Art Show at Clinton Corners

Posted by: Richenda at Saturday June 7, 2008 in

Date night! What a lovely evening it was, too. Jon took me out to SE Portland, to Clinton Corners Cafe off Division Street where his good friend Ron Braithwaite was showing some of his beautiful photographs.

What a treat. Ron’s photographs were crisp, curvaceous, urban organic mesh, I perhaps especially loved a black and white with a snag in the foreground echoed in a round, open stone in the distant canyon. In addition, many were framed by artist Carole Lynn Good-Hanson who worked with waterfalls of glass, adding a liquid, lolly texture to the print. I cornered Ron and Carole for a picture.

As for the venue, it was a little small for the crush attracted for the show, but this was probably only a problem for the wait staff who had to practice a vertical sort of limbo to squeeze in and around the throng. Jon and I sat down and ordered dinner, what a great idea that turned out to be! Clinton Corners Cafe is a small restaurant, so how they keep their chef I have no idea, but the food was absolutely perfect. A mix of eclectic, upscale, and home cooking with hearty portions, quality fresh ingredients, and a lovely presentation. We split a Caesar Salad and the special, fish and organic chips for $10 a plate. Dinner was so good, we indulged in dessert, Chocolate Mousse for Jon, not too sweet, perfect consistency, and deep dish apple pie with vanilla ice-cream for myself. Goodies courtesy of the bakery that shared the premises. Mmm…

After dinner, we schmoozed a bit more with the artloving throng, then capped the evening with a walk along the verdant city blocks. The houses there were built between 1906 and 1930, it seemed like, with one old barn suspiciously older. Most were nicely kept, and many were lush with verdant herbs that pushed out onto the sidewalk or exploded from pots across porches. Loved it. My idea of heaven, actually.

Along the walk we passed a well tended riot of organic greenery. It belonged to New Day School, which claimed to be Neo-Humanist. I liked that, but it got me thinking, What’s a Neo-Humanist? (I know, I know. Why spoil a perfectly good evening with socio-political intellectual stuff? Suffice it to say, whoever these Neo-Humanists are, they grow beautiful gardens.) It was so beautiful, I took pictures of the walk,

and I’m guessing even John Locke never had a garden this good

(though perhaps Adam and Eve once did).

Too many tears, a report from Chengdu

Posted by: Richenda at Tuesday May 27, 2008 in

I’m sorry to delay posting this blog entry, but understandably, communication between the US and Chengdu was disrupted for a while after China’s terrible earthquake.

We had an exchange student from Chengdu, China five(?) years ago. Her name Yuan Xi, and we have kept in close contact with her since then. (While she was here, we called her Emma.) Imagine my concern when I heard of the quake and saw the destruction on the news. Cell phones didn’t work at first, and email was sporadic. She managed to get an email through, but I was unable to send a reply. And, of course, the last thing I wanted to do was bother her when there was likely so much that needed to be done.

Xi (pronounced She) is one of those people who jumps in to help in times of trouble and that’s exactly what she did. I finally managed a cell phone call through to her and obtained her permission to post her first email on my blog, which follows:

