Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Come again

My arrival in Shanghai is less than five weeks away (I arrive 2 September) and I'm starting to sense ways in which this adventure is going to be like past adventures, including some which go way back. Unexpected ways, of course, since I wasn't seeking to repeat things! Some of these repetitions come from my own limitations, others are alas out of my control. Here's an example of each.

Mark repeats himself:
My project is in some ways very like the project of the year I spent at Tokyo University in 1992-3. My official project then was "Japanese Weberians," but the related unofficial one had to do with how religion and especially ethics (倫理学) was understood and taught in Japanese universities. While I didn't have these details in mind when I formed the idea to go to China, the fruitfulness of the Japan stay certainly was a main motivator. I hope that 2014-15 China, too, establishes long-standing friendships and academic relationships.

Life repeats itself:
This goes back even farther - to 1984, when I started my undergraduate studies at Oxford. What seems likely to repeat itself is a November US election in which Republicans win big. Painful as that will be, it will be that much more unpleasant experiencing it in a foreign land ambivalent about the US and its claims to significance. Clarifying my relationship to the US, its people and its political system will be unavoidable.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Insufficient and unceasing

Went with my father to a panel discussion on the multiverse at UCSD's new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination this afternoon. A young theoretical physicist/cosmologist, an experimental astronomer and the science fiction writer in residence each spoke. While they had planned the panel together, the differences in their approaches were half the fun. The other half was this multiverse business which, the sci-fi writer (also a PhD in physics) told us, has in fifteen years become a theory everyone takes seriously. As the theoretical physicist stressed, it's not just a theory, but a prediction made by other theories (inflation, string theory). I'm not sure I see the significance of the difference, but I guess a prediction is, in principle at least, testable. In the ensuing discussion he mentioned that he hopes we'll be able to test this, adding that this was perhaps just an "aesthetic preference" of his. Then, as a sort of coda, he noted that it would be "kind" of the universe, too.

The panel offered us a kind multiverse. The second speaker was part of the team which triumphantly announced the confirmation of gravity waves a few months (and so inflation, and, sort of, the multiverse) - On its A1 the New York Times called it the "smoking gun." He didn't let on that the scientific community is far from agreed that anything of the sort was established, instead posting a 17th century painting of a dissection and remarking that over 600 articles engaging their data had already appeared. His presentation was full of wit and humor and, since the results were from a funny gifsUCSD-built telescope at the South Pole, he included this well-known penguin gif (my first gif!).

The sci-fi writer talked about ways in which all this might be good news for us - make our showing up for panels like this in some way significant, maybe even indicative of some broader truth about the multiverse. He was very taken by a theory that black whole really create new universes, and, if some produce universes with more black holes of their own through the transmission of a sort of black hole DNA, then a sort of evoluton of universes might be taking place - apparently what might make a universe more productive of black holes might also make it more likely to sustain life!

The chance for any sort of affirmation of our experience in all this seems vanishingly small, to put it mildly. I was thrown back to the opening remarks by the Center's director, who reminded us of Borges' story of the "Library of Babel," which it was fun to have an excuse to reread on returning home. (I'm familiar with it in part because it's one of Borges' Leibnizian works; for that matter, I'm familiar with the multiverse in part because of talk I heard in Lisbon which insisted that, were he alive today, the famous philosopher of "possible worlds" would be all over the multiverse.) As the director recounted it, initial excitement over a library of all possible books evaporated as people found that almost all were gibberish. He was too kind to mention this: As Borges describes his vast library (which his author thinks infinite), each of its hexagonal chamber is illuminated by a special kind of light: "the light they give is insufficient, and unceasing."

Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions, trans. Andrew Hurley (Penguin, 1998), 115. 112.

Praise be to God!

