Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Os Guinness Lecture

So, today the SCIO students got to be lectured to by Os Guinness! Pretty exciting. I had heard of him before, but not really read any of his work, so I was coming in without any expectations really. Wow. Hands down the best lecture I've been to while here. I am definitely going to try to read some of his books now.

He talked a bit about three things: calling, challenge of combating religious voices, and the notion of the public square. He spent the most time on the last point, talking about three different kinds of public squares: the sacred public square, the naked public square, and the civil public square. The sacred public square (one that prefers one religion over all others) and the naked public square (one that completely strips all religion out) really don't work in the long run, he said. The ideal would be the civil public square: a distinct political set up where different beliefs and ideologies are free to be who they are religiously, but where there are agreed upon certain political rights, responsibilities and respect. He made it clear that while it's the ideal, it's also the most difficult and is certainly not going to happen quickly, because it would take a lot of cooperation from people of incompatible world views. I'm not explaining it nearly well enough, but it was an amazing idea.

He also talked about some of the really great things that America has going for it, saying that the U.S. might possibly be the only place where a Civil Public square could even be possible at this point, if we don't wreck things further. He talked about how some of the ideas our country preserve are very good. I of course now cannot remember them all, but it was a really important thing for me to hear. I have kind of harbored a mindset that American is pretty much gone down the tubes and we've done so many terrible things as a country that we've got nothing to be proud of, but Mr. Guinness pointed out some of the really great political ideas that our country was founded on. He also made sure to point out that he was by no means saying that the founding fathers had everything right. Their views of African Americans, Native Americans and Women were abysmal. He just said "let's not throw out everything they established because they had serious blind spots in some areas." He is also one of the first people I've heard speak about having an American culture as not a bad thing. He said that in some ways the 'melting pot' idea is not bad. While saying that a person has to forget their old culture completely isn't good, the idea of saying something like "Well, in America there are certain cultural ideas, such as freedom of conscious that might not be familiar to you. That's part of what it means to be American" isn't bad, it's actually important. Maybe that doesn't seem like such a big deal, but it was rather revolutionary for me, because I've always been wary of being supportive of an 'American culture.' I don't like the idea of saying "do it our way, or get out" but I don't think he was saying that. I think he was saying, there should be certain things that people can't make a stink about. It seemed like he was advocating for there to be an Americanism beyond just legislature, because culture changes things more than legislature does. I'm probably explaining it very badly, and I still kind of need to wrap my head around it, so I may not have understood him completely, but it was something very new for me.

He also said that we were the "Crunch Generation," that how our generation handled the problems and issues arising today in the next 40 or so years would determine the course of the world. So he told us that we need to be people who think deeply and consider things carefully, to know what we believe and stick to it, none of this wishy-washy 'post-evangelicalism' ("What is that? he said, "A big bunch of nothing." Either you are or you aren't, don't put yourself in the evangelical camp if you think you're 'beyond that.').

There was a question and answer time after, and most of the questions were kind of technical, like what did he mean by this or that, or how exactly would a civil public square work, etc...I only had one question. I just wanted to ask him, "Mr. Guinness, you said we're the Crunch you think that we can do it? Do you believe in us?" I guess maybe it sounds a little hokey, but while what he said was very inspiring, it also kind of scared me. Can we be what he said we needed to be? and what happens if we can't?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rainy Monday and some creative writing

Wow, one post after another! crazy eh?
Today I woke up and I thought that it would be wonderful to be a caterpillar or a bear or some other animal that gets to sleep for a long time. Maybe a lung fish. Yeah, one of those!
It was rainy (it still is) and cold cold cold. I forgot to put on my cuddleduds, which was a mistake. I frizzled all the way to my lecture, just like Troll in Moll and Troll, and I didn't have any newspapers to protect myself like he did. I slipped on the stairs and fell on my bum on my way to my lecture, and I am pretty sure I am going to have a sweet bruise as a result. It sounds kind of like a ho-hum day, but it really wasn't. I had fun in all my lectures because...I didn't really pay attention and instead wrote a little sketch, which I have put here just for fun, in case anyone wants to read it. I liked writing it, but I don't know if it's any good or not, so don't be too excited or anything:

