Friday, December 30, 2011

Budding pine cones

 Brand new Torrey Pines conelets, and one year old...

Patience of Job

Patching holes and smoothing out my Job discussions is slow work!
Maerten de Heemskerck, Job's Triumph (1559), National Gallery of Art, Washington

Thursday, December 29, 2011


The rogue fog bank came barreling in today just as the sun was setting.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

New year approaches

Knock knock

I could have posted this a few days ago, but home for the holidays is a sort of limbo; time pools, like a tidal river shifting from flowing upstream to downstream. (And the week after Christmas is shapeless and unmotivated on top of that.) Anyway, I went to church with my mother on Christmas, and had my first experience of the new-old Catholic liturgy. We didn't do all of it: no striking here, for instance:
I guess California has faults enough already! Elsewhere the new wording (conveniently in bold on a laminated worship aid) seemed more of a joke, albeit one everyone was in on, but throughout there is a stronger emphasis on human sinfulness and divine mercy. The only disruption came in the sung prayers, the new wording not having the same number of syllables as the earlier words for which the melodies were crafted.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Company man

Realized the other day with some shock that my next semester will be All New School, All The time. On top of the lecture course my friend J and I are teaching on the history of the school, "The New School Century," I'm part of the Middle States review process (surveying the curricula of all divisions, with particular attention to "general education") and also seconded to a university-wide review committee which will look over at least forty cases from across the university... I foolishly put my name in for the strategic planning process on which our college's new dean wants to embark, too. Past, present and future, but all New School. Whew!

Where's the religious studies in all this? Good question! I'm looking forward to ferreting out religious and religious studies elements to New School history - early Presbyterian supporters! Horace Kallen's views on the religion of art! Alvin Johnson's pro-Christian opposition to fascism! Leo Strauss' medievalism! Reinhold Niebuhr's lectures in the 1950s! Hans Jonas' views on gnosticism! our powerhouse sociologists of religion! Talal Asad! Queer Christianities! - though they probably won't find their way into the course. It's not, I assure you, that New School has become my religion! But it does seem to be pretty common for religious studies professors to be good university citizens... mea culpa.

Not that any of this seems very real, one week from departure for India!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Gods and gulls

Dusk at very low tide at Torrey Pines State Beach brings wonders.

O Tannenbaum

Wise Christmas wishes from some of my German cousins. Rough translation: A happy Christmas, a few days' peace, time to go for a walk and let one's thoughts roam, time for oneself, for the family, for friends. Time to gather strength for the new year. A year without fear and big worries, with just as much success as one needs to be content, and only as much stress as one can bear to remain healthy, with as little anger as possible and as much joy as needed to be happy for 365 days. This Christmas tree of good wishes is sent with warm greetings by...

Friday, December 23, 2011

And to all a good night

Bali hai

You don't often see Catalina from Del Mar, let alone as clearly as this.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

While you were out

Cliff-fall at TPSB. Here's what's gone, in a picture from five years ago: 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A month away

I fly tomorrow, and don't return for a month! Be well, dear NYC!

Mourning rituals

I find I'm absolutely fascinated by the images of mass mourning we've been getting from North Korea. These are all from the New York Times; the one above appeared in the paper the day the news broke. 
I'm not saying I doubt the genuineness of the emotion shown here - especially as a crowd phenomenon it makes sense. But I also don't doubt that these displays are organized. I don't see a contradiction here. Seen from religious studies, true performance of correct feeling is a familiar phenomenon - but still in its way a baffling one. I take as confirmation of the intentionalness of the desired emotion North Korean
TV's including this scene of students at an acting school weeping. They're actors! Are we to think this is involuntary? I doubt it. Something beyond spontaneous expression of "genuine" emotion is at play here.