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the ordination of the "Philadelphia 11," the first women priests in the Episcopal Church! They were not the first women ordained as Christian ministers in modern times, nor the first women ordained in the Anglican church (two women were ordained in the Diocese of Hong Kong and Macau, the first, Li Tim-Oi, in 1944!). But it's the ordination of the Philadelphia 11 - "irregular" at the time but affirmed by General Convention two years later - that changed the world in which I worship. Now when I go to places where male priests, deacons, etc. try to hold up the sky on their own it makes me sad - like seeing someone squint with one eye closed when the other is perfectly operational (and what about depth perception!) - or angry. Who dares say that men alone can preach, or that God can be represented only by one sex?! (Many many, of course...) And yet what vertigo one can't but feel at having the privilege of being alive through so epochal a change.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Now yesterday's downpour is just a memory...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

... in Southern California

We had weather this morning! No seriously, more than a little precipitation - a thunder storm! (Pic at left was just the start.) It was the sort of thing that had us dancing in the streets in sodden rapture when we were kids. Our local radar suggests a little storm, with lots of flashing and crashing and banging, formed just above us.
Turns out we got half an inch, most unusual. Other freak storms in Catalina and Los Angeles today were more dangerous; you might have heard that a man was killed and a dozen others injured by four lightning bolts hitting sea and sand near the pier at Venice Beach.

Saturday, July 26, 2014


My main "research question" for the China year concerns "religious studies in China" - how is "religion" studied and taught by scholars in Chinese university? Religious studies is a recent and fraught field in the US, which I know best, and all indications are that what I've learned to take for granted as "what religious studies is" is in fact a quite local intellectual and institutional formation. I know that, of course, and teach about the contingency and problems of it in "Theorizing Religion" each year, but my reference point has always been the North Atlantic, and more specifically the American case. It was an eye-opener for me to hear Gregory D. Alles at a panel on the not-quite-healed AAR/SBL split at the 2007 AAR Annual Meeting parochialize the intellectual culture of the AAR! His Religious Studies: A Global View made even clearer that particular claims to neutrality, universality and breadth were distinctives of US religious studies rather than the DNA of the field as a whole.

I don't know much yet about religious studies in China (the chapter in Alles' book makes a distinctive recent history clear, and things have doubtless changed since it was written too), but that will surely change quickly. I am truly fortunate to have landed a connection to an actual Religious Studies Department, and at an internationally respected university too. But what is Religious Studies at Fudan? They have a helpful page answering just that question, What is religious science? and it sounds serious. (Curiously the description is in English, even if you access the Chinese page 什么是宗教学.)

What starts out sounding like a pretty conventional old-school western understanding of world religions yields a more nuanced view of the diversity of the phenomena in question at every level. (The only question not asked is the bad boy one: does "religion" exist at all?) Religions have creeds, rituals and canons in variously centralized or diffused, written or other forms, which support moral codes and individual practices and "spiritual experiences" which, when shared, give rise to subtraditions of their own: there are very often several [spiritual] traditions within the same religion. But the way these are studied is academic and impressively (intimidatingly!) interdisciplinary.

Another area needs to be included into a curriculum of religious studies: the study of the study of religion. It encompasses historical, socio-economic, cultural and psychological explanatory paradigms. 

Philosophy of religion is a connected field, which tries to give meaning to religious experience and creeds in relationship to the philosophical systems of thought that have shaped the history of ideas. 

Becoming an expert in religious sciences requires familiarity with some adjacent disciplines and expertise:
(a) languages and textual analysis;
(b) sociological enquiry and methodology, including statistics;
(c) field study, non-directive interviews and anthropological methodology;
(d) history of arts, of sciences and ideas. 

Finally, we cannot overlook the contemporary significance of the religious phenomenon; it means formation to interreligious dialogue, religions and globalization, religion and ecology, religion and peacemaking, religions and feminism, religions and psychological healing.

A lot of this sounds familiar, and congenial. We'll see what it's like in practice! I'm sure to learn a lot, both about "religious studies in China," religious studies more generally, and religion - including Chinese religion. I'll probably be learning about all of these together, just as a visitor to American religious studies would find our categories and questions shaped in ways we aren't fully aware of by the inheritances of Protestantism, the enlightenment understandings of religious freedom in our political culture, and current intellectual and cultural issues.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Look and think