Mr. Wood: a Sketch
It was springtime, but Mr. Wood scowled from his stool behind the counter of the general store. He had no objection to birds singing or flowers blooming. He even patiently endured the running of his nose under the affliction of seasonal allergies. Yes, Mr. Wood was really a genial man. However, the one thing he could not endure had sent the bell of the door dingling that very moment, so he scowled.
Simpering within a fashionable, flower-laden straw bonnet came a tittering young lady on the arm of a slightly nervous, yet proud and adoring young man with a very pressed silk handkerchief tucked dandily into his pocket.
“Look at all these dear ribbons, Robbie!” she gushed at the collection of mauve ribbons draped appealingly over some fabrics. Mr. Wood snorted inwardly. What was that warning Wilde had written about women and mauve?
Young ‘Robbie’ obediently admired the ribbons while murmuring little compliments in her ear—”how well you they would look in your curls, Dora my love.” He gently stroked one of the golden curls as he spoke, and Mr. Wood wished that he could push both of them out the door and bar it against them and all of their kind. Such ‘live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be buried in thy eyes’ romantic mush-gush made him ill.
    Young Robbie and Dora would have pointed to his disgust as a case of sour grapes. Mr. Wood, though his scowls aged him, had no more than a few years over the besmitten pair. Springtime ought to have sent him to the general store with the love of his life on his arm, not to the stool behind the counter. If his life was like theirs, they would argue, he would view ribbons in a different way.
    However, it was not for the disdain of the ladies that Mr. Wood sat on his stool. Many young women in the town eyed the dark-haired, straight-nosed individual with interest, and many even said he might be handsome if he did not scowl so much. They would have  been happy to oblige had he asked any of them to go walking with him. But Mr. Wood disliked it all. He would not simper, he would stroke the golden curl. His compliments would have disappointed—a young lady may doubt her lover if his most sincere praises were for her “very strong cheekbones” or the “very durable and practical fabric of her dress.” He lacked sentimentality, and he found it unbearable that these cooing pairs of love doves would choose the general store as a place to ooze some of their own superfluous measures of it. He tried to put his mind off it by re-balancing the till and organizing a jar of candy drops by color until the dingling of the bell made him look up eagerly, anticipating the couple’s departure. He was disappointed in this, for Mr. Robert and Miss Dora were still cooing among the ribbons, and instead some new customers had entered. It was a bustling middle-aged woman with a critical eye, accompanied by a young lady who looked to be 15-20 years her junior.
“Hmm. Here it is, Katie, a very well organized shop after all. I had not thought it would be so from the crookedness of the hanging sign,” the woman remarked to her companion.
“Indeed Aunt, it had a decidedly careless air. But look how these pickle jars are arranged—professional, I do say,” said Katie.
In spite of himself, Mr. Wood felt some pride. His employer had set him to arranging the pickle jars the day before, and he had felt at the time that his work had been fine, and was glad for this confirmation of it. He made a mental note to adjust the sign.
“Excuse me, young man,” the woman addressed him, “ Do you sharpen scissors here?” The arch of her brow told Mr. Wood that the fineness of the pickle jar arrangement would be forgotten in an instant if he answered in the negative. Thankfully, he did not have to.
“Yes ma’am. Simply leave them here and they will be finished in and hour or two. Then you may return to the pick them up.” Katie and her aunt exchanged a look. “ I’m afraid we cannot stay in town that long, we have been out too long already,” said the woman, “I shall send Katie tomorrow for them, if you don’t mind, Mr —?”
“Wood ma’am. James Wood. That will be no inconvenience. What name shall I put on the order?” he queried, pen poised.
“Mine, I suppose—Mrs. Eleanor Brickle, and my niece’s as well, since she shall fetch them.”
“Katherine Ashby,” the young lady offered.
Mr. Wood wrote both names down in neat block lettering.
“They will be ready as soon as you care to come for them tomorrow,” he assured them. Mrs. Brickle nodded approvingly.
“Thank you Mr. Wood. This is a well-run shop.”
“I am happy to please you, and I will pass your compliments on to my employer,” he said, with another swell of pride.
The two women turned to go, but before they left, Miss Katie Ashby looked back over her shoulder.
“The jar of candy drops, Mr. Wood, is most splendidly organized,” she said, with a flash of admiration in her eye. Then the door bell tinkled, and out they went.
Mr. Wood folded the receipt carefully and placed it with the scissors into a box for sharpening later. Mr. Robert and Miss Dora finally came forward with their ribbon selections. They gazed lovingly at each other as he rung them up, but he did not notice so much as before.
“What very strong cheekbones Miss Ashby has,” he thought.

The End.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Guy Fawkes day and other things

Yesterday evening we all went to the Guy Fawkes day Fair and Fireworks in the park near our house. This holiday is not one that I understand exactly...I believe it's celebrating the fact that Guy Fawkes was not successful in blowing up parliament. However, I am happy for any reason for fair food and fireworks, so I'm not complaining. Natalie and I decided that it was probably that they needed a November holiday, since they don't have Thanksgiving, so they looked around in history to find something momentous that happened in November to have a holiday for. Ha ha.

Anyway, I will say that the fireworks were way beyond anything I've ever seen on the Fourth of July. They were fantastic! They set off some twirly ones and glittery ones that I've never seen before. I took some videos, but of course it's a rather sad capture of them. Oh well. Another thing that is standard practice at Guy Fawkes day is burning an effigy of Guy Fawkes. They had a huge effigy of him made from straw and other burnable materials by an artist that they lit on fire after the fireworks. It was pretty intense. All this plus warm donuts and a toffee apple...a very enjoyable night. My fingers were freezing by the end though. I warmed them up with a hot mug of vanilla and almond milk though.

Here are the essay topics for this week: A  discussion of Bill Sikes' dog, Bulls'-eye in Oliver Twist for Victorian lit, and answering the question "How does Shakespeare present Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra? Does he change at all?" for my Shakespeare tutorial.

Update on Christmas Anticipation Meter: Way too high. I'm going to draw a turkey for my door to distract myself.