IMG_4998Tonight we went to see GodSpell at the community college where I teach. It was really good. And it’s so faithful to the scripture. When explaining it to the kids, I told them it was the Gospel of Matthew sort of translated into hippie 1960s culture. So they said, “you mean it’s 2000 years old acting like it’s 50 years old?” I was taken about by the 50 year designation, but yes, pretty much. And it is. But it is also contemporary. And it’s gospel. ComputerGuy and I were talking on the way home about how community college can do things almost no one else can. It was a creative production with extra physical and verbal bits thrown in that my son loved (“Mom, my favorite part was the Mario music”). Jesus was a small black young man, powerful singer. John/Judas was a tall white young man. There were cast members of all shapes and sizes, black and white, Asian and Latinx. They used flowers and bandanas as symbols of Jesus’ followers, and hand sanitizer in the “foot washing” scene. And Jesus broke bread, (and for me, having broken bread this year, and spoken his words, I saw that in a different light).

Because I mostly listen to the music, I forget how much of the book comes straight from the Gospel. They’re telling parables and stories and the sermon on the mount and recreating scenes. I found the sheep and the goats particularly poignant tonight. “Whatever you have (not) done for the least of these my brothers, however humble, you have (not) done for me.” I’m struggling to put this into words, but I was also struck by the natural speech rhythms of Jesus. When we read scripture, especially in church, it’s a production. To simply hear Jesus saying these things to his followers gave me a different sense of them.

We had just watched NBC’s live Superstar the other night, and it noticeably ends on the cross. So here, when Jesus comes down from the cross and slips in with the disciples, and the pure joy is expressed–both his and theirs–it seemed particularly meaningful.

I am fascinated by the sudden resurgence of both these musicals. In a culture where people are fighting over what it means to follow Jesus, we may be asking, “who is this Jesus?” These were two really different portraits of Jesus, controversial when they opened–that reflect the culture of early seventies America and England, both worth contemplating as we ask, who is this Jesus we follow? and what does it mean to follow him?

(Also, I’ve been listening to Superstar and Godspell my whole life. My parents played the records. Godspell evidently opened off broadway 5 days after I was born. And I will trust my mom to correct me if I’m wrong, but I think it’s the first musical I remember seeing at my dad’s high school when I was about 4. I can still picture the experience in my mind. I was mesmerized. And have been enamored of musicals ever since.)

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a wrinkle in time (more or less)

Spoiler Alert: herein I talk about the movie and some differences between the film and the book, so if you haven’t seen it and want to judge it for yourself, do wait to read this. (I wrote this Thursday night, but set it to publish Saturday morning. We decided to go ahead and take the family and see it. We’re cool like that. Or nerdy like that. Or something. It was a 7:00 movie. We wouldn’t have done some crazy midnight thing. We’re too old and the kids are too young. There were about 10 people in the theater. Our town is a tough sell. I hope it is doing better elsewhere.)

I thought it was moving and terrific and I loved Storm Reid’s Meg.

I know the book so well, I’ve been trying not to nit-pick it, but they did skip my favorite Mrs Who quote, “The heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing” Pascal. They also skipped my favorite part, the section with Aunt Beast where the ice in Meg’s heart thaws and she learns to forgive her father.

There are other changes; some of them make sense and some are baffling, but I’m trying not to nit-pick.

Movie Mom thinks the film fails with Charles Wallace, and I am inclined to agree, but my almost 9-year-old son loved him and loved the film. I’ll take that.

Three and a half years ago, when Jennifer Lee of Frozen was announced as a screenwriter, Kristin and I had a conversation about the upcoming film and casting decisions (Can Meg be Unattractive? (me) and Heroines Plain and Awkward (Kristin)).

By the time Ava DuVernay was announced as director, and her plan of using mixed race kids for the main characters was announced, I had almost completely fallen off blogging. It was probably on that ubiquitous social networking site that I said I was excited about the casting. It seemed to me to be a brilliant way to update L’Engle’s themes and to allow for Meg’s social outsider status. They did not make that explicit in the film; there were no racial epithets thrown at her or anything, but it existed in the subtext, the foundations for the character. Storm Reid was excellent; she was angry and awkward and stubborn and suspicious and brave and loving and passionate. She was also lovely. She just was. In this case, I think I’m okay with that.

One interesting move they made was to include flashbacks of the Drs. Murry. In that way, they were much more a part of the story arc than they are in the book. I don’t know yet what I think about that.

I have to admit I am more disappointed than I thought I would be at the erasure of the specific Christian references. The themes are there, more or less, but the references are gone, even though other religious figures are named. L’Engle was so much the kind of inclusive, loving Christian that it would be nice to hold up, and her faith was so integral to her identity and work, I’m a little sad. It wouldn’t have had to be prominent or pushy. Just there, in the list of light-bringers. Or as a quote alongside Buddha and Rumi and Miranda. With all the darkness and light imagery and language, I kept waiting for someone to say “the light shines in the darkness.” I understand, and I am disappointed.