I've embarked on the next volume of our Chinese language texts, 成功之路 Road to Success. It's the fourth, so I've arrived at... 顺利篇 Elementary! It's a long march, this language: this series has 20 volumes!
This level demands more than the volumes preparing for it. It dispenses with the training wheels of 拼音 pinyin - romanized pronunciation - in its texts and dialogues. (This series form the get-go offered no translations.) It demands interpretation of pictures (看图思考 Look and Think) and retellings of exchanges. Its listening exercises include lots of words and formulations not yet introduced. (There's a transcript at the end, but the point isn't to learn everything said but to glean what we need using what we already know, realize we can do that.) The series is designed for self-study as well as study in class with a teacher - we'll see how I do!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

You can't go home again

Just saw Richard Linklater's "Boyhood" - for the second time. I saw it first ten days ago in Los Angeles, the day I dropped off my passport at the Consulate, and now it's come to San Diego too. Like other viewers, my first reactions (along with "a miracle!") was "I need to see this, right away!" How weird and wonderful would it be to go back to see the boy, his parents and sister, and so many others young again - actually younger, not through makeup or computer simulation? It seemed an unprecedented chance. I was also enraptured thinking about how the film must have been made, cast and director winging it, living into the contingency of every collaboration but here in extreme form since it was over 12 years and deals with a child coming into his own (it's not a documentary but the actors bring lots of their lives into it). Open-ended plans, corrections, serendipitous discoveries, new ideas from all sides... the word that came to me to describe the director's ability to let it happen was "generosity."

But I didn't go set the film again right away, even when it opened in San Diego a few days later. Why? There's one scene in the film which is painful to watch - an abusive drunk terrorizing a family - and I found I didn't want to experience it again, it was too raw. But I suspect I was also worried that the magic would be spoiled somehow on re-viewing. I'm a Linklater fan and this has happened before. "Waking Life" is one of those movies that messed with my mind in strange and cool ways, showing things the mind is capable of though we don't usually notice it or let it. I was really experiencing things different way for a while after seeing that film, and tried desperately to hold on to that widened play of consciousness the way you try to cling to the gossamer remains of a dream... but the magic soon ran dry, and I haven't dared see the film again, as the memory of its transport is so strong and precious.

So how was "Boyhood" the second time through? Not at all what I expected. It was, once again, entirely absorbing. Every scene again rang true. The music once again made me misty. The violent drunk was again terrifying. The parents, growing up too in their own troubled ways, were again painfully real. The boy's sequence of haircuts and voices was again more varied, extended and interesting than you'd expect, and the mellow young man who emerges at the end was once again intensely likable, indeed lovable. I thought again: "the students who show up in our first year classes already have whole lives behind them!" But the magic? There was a little less of it. The story seemed more scripted, more normative. I felt Linklater's generosity less keenly, had more questions about what he was up to and whether I approved of it.  

I don't think I was wrong about his generosity the first time, though. I was unable to see the film the same way. Knowing where character Mason (and all the others) end up, I couldn't but listen for cadences and foreshadowings - and found them - in his younger self. He wound up just where I knew he would, which was pleasing but not in the same way as before, when his becoming that person was a mystery and a miracle and a cause for celebration. I saw a "how to" movie where before I saw a movie full of "how" and "what" attending the mystery of "who."

I think this reveals something about more than this film, though part of the film's incredible gift is that it offers us this experience - at least for the fresh viewer. We can't but see the past in unifying retrospect, projecting into it tendencies and inevitabilities that, in the living of it (Linklater referred to this as "the living movie" as it was being made), weren't there, or at least couldn't be seen. Relatedly we see the person we know from the present already there in the past. (This is a much remarked phenomenon, crystallized for me by someone's - wish I could remember who's - observation that in pictures of one's parents as children one still sees adults.) But part of the wonder of people is that they change, especially children, and "Boyhood," at least on first viewing, takes you to the everyday landscapes in which such changes unfold. Linklater's generosity is kin to one of the virtues Sara Ruddick described in Maternal Thinking, the way a parent "fosters growth" in allowing a child to become their own person, an intellectually wondrous mix of patience and appreciation and encouragement and letting go.