Dear Mom,
Finally I have a chance to stop to write to you. I am sorry to keep you worry about me for so long. What a mess here since the earthquake had happened. I was at home alone when the earthquake took place. Our building began to swing suddenly. People shouted and all ran out of the building, so did I. I was very frightened. After the earthquake, all the phone lines had been cut off, I could not contact any of my relatives. Even worse, my grandmother was still ill in the hospital, and I did know how frighted she must be especially because she is deaf.
I quickly rode a bike to the hospital. On the streets, people were everywhere, and the traffic was stopped dead already, no car could move at all. When I got to the hospital, I found all the patients had been placed on the ground downstairs. From hundreds of them, I found my grandmother who was sitting on a bench with a painful expression on her face. And next to her was my grandfather who looked extremely worried.
The moment I saw them, I cried. My grandmother was already in a lot of pain, but because of the earthquake, she could not even have a bed to make herself feel better. At night all of our families gathered in the hospital and talked about what we would do next.
Because Chengdu is not the Seismic center, and most buildings are strong enough, our city seems fine, no big destruction, only some wall fissures in some houses, like our apartment. So for the aftershocks, we thought we had better not to go back home for some time. All these days, we have been living outside. And people live in their cars, on the streets, etc. I slept on the grass-ground of a park with my best friend one day. And I felt myself like a real beggar.
In the Seismic center, Wenchuan country of Sichuan, and the placed closer to it the situation is very terrible. Too many houses have been destroyed and too many people died or became homeless. We all felt very sad for them, they were all our family.
After the earthquake had happened, a teacher of mine working in the TV station asked me to go to one of the most terrible disaster areas with him to make a news report, and I did go there. I understood how dangerous it could be if I go, we may get hurt by the strong aftershocks, and it was even possible that we could not make it back. But I still wanted to go. I felt so bad that so many Chinese people died in my province, and I hoped to do something for them.
We spent some days in the disaster areas, we took them food, water, clothes,etc. And also innumerable Chinese people have made blood and money donation for them. I felt very proud of our nation! When I was in the disaster areas as a reporter, I cried a lot. What we saw was too sad. I do not know how to describe the pictures. Too many dead bodies, too many tears, etc. I got injured in a strong aftershock, but I am okay now, do not worry.
Now, I am back to Chengdu. The city is still as beautiful as before. We never expected there would be an earthquake happen to us. And we were not ready to lose so many. Life is precious, and I am so lucky to have it. From May 19th to 21th, the three days are our National Mourning Day for all the people died in the earthquake. It is an extremely painful mourning to all the dead compatriots, and everyone gives best wishes for all the survivors.
I am so tired, and the only thing that I wanna do now is to have a lot of sleep.
I love all of you~~~~~~

An Update for June 20th:

Xi has graduated from university with a degree (roughly translated) in bi-lingual broadcasting and communications. She is currently working on a program to benefit the children of the earthquake who were hurt or left orphaned. Xi will also emcee for the event.

Here is a photograph she sent of herself (center) at graduation. She is pictured with her two best friends.

Congratulations Xi! I imagine that where ever you go in life, compassion and beauty will follow.

Festival of Homiletics: Day Six

Posted by: Richenda at Friday May 23, 2008 in

Day six of a five day festival, you read that right. A five day festival with a blog for a miraculous sixth day. Lol (I arrived a day early. )

Today was a short day, two services, snack, and a lecture over about 12:30. Mom and I hopped a shuttle and here I am at the airport, post-Starbucks, awaiting a Northwest flight back to Portland. I hope my children remember who I am! (I hope they cleaned something!?)

A lovely final service today, Celtic themed with harp and flute players, dancers, songs of sprinkling, and communion. After five (six) days of this my heart is so full and my mind is brimming—so much so, that there really isn’t anything to say.

That said, can you stomach another mention of Post-Modernism? The complaint I am about to make will, sadly, likely ensure that I am not accepted to seminary in the fall. Life is like that. Yet, fool that I am, I just have to speak. So here I go. (Read no further if diatribes bother you. If, by some miracle you actually want to read more, see this blog or this one, where I’ve already addressed the subject.)

Between the two morning services we had a speaker who addressed Post-Modernism (postmodernism). Perhaps it is because I came from a literary background, but this concept is not new to me. In fact, this concept is old to me. But here it is again. As a consequence, I writhe in my seat. No! The last precious lecture of the conference, and it’s going to be on this subject?!

I start passing notes in class. I grab my spiral-bound and pour out my frustration. Sitting next to me, my mother gives me a sidelong look, then giggles. She leans over and whispers that we can’t all come from literary backgrounds and this is a new idea for the church.

I keep scribbling, but my frustration ebbs a little. Still…it seems a dishonest conversation because we aren’t talking about Post-Modernism in real terms. We are speaking of it as if it is now, and future. In fact, it is already past. But now that the idea has finally trickled down into the church, theologians are busy pounding it until it oozes.