I also realized that I struggled to get a feel for the film as a whole because I spent the whole time wondering what they were going to do with the next scene. I would like to watch it again now that I know so I can simply enjoy what is there instead of wondering how they will adapt it.

Posted in Books, Faith, Family, Films | 3 Comments

roundtable discussion assignment

2 years ago, when I taught my first Community College Brit Lit survey class, I included a basic group presentation on the syllabus. I had 4 topics (thematically linked sections from the Norton) and had the students present on them. And they were fine, but they were typical presentations. Some kids did most of the work, and they weren’t very interesting. I went back to the drawing board (because group assignments are supposed to be part of the curriculum and they do serve a purpose).

I thought a lot about it, and I thought about how much I like listening to roundtable style podcasts, even when I’m not familiar with the subjects. And so I started to work toward something like that.

The next semester, I called them panel discussions. I had the students read the thematic units, each group doing a different set of texts, and had them summarize the topic and the texts for the class and then ask each other questions about the texts and answer them in their group but in front of the class. It went better, but there was not as active of listening from the rest of the class as I had hoped. I debriefed the process with the class afterward and we decided that it would be better if we opened up the discussion to the class at the end of the time.

Last term, I called them roundtable discussions and after they explained the topic and summarized the texts and answered one another’s questions, I opened the floor to the class. There was a little more active listening, but classmates asked really hard questions and it got awkward. And, this time, there was a struggle with the text summaries taking longer than I had been hoping. There was more summary and less discussion.

This semester, I called them roundtable discussions, but I had them make handouts with the explanation of the theme and the summaries of the texts. The rest of the class was given the handouts and a few minutes to read through them. Then the discussion time was given entirely to posing and answering questions (3-5 questions. Every member of the group is expected to offer an answer to every question.) The discussions were supposed to be 30-35 minutes in length. At around the 20/25 minute mark, we opened the discussion to the class asking, “What did you notice?” “What do you wonder?” questions we have practiced in class before. This worked much better than just opening it to any and all discussion. Then, at about the 30 minute mark, a went back to the group and each member gave a wrap-up comment.

I had also played with seating arrangements each term. The first time it was a small circle of desks in front of the class while everyone else stayed in their normal rows. The second time I let groups circle up where they were in the room and everyone else stayed in their seats. This time I made a small circle of desks for the group surrounded by a large circle for the rest of the class. This arrangement seemed to work better.

As I had every term, I talked about how this is an evolving assignment and I debriefed it with them. They gave many things they liked about it, especially in comparison to a traditional presentation. One student said she wasn’t exactly sure what to expect in the actual discussion, so I could be more clear about that. But that was the only room for improvement note I was given.

In fact, they liked it so much (everybody participated! It was interesting to listen to! We got to choose what we wanted to read! We got to have an in-depth discussion!) that they said they’d like to do it again and they suggested I do it earlier in the semester to help students get to know one another. I can’t do the latter this semester, but I’ve looked at the schedule and there is no reason I can’t shift things around a bit and go ahead and do a second round.

Group presentations have always been kind of a trial. They are worthwhile for the students because they learn the material they are presenting, but they usually just aren’t that interesting. And some students obviously do much more work than others. I am pleased with the way students lean in to these discussions and how interesting they really are.

I’d be happy to share the assignment sheet if anyone found it useful.

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ruling elder commissioned to particular pastoral service


In my early twenties, I went to a Southern Baptist break-out session on “Is seminary for me?” They made it very clear that seminary was not for me (though it was for my friend Steve).

In my early thirties, I realized that the Baptists weren’t the be-all and end-all of the Christian faith and began exploring other options. I also began a Ph.D. in English because that seemed to be where I was headed.

In my early forties (with my Ph.D.), I looked at the guys in my Presbyterian church who were going to seminary and looking at ordination, thought, “They’re nice guys, but they don’t have anything I don’t except an unquestioned belief that they can do this.” I began working at the church. I took a seminary course for people like me who weren’t going to do an M.Div., but who longed to learn and lead.

Eventually, someone (the chair of the committee on preparation for ministry, also my pastor’s spouse) said, “you could become a Commissioned Local Pastor.” The denominational term is Commissioned Ruling Elder, but the Presbytery admits that “pastor” is a better term and means more to people and local means that it is only here and only now. One is ordained for life. One is commissioned for 3 years.