So am I glad I saw it again? Yes, though a little chastened: sadder and wiser. I know that I can't watch it for the first time again, and that has become part of its truth. I feel a bit more keenly the disjunction at film's end where Mason's (almost) adult life begins as he heads off to college, and his mother thinks her life is over. Growth when you're part of it is life itself. When you're outside it it's alien, seems to have lost that openness essential to it. The past, once narrated, is closed - at least until something shows you it wasn't so fixed, so determined: learning something new about a past you thought you knew or, perhaps, seeing a film which captures the joyful-sad opacity of life from all vantages...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Not the least of the pleasures of going to another country is the way it decenters your view of where you're coming from. (When I tell every intellectually serious student I can to try to spend time abroad it is in large part for this "reverse culture shock" effect.) I already got a whiff of this regarding China from a fascinating article by a philosopher in Shanghai named 张庆熊 Zhang Xingqiong. (Yes, he's at Fudan too!)

In an essay called "Sino-Christian Theology: The Unfolding of ‘Dao’ in the Chinese Language Context,” Zhang suggests that the story of China and Christianity may have the shape of the story of China and Buddhism. It took several centuries for Buddhism to become integrated enough into Chinese culture for new Buddhist movements like Chan (Zen) and Pure Land to emerge. Zhang describes three stages (127): mission (where the foreign tradition is transmitted and translated into Chinese, initially mainly by non-Chinese), determination of teachings (where Chinese try to make sense of the variety of transmissions coming their way) and then finally establishment (where new indigenous Chinese forms of the religion emerge). He thinks China's encounter with Christianity is still at the first and second stages.

The second stage is described as panjiao 潘教, a reference to the ways Chinese traditions (especially Tiantai, founded in the 6th C. CE) cataloged and ranked all the Buddhist teachings they had received. They weren't ready to dismiss anything, so produced what became the largest canon of Buddhist texts in the world. Qiong makes a few predictions about what Christianity "established" in China will look like, but I'm as taken by the image of a new canon of Christianity coming out of Chinese scholars' attempts to make sense of all that is coming their way. There were multiple panjiao for Buddhism, different rankings of the same non-Chinese legacies, each with a different sutra as its apex. Chinese scholarship has now generated multiple accounts of the Christian tradition, each with a ranking of its own: some scholars think the existentialist the truest and most all-encompassing of the articulations of Christianity, others the postmodern or the neo-orthodox or the evangelical. Yet Only when Chinese Christian scholars realize that the theological doctrine already existing in the West is not enough to answer the questions that Chinese people face themselves … and make efforts to establish their own system of theological narratives and concepts, only then can Chinese theology in its true sense appear. (129)

This reminds me of some of the things I learned while in Japan over the years 1992-93, trying to appreciate what it was like for the first generations of Japanese philosophers to encounter the entire western philosophical tradition at once. Aristotle, Kant and Marx were translated at the same time. Thought systems which a westerner would expect to have little to say to one another, coming from such widely different times and contexts, in Japanese reception were contemporaries - and, potentially, contemporaries of the scholars now encountering them, too. It was like my wonderment at the range of 20th century philosophies Japanese scholars were encountering, mixing "continental" and "analytic," and reading widely among contemporary Russian, Italian, French and English thinkers in ways we didn't (even couldn't, having a weaker translation culture). Some nuances are lost, no doubt, but the enclaves of western thought come out looking very provincial, too - even within a western context.

I can imagine something similar will happen - is happening - as people (not just in China) encounter the sprawly wealth of Christian thought and tradition. This lines up with various other questions I find interesting, from the "invention of world religions" (and indeed of "religion") to the way "Buddhist modernism," especially in the West, is jumbling and rejiggering Buddhist traditions. What fun and illuminating discussions await!

“Sino-Christian Theology: The Unfolding of ‘Dao’ in the Chinese Language Context,"
in Sino-Christian Theology: A Theological Qua Cultural Movement in Contemporary China, ed. Pan-chiu Lai and Jason Lam (Frankfurt am Main etc.: Peter Lang, 2010), 123-37

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Colors of UCSD


Ticket to ride!

Bought my ticket today! Exactly six weeks until I arrive in Shanghai!