Let me interrupt this rant with a couple of important notes. First, let me give credit to the speaker, he did the subject (Post-Modernism) justice. (And, to be fair, I was writing frustrated notes so I missed some of what he said. For all I know I missed the remark that will change the world.)
Second, let me say that this dialogue is really important—even if it seems to me to be a little late.

The trouble, however, still exists. The church is still an era behind—and clueless about it.


Post-Modernism is dead, people. Dead. Dead. Dead. Over. Gone. Splicko. Post-Modernism must have caught the church at prayer or sleeping, but it looked up to see that an entire era had passed them by. In church terms, we already had the pot luck.

The world today is what I would call ‘relational.’ And if you want to know what’s going on in the proto-relational world of today visit a local high school. Don’t look at the youth in Sunday school who have already learned to adapt to what the church offers them. (And we wonder why they disengage with church when they become teenagers.) Look at these kids in their cultural environment. (To be fair, there are many vibrant, relevant youth programs. But think also at the plummet in numbers of Sunday school attendees.)

So, walk down the high school hallway. Put aside your prejudices regarding tattoos and piercings, you are thirty years too late to judge. What streams down the hall are a generation you do not give enough credit or attention to. (This is a generation of readers!) And they have never experienced postmodernism.

These kids have global awareness and a relational worldview. The young have ‘plug and play’ wiring, they are little geniuses at integrating new concepts and ideas, weighing and internalizing them, and not just sorting them but interrelating them and even imagining and re-imagining them. They live in a web-like world where many outcomes are possible in every story and knowledge and relationship are always in flux.

Post-modernism would fail them utterly as a worldview. They are elastic yet cohesive. Throw something at them and they absorb it, and keep their feet. These kids play soccer, but they also play World of Warcraft. They are comfortable with the imagined, both the evil and the hero, and have the inner mental capacity to structure an abstract world. The tambourine and the bongos are ‘contemporary’ instruments of their grandparents’ generation. For God’s sake, listen up! Are you really so unaware that you can’t hear these kids? For they are literally screaming their faith—but not in church.

I scribble another note to my mother, complaining: Once the church was on the ideological cutting edge. What happened?! My mom nods sympathetically to my pain. She scribbles back, quoting Cliff Armour, a retired pastor from Newark UMC, DE: “When will the church stop being the taillights and become the headlights again.” To this I would say, Amen.

At my complaints my mother suggests I read Leonard Sweet. I am sour on that idea. To be fair to Mr. Sweet, I know absolutely nothing about him. Perhaps he will be the answer I am looking for. But I’m tired of being given reading assignments that do not offer true insight into today’s world. Our supposed champions are still standing in the back yard looking out. They tell us all about the front yard, but they haven’t actually made it there. They are translators, translating perceived new-world realities into old world language and understanding.

Is there value in this? YES. For those who are just now looking up, having those translations available to them is a very good idea. But I have long since stepped into the front yard. I know these authors are smart men and women. But still, it takes a pretty amazing grandparent to teach their grandchild how to force the final alien boss to surrender his hammer in Halo 2.

Why? I have some theories. I think perhaps Modernism was so unpalatable to the church that they just sort of ignored it. They reacted by blocking it out, perhaps, and looking away. And so, when Post-Modernism came along, they didn’t notice. Also, I think the baby boomers were a big, overshadowing (and often myopic, though good intended) generation.

[Note to the worship committee: “Contemporary” Worship services are not the answer!]

This is another thing that makes me incredulous. Some in the church imagine that ‘contemporary’ services are the remedy to post-modernism and will serve our current world. To this I say, ‘contemporary’ worship is great. I can find it very enjoyable. But it is OLDER than postmodernism.

‘Contemporary’ worship was a response to the stark intellectualism of modernism. Contemporary worship, (as a movement within an age where one era crashes tumultuously over another) is antique. Is that a bad thing? No, not necessarily. But please, let’s call it what it is. When it comes to church service, contemporary means ‘baby boomers’ and that means grandparents.