So I went through the process. And then we had to decide if my role in my congregation was actually pastoral. Eventually we decided it was. And on Sunday I was commissioned. The Presbyterians have a *thing* about every ruling elder already being ordained. So. My ordination is as an elder–not as a minister of word and sacrament. But. For the next three years (renewable), in this Presbytery, I have all the rights of a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I can consecrate the elements in communion. I can baptize. I can moderate a session meeting (Presbyterians have no hierarchy of ministry, but a distinctive is that it is the Pastors who moderate Session (council). Most other protestant denominations have lay members moderate their councils/vestries. Presbyterians also have few technical “lay” members. If you have been ordained an elder or deacon, you are ordained–not lay.)

This is a position that was created in the 90s because rural areas and ethnic congregations were finding themselves unable to find and/or pay a full Minister of Word and Sacrament (and there are Presbytery Minimums). Finding someone with good training but not a complete seminary course became a possibility. 30 years later, as churches find themselves unable to pay for an associate pastor, they are beginning to look at commissioned folks in that spot. It’s a new idea, and it’s where I find myself. The odd thing is the ambiguity I feel. I believe in education. I believe it means something. If our congregation could afford an associate, that person wouldn’t look like me (I am a decade younger than my colleague, but otherwise, we are the same demographic: middle-aged, middle-class white women. Our parents were all public school teachers. Ideally, she would prefer to have a male colleague who is ethnically more like our neighborhood. I can’t argue. Yet here I am.)

Presbyterians want to be unambiguous. There are lots of rules. So, I was commissioned on Sunday–not ordained (because I was ordained in 2010)–but the service was similar to an ordination. And I was given the gifts that are symbolic of ministry: a robe, a stole, and a communion cup and plate (and my parents, I believe, will gift me with a portable communion set).

My role in my congregation won’t change much. I will be able to preside at the communion table even if my Colleagues are absent. I could do a baptism, but I can’t imagine that happening because people want the *Pastor* to preside. I can moderate a session meeting if it becomes important (which it did in November when my colleague broke her arm, but I hadn’t been commissioned yet). But mostly I will continue to work on the orders of worship, to prepare “creative” worship services, to work to make sure youth and children are part of worship leadership. And, occasionally, I’ll preach.

I could be called to serve at another congregation in the Presbytery. If that happens, we will have to see what that means. I am open to being led by the Spirit, but I am also aware that my family is settled here. (I was looking for photos for the Nurture Committee’s annual report and almost sent my son’s birthday party photo because every person present is from this congregation.)

It feels like a culmination of a lifetime of seeking for me. In college, I wanted to be the one who worked on worship, but I was relegated to the one who did “discipleship” because I was studying to be a teacher and I am not a singer. I used to joke about wanting to preach, except it wasn’t really a joke for me, I just passed it off that way because that’s how it was taken. I was amazed when I joined the Presbyterian church how differently the same Scripture could be interpreted. They not only had a place for me as a woman, but they also had a place for me as an academic and a word smith and I didn’t have to be able to sing. I found my home.

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an ordination


The last week of high school for both of us.

15 years ago, the Chaplain was in my class. It was my final year teaching high school and her senior year. I grew particularly close to the Chaplain and her friends as we studied the great British writers together, and I remain in close touch with the one who became a high school English teacher (and still credits me with that, which awes me because she is so amazing) and with the Chaplain.

The Chaplain went off to to UC San Diego to pursue a bachelor’s degree and I went off to Purdue University to pursue a Master’s and Ph.D. We met up for lunch when we were all back on vacation.

The Chaplain’s family was not particularly religious, but when she was in high school, she was part of an Evangelical church many of the high school kids attended. I was Southern Baptist. As she went to college, she became disillusioned with Evangelicalism and began attending a Methodist church. When I went across country to do graduate work, part of what I was leaving–along with an untenable job–was the church of my youth. I sampled many churches in my two years in Indiana.

In 2004, I came back to Southern California to be married. The Chaplain and friends were there. The Chaplain spent that school year in England. Computerguy and I visited her there over Christmas break. (I think it was that year. If not, it was the next.) When she came back and graduated, the Chaplain moved to New York City to teach with AmeriCorps. (We visited her in New York and went to Evensong at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine which was walking distance from her house.) She did this for two years. While she was in New York, she began attending a Presbyterian church. As a couple, Computerguy and I found our way to the Presbyterians. One morning when the Chaplain was visiting and we were eating brunch together, she said, “I’ve started going to a Presbyterian church.” We said, “So have we.” a year or so later she said, “I think I am going to actually join the Presbyterian church.” We said, “So are we.”


Visiting the Chaplain and her Pastor Spouse in Boston.

And so on. When her AmeriCorps term was up, the Chaplain moved to Boston and began Harvard Divinity School as I finished my Ph.D. in English and began to be more involved in my church. She finished school and was married (and we attended the wedding in California, though not the graduation in Cambridge, but we did visit her in Boston more than once). She found work as a chaplain and I began to work part time at my church. I began to follow a non-traditional path into ministry, taking classes meant for leaders within congregations, and looking at the possibility of being commissioned as a local pastor. She began to be serious about going through the steps to ordination.