Monday, December 19, 2011

New kids on the block

The baby tree stork passed through Prospect Place today, and left a new
tree where the one destroyed by last year's tornado stood!
A Japanese pagoda tree!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Holiday pageant

Went to a church on the Upper West Side today with some friends, and attended the wonderful and witty Christmas pageant put on by children from different Sunday school age groups. The kindergarteners appeared as a line of angels in home-made costumes singing "Go tell it on the mountain." First and second graders imagined Joseph at the census trying to explain that he was not the biological father of his son Jesus.
This group here did a kind of numerological catechism (four evangelists, ten commandments, etc.), with a key to its often obscure references offered by the boy on the end; this was for the number five. Young teens did a Harry Potter-themed skit (the one who cannot be named is tricked into zombiehood by the choir director). High schoolers had a skit about not being able to agree on a script for their skit. Wonders of youth!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hole in one

The Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha is planning a synagogue, a church (Episcopal) and a mosque on the same "campus," a converted country club, together with a shared "Tri-Faith Center" for functions. It takes the emerging interreligious landscape of America and makes it intentional.
They already have a shared children's program called "Interplay," and a prayer: "Our vision is to build bridges of respect, acceptance and trust, to challenge stereotypes, to learn from each other and to counter the influence of fear and misunderstanding." Possibilities ... endless!

Friday, December 16, 2011


Recognize this chap? It's our old friend Job, of course! The (unattributed) image is from a prayer card a friend found in the church of San Giobbe in Venice.The tradition seeing Job as a "type" of Christ is evidently alive and well. This Job hasn't torn his clothes or shorn his hair in mourning for his lost children, and his skin is rash- and boil-free. Indeed, tho' his wife looks old, he looks about, well, thirty-three.
How deliciously New York. A gingerbread subway car!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

fashionable religion

In the welter of end-of-year activities we started something new this week, too. A Swedish fashion designer who has recently joined the Parsons School of Design Strategies contacted our religious studies program to propose some sort of collaboration. In Gothenberg he had attended several seminars in the Theology Faculty. Apparently his dissertation explored the applicability of the liberation theological concept of "base communities" to innovative fashion production, although he seems more interested now in talking about heresy. In any case, I invited him to class a few times, and then, Monday night, we had a first official gathering on the religion-fashion connection, in a studio at Parsons - half a dozen faculty and students from each program attended. I thought I might end up with something wearable by the end of the event but that will come later. For now it was just a free- wheeling discussion exploring affinities, metaphors, synergies, of which there are more than a few. It turns out that the Integrated Design Program explains its relationship to design and design studies more generally much the way lived religion relates to "institutional" religion. "Capital F fasion" is, he says, like organized religion, with its authorities, sacred texts and practices, but what they're interested in is more fluid, more egalitarian, spunkier - and integrated with all of life. Everyone gets dressed, his Dutch colleague P said, there's no reason fashion (small f) shouldn't be part of everyone's everyday life. (She doesn't seem to think the same about religion.) We have much to teach each other and learn from each other. We reconvene in February - join us? If not wearables we'll at least be producing a few pamphlets on the subject!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Darjeeling local

In three and a half weeks I'll be in the Himalayan foothills of northeast India. Apparently it takes between two and four hours by car (taxi) to get from Bagdogra Airport (A, 1243m) to Darjeeling (B, 2050m), and about as long again to get to Gangtok in Sikkim (C, 1437m).

Monday, December 12, 2011

The customer was king

Latest casualty of restless New York real estate, the Japanese-run cafe Thé Adoré on 13th. It was like an oasis of calm. Gochisousama deshita.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wish I were convinced this revision will do the trick...

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Remember that Navajo nativity poem I heard about at AAR? Here it is.