Yet the church doggedly holds on to those coveted ‘Contemporary’ services. First of all, they can be very good, so there’s a big reason to keep them. They serve many people, and so that’s good, too. But the trouble comes when they are served up as a response to today’s world. Folks, we’re having trouble recognizing and responding to change. Is it that we are afraid of our own mortality? I mean, if ‘contemporary’ isn’t ‘it’ anymore, maybe we aren’t ‘it’ either? (Screaming follows this revelation.)

Baby boomers are a big generation, and I think that is partly why there is so much resistance to thinking of ‘contemporary’ as ‘old fashioned.’ No, they say, it was our grandparents who were old fashioned—and we have a traditional service for them. To which I might answer, your grandparents? You mean 1895-1920? Guys, we just can’t keep this up. We need to step into what is ‘now’ and respond anew.

Post-Modernism is history, folks. It came, it saw, it left its mark. It’s gone now. We are leaving huge numbers of people 40 and under unserved.

My mother reads my long scribbling diatribe and reminds me that many people in the church, including the pastors and the people in the pews, have never heard of postmodernism (or even care about it). So how can they make judgments about it? And it’s all supposed to be about God, anyway. She writes: Even as we grasp at the elusive, it moves on because it is what it was. It is like the mystery of faith: I was—I am—I will be. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. That is truth! (Her underline.)

Okay. I have to concede the point, and so I listen more patiently again. Then I write back: If we don’t have people who can help us grapple with what postmodernism was it is hard to process the movement of ideology into the present day. To this my mother nods. And you know what, she’s right. Maybe she can beat the boss in Halo 2, as well.

And so that leaves me wondering, who is Leonard Sweet?

Festival of Homiletics: Day Five

Posted by: Richenda at Thursday May 22, 2008 in

Well, I finally had a chance to live a sample of the monastic life—I attended three services by 3:30 this afternoon. If you include the musical prayer session, that’s four. I don’t know when I’ll get an opportunity to do that again! (And yes, I bought another book by Walter Brueggemann.)

Another day of wonderful worship, song, and service. Here’s a link for you, a church in Ohio pastored by Michael Slaughter. Though his “‘Christmas is not your birthday’ social justice exhortations, he and his thriving congregation feed 76,000 in Darfur, have opened 90 schools there, and here in the US have opened food pantries and more.

At this amazing church, they basically live out Jesus’ words to go out into the world and love their neighbors as themselves. This is an amazing ministry, and best of all, this is the vision of what is possible for all of us. We can, each of us, all of us, make a difference.

And shout outs to vocalist Jearlyn Steele—wow what a woman and what a voice! —and Jazz pianist Butch Thompson. Mr. Thompson played the piano primarily, but treated us to three songs on the clarinet, and truly, I promise you, I have never, never heard the clarinet played so beautifully in all my life. What an honor to get to hear them.

And what a treat to be in Minneapolis today! My mother wanted to travel by skyway, but I confess to fearing that I would get hopelessly lost. And, as the sun was shining, I won out.

But what a way to be out on the walk! The downtown was hopping with busy, congregating folk. Couples and conference goers and shoppers and street musicians in the middle of a bustling, buzzing city. Two cops rolled along on matching Segways (I admit they looked a little silly—but silly in a good way, you know? Like it was okay to be a cop on a Segway on a sunny Thursday afternoon in a happy city. Sadly, I don’t have a picture of this.)

There was also a wonderful caramel-kissed husky asleep under a canopy of art for sale, his muzzle nestled between his paws on the cool stone walkway. Such a sweetie. And a few steps more took us along the colorful box-markets of vegetables and fruits, which were a little sun-weary, perhaps, but beautiful anyway as a display of color and plenty.

What a city. What a week.

Festival of Homiletics: Day Four

Posted by: Richenda at Wednesday May 21, 2008 in

Walter Brueggemann is my new hero. I’m not writing a newsy blog today because I want to read instead, starting with The Prophetic Imagination.

But I’ll leave you with this bit of Brueggemann wisdom: “If you win the rat race, you’re a rat!”

(This blog courtesy of a borrowed Blackberry. What a thing!)

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