And so. On Sunday, the Chaplain will be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. I will fly out and witness and participate as a representative of her youth, but mostly because we have been friends for 15 years. Because she is a good Presbyterian, she has sent out the order of worship with everyone listed and instructions for when and where to meet so we can go over it. It is a lovely service. And I know all the hymns (Here I Am, For Everyone Born, The Summons), not because either of us grew up with them, but because they are part of that 20th century hymnody that is dear to Presbyterians, evidently on both coasts. The named participants include 5 men and 7 women (yes, I counted) and 6 and 6 clergy/not clergy. Well done, my friend, well done. Very Presbyterian of you.

This is why I found a home in the Presbyterian church. We are egalitarian. Any person can be ordained to any position. And, in theory, we have no hierarchy of ministry. There are usually both clergy and congregation members on the chancel in a worship service. In our Presbyteries and General Assemblies, we have even numbers of teaching elder and ruling elder (clergy/elder) representatives. On our Sessions the ruling elders outweigh the teaching elders. And we are thoughtful and intentional about the way we do things. We think about it, maybe too much. The prayers, the hymns, the scriptures, the sermon, the bits and bobs, the pictures on the bulletin cover fit the purpose of the service (hence the above named hymns in an ordination service: “Here I am, Lord…I will go, Lord…” “For everyone born, a place at the table…” “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name…” And we are Word (Christ) and word (scripture) centered. (And Presbyterians aren’t perfect and much of what I have said one could say about any mainline church. I think we were both drawn to Presbyterianism as a denomination, but also to the particular leaders and congregations we found ourselves in. It matters.)

Fifteen years ago, I would have had no idea where either of us would have found ourselves. I was going to study English and continue teaching high school or college. She was off to study political science. Yet… Providence. As I heard a pastor say last night at a Session meeting I was observing, “I call that a God incident.”


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summer drama adventure

The girl child is at drama camp today and tomorrow and all next week. This week is a 2 day “drama intensive.” She has been doing drama camp since she was 7, but this is the first year she is old enough for the “Drama Intensive.” I hope she enjoys the smaller, older group. We will see the showcase tomorrow evening. (This is how they manage the 4th of July week–2-day Princess Academy for little girls in the morning and Drama Intensive for older kids in the afternoon.)

Next week she will do traditional drama camp with her friend. They are doing Beauty and the Beast. These are plays written by the drama camp folks, carefully done to avoid copyright infringement, so we will see what they do. Honestly, I totally respect this group. They write original plays and give the kids a great week of drama fun. On Monday they do drama games and basic techniques. Tuesday they receive their parts. Wednesday and Thursday they rehearse, and Friday they put on the play. They have a bunch of song and dance numbers that everyone participates in, so no one is offstage very long. If there are major roles, they are split among actors (e.g. Dorothy #4).

Meanwhile, a young adult friend of ours asked if the girl child and I would be interested in having parts in a play. His grandparents (amazing people) have put their hearts and souls into the “Garcia Center for the Arts” in our impoverished downtown. I told Xaq that we would totally be interested. So the girl child and I will be in a community play as a mother and daughter. It’s a small part, the final page of the script, but I am totally enamored of this opportunity. It is something we love in a city we support for people we respect. We are blessed!

(Mom and Dad, it will be sometime in August. We’ll let you know. But we have very small parts.)


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I had taken a graduated student and friend out for dinner to celebrate his 5 on the AP Exam. We stopped at a bookstore after dinner and saw a Harry Potter display. I asked if he thought I would like it and he enthusiastically encouraged me to buy it. I never looked back. Later, he and I (and other people) went to several of the midnight releases of books and movies (though I got too old to keep up).

About my second Sunday at our church the “reflection before the service” written in the order of worship was a quote from Madeleine L’Engle and then the pastor talked about Harry Potter during the sermon. I was hooked (and we have talked much about both ML’E and HP since).

Now my kids are all about Harry Potter. Wordgirl has read all the books and Shyguy is all about the first 3 movies (he keeps going back and forth on whether he wants to watch the 4th one or not). We like to tell the girl child that she was at the midnight release of book 7, dressed in a S.P.E.W. onesie I made her. And about 3:00 that morning, sitting in my in-law’s upstairs rec room, I cried out in surprise as I read Dumbledore’s mother’s name. Dumbledore’s mother is a somewhat ambiguous character and not necessarily one I would have intentionally named a child after (Hermione, yes. Ginny, yes. Even Luna, yes.), but there is a delight in the coincidence, especially since it does not seem to be a particularly common name.

So, the Harry Potter books and world delight me, and it is fun to share it with students, friends, and now my children. I think they are extraordinary. Way to go, Jo!


Midnight in Boise waiting for HP (not sure where the original photos are stored, but this will do).

Posted in About Me, Books, The Kids | 1 Comment