The poet is Luci Tapahonso. Another poem takes me back to the deep comfort of driving - being driven - at night among New Mexico mesas.
Luci Tapahonso, A Breeze Swept Through (Albuquerque: West End Press, 1987), 18-19, 4

Friday, December 09, 2011

Just in time

You'll know by now that one thing I particularly enjoy is belatedly learning to appreciate something of greatness which originally didn't move me. (In some cases it's doubtless the pendant to an earlier, less generous-spirited pleasure: finding highly praised things overrated.) Tonight I had the chance to see what the fuss about Merce Cunningham was all about - and just in time, as it was the penultimate performance of his dance company, which ends its 58-year run tomorrow night. (Cunningham himself died in 2009, at ninety.) The program was Pond
Way (1998), Rainforest (1968), and Split Sides, premiered in this very space, the BAM Opera House, in 2003. Each was lovely in its own way, every movement a delightful surprise. The last piece, which will also close tomorrow's final performance, has a sly game built into it. It starts with five rolls of a die, to determine in which order the two dances, costumes, soundtracks, lighting designs and sets should be performed. There are  25 = 32 possibilities. But although you see only one - the one we saw was exquisite - you also see them all. Nothing is missing.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Duck, here comes Christmas!

Someone sent me the link to someone's collection of the "worst nativity sets." Some of them are pretty awful, but as a set they raise some rather interesting "lived religion" questions. Is this religion? Isn't it? Something like this awful-wonderful zombie nativity must be a gag, as is the bacon and sausage nativity you'll have to look up on his site. But cupcake topper nativity seems like it could be an expression of some
kind of piety. And what about dog nativity? While I'm not a dog person I can see how this might be more than dog-worship, might be its own tender expression of "O come let us adore him." Celebrate the coming  of Christ into your life by expressing something of yourself: isn't that the sort of thing "lived religion" takes seriously? But wasn't Jesus' human form sort of central? Maybe not. WWJD? Better a moose than a zombie.

The twain meets

One of the great myths of the world of publishing is that some nobody gives a talk somewhere, perhaps her first, and afterward the editor of a distinguished press or journal comes up and enthsuses "I loved it! Can I publish it?" Well, something a little like that happened to me yesterday at my colleague Henry's reading series. I was of course reading from the "personal essay" H challenged me to write about my experience teaching the Aboriginal Australia course, an essay I spent a lot of time on but didn't imagine or expect would ever have a career beyond this blog. It was my first "reading," that is, the first time I'd shared something as a piece of writing rather than an argument, analysis or research - it came after reading of a short story and some poems - and I was both relieved and disappointed that the audience was small; only one other colleague came, N, a loyal trooper who attends all student and faculty work. I'm not sure my reading was very good - I hurried, and stumbled, and got lost in my text. But it is interesting material, and I'd worked on my "self-dramatization." N said he liked it, which I was grateful for. But then it turns out that he edits a journal! A journal on Australian and New Zealand literature, no less, Antipodes! And they're going to publish it!
(This map is someone's effort to show what antipodes means.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I could use a hand or two or three

Past, present and future converge at this time of year, but this week is a more than usually all-over-the-place. At the end of Fall semester there's always the whiplash of wrapping up this semester's classes, preparing for next semester's classes, and planning the curricula for Religious Studies and the First Year Program for the two semesters after that. But this time I'm also planning a roundtable and a big conference for the Spring (Lived Religion, 2/23 and Queer Christianities 3/23-24), making arrangements for a trip to India, and finishing a book manuscript - oh, and this afternoon reading a revised excerpt of my essay on a course from last semester. So Spring '11, Fall '11, Spring '12, Fall '12 and Spring '13, all at once...

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Traveling papers

A new page in my passport! As long as I leave intervals of two months between visits, I can go and go to India without another visit to the visa
agency until my passport expires! Feels like a commitment - in any case an opening... (A month from now I'll be getting ready for Darjeeling!)

We've started something

The course J and I will be teaching on the history of The New School ("The New School Century") is garnering quite a bit of interest and enthusiasm. The editor of the school paper's become obsessed with the question why we never created an archive, and is collecting images of materials on his own. Here are two of his trouvailles, 1930 and 1956.