuvan throat rapping???

Cultures collide and worlds merge with Kongar-ol Ondar (also knowan as Congar Ol-Ondar) at his finest:

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"My Stalker just Grunted on my Twitter"

"Twitter" is everywhere. I can't seem to escape it. Every morning, it's everyone in my Politico and NBC newsletters. David Gregory, Rick Sanchez, half of Congress, they all twit tweet! And maybe I'm sixty years too young, BUT I CAN'T STAND IT!!! ENOUGH!!! The words sound silly - "twitter" and "tweet" - and the concept is borderline ludacris: 140 word blips for those whose attention span can't even hold a Facebook status update. Now, I could deal with that, except for what the Twits are being used for - Congressmen at the State of the Union were twittering every last inane thought that crossed their mind, no matter how irrelevant, personal, or silly it might be, and the journalists who cover them are even worse. And yet, all of them seem to think it's just sooooo important and vital. I say, ENOUGH!

(For more on Twitter, see this article from the Colubmia Journalism Review.)

Forever Green

Snapped this shot at Harvard on Sunday afternoon:

Appropriate, methinks, that I took this photo less than 24 hours before Dartmouth announced the selection of a Harvard professor as its new president.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Dartmouth's new president: Global health hero Jim Yong Kim

This esteemed Ivy League institution announced the identity of its 17th president today: Dr. Jim Yong Kim, MD, who will take office on July 1, shortly after I will have graduated. From what I’ve learned of Dr. Kim today, I’m very excited about his selection. Kim has an extensive background in global health and social justice concerns. From a letter to campus from Ed Haldeman, Chair of the Board of Trustees:

Thanks to his inspiring and transformative leadership, Jim Yong Kim has had a far reaching impact throughout his career - both through his teaching and the global organizations he has led. Jim, who currently serves as Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, has worked for more than 20 years to improve health in developing countries - first as co-founder and executive director of Partners In Health, a not-for-profit organization that supports health programs in poor communities worldwide; and then, as Director of the HIV/AIDS department at the World Health Organization (WHO), where he helped change the global response to that disease…

He has been teaching and mentoring for more than two decades and teaches an undergraduate class at Harvard today. His classes have proven enormously popular (and constantly oversubscribed), and he plans to continue to teach undergraduates at Dartmouth.

Jim's visionary work has earned him widespread - and well-deserved - international recognition, including receiving a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship in 2003 and being selected as one of TIME magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World" in 2006.

Student Assembly president Molly Bode ’09 sent her own letter, as well: “William Jewett Tucker, the 9th President of Dartmouth, once said, ‘Do not expect that you will make any lasting or very strong impression on the world through intellectual power without the use of an equal amount of conscience and heart.’ Dr. Kim has the conscience and the heart to push Dartmouth to become an even greater institution.”

Partners in Health is one of my favorite non-governmental organizations, and I am excited to have its co-founder as our president. I am also encouraged by his commitment to continue teaching undergraduates himself, given that although this is technically a university, our name is Dartmouth College. We alone among the Ivies put our 4,000 undergraduates first, and for all the importance of the world’s best business school and several other fine graduate-level institutions, that is a tradition that must not change. Finally, I am thrilled about something Dr. Kim said in his introductory speech to the campus just over an hour ago:

Certainly, a vital part of that learning takes place in the classrooms in Kemeny, in Dartmouth Hall, the labs in Fairchild and among the stacks in Baker. But just as important to that learning is what happens out on Whitey Burnham Field, up on Mount Moosilauke, here on the stage in the Hop and, yes, even late at night on Webster Avenue. Education is not just about transferring knowledge, [but also] about learning how to be citizens of the world, how to work effectively with others as part of a team, and how to emerge from your studies with an enduring and robust philosophy of life.

That has always been my own philosophy of education: learning first, academics second. Experience first, and grades second. I will happily set aside busy-homework or skip a class to attend an engaging public lecture or travel to a part of the state I have never been. To have a visionary president with an extensive background in global health at PIH, the WHO, and Harvard, who stresses the role of graduate schools while simultaneously teaching undergraduates himself, and who calls life experience “just as important” as the classroom bodes well for the future of this institution. I do not know how Dr. Kim will handle his first test – surviving budget cuts and restoring the health of our endowment – but the initial signs of how he will face the following tests are strong indeed.

Musical Mondays: Feist on Sesame Street

You may have heard Feist's hit single, 1234. If not, the original music video is here (great song, weird video). But have you heard the Sesame Street version?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Epic Fail

This from The Daily Dartmouth's "Overheards" column last week:

On Ash Wednesday:

‘12 Girl: Why are people walking around with stuff on their foreheads?

‘12 Guy: Must be a pledge thing.