Monday, July 21, 2014

In the beginning

If I told you of a journal called 道风 Daofeng, with the Dao of Daoism 道教 and the feng of fengshui 风水, you'd probably think it a journal Chinese culture, and you wouldn't be wrong. But if I then told you its English name was Logos and Pneuma you might be a little nonplussed. Are these meant to be translations of these Chinese terms? The truth is stranger still. The value of untranslatable Chinese concepts is at play, but the content... well, it's not Daoism!

Dao 道, I've learned, is the favored Chinese translation for the Word (logos) with which the Gospel of John has God beginning (太初有道,道与神同在,道就是神 in one rendition) and feng 风 that for the "breath of life" (pneuma in Greek translation) which God gave to create the first man out of clay. Daofeng is a journal of "Sino-Christian theology 汉语基督教神学," a movement whose shortened name "Chinese theology 汉语神学" contains the unsettling possibility of a Chinese language 汉语 "theology" more Chinese than Christian. (Chinese church leaders apparently reacted to this movement with "mixed feeling [sic] of surprise, doubt, joy, fear, and so on."*)  

Daofeng started in 1994 as an organ of the "cultural Christians 文化基督徒": university- rather than church-based humanistic writers in the PRC interested in Christianity as culture more than as a personal faith. Some were members of churches but most, I gather, and most of the readers of their work, were not. These folks and this movement are one of those things I'm looking forward to learning more about - I have a hunch, you'll recall, that they may be in interesting ways like our own SBNR and "nightstand Buddhists." But of course this is interesting from a Christian standpoint, too, Christianity having been from the start a tradition in translation.

* Sino-Christian Theology: A Theological Qua Cultural Movement in Contemporary China, ed. Pan-chiu Lai and Jason Lam (Frankfurt a. M., Bern, etc.: Peter Lang, 2010), 3

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What animates a culture?

I've fallen down a quite delightful rabbithole - classic Chinese animated films (available online!). The first was "Princess Iron Fan 铁扇公主" - China's first feature-length animated film, made in Shanghai under Japanese occupation in 1941. (Though pretty transparently an injunction to gather forces to overthrow an unjust enemy, it was shown in Japan, too, where it apparently inspired the young Tezuka Osamu to become a cartoonist!) It is - dare I say of course? - taken from the eponymous Journey to the West, which has appeared in endless adaptations in every genre, including many films and TV productions. (The most recent: Stephen Chow's super-enjoyable farce "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons," China's best-selling, best-grossing film.)
But I was following classic animation, and so next saw "Three Monks 三個和尚" (1980), the winner of the first Golden Rooster award for animated films after the Cultural Revolution. And then it was time for "Nezha Conquers the Dragon King 哪吒闹海" (1979), the first real international hit for feature-length Chinese animation since 1941. It's protagonist is a little boy, really a god, who does remarkable martial arts and gorgeous ribbon dancing stunts from the moment he is born. Equipped with magical implements by a god, the feisty little fellow is a dragon-slayer.
Religion is all over these films. Journey to the West ostensibly tells of the coming of Buddhist knowledge to Tang China, but the scene-stealing Monkey King Sun Wukong traffics mainly with figures a religious taxonomist would call Daoist. Nezha, meanwhile, is a Daoist figure - known as the Third Son of the North King - and worshiped as protector of children and (because he has fire wheels like roller-blades) people who drive for a living. But the child warrior's origins seem to go back to India - Krishna, in fact, by way of one of the Buddhist protector gods.
But then things got really fun. Following hyperlinks as one does, I happened on a video of a troupe of Taiwanese dancers dressed as Nezha, known as techno-Third Sons 电音三太子 bopping to a pop song called Bobee. The song, in turn, is by Taiwanese star Wang Caihua 王彩樺 and seems to be full of religious imagery - well, there are lots of Daoist augury images in the official video, and it starts with some familiar sages. Is anything similar happening on the Mainland? We'll see!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Religious mythology

Now here's something silly, but there's interesting edges to the silliness. The map is from Business Insider, and takes its information from the CIA's World FactBook! It shows all the countries where "more than half the population considers themselves religiously affiliated" (however
that's determined), tinting them the color of their dominant religion. These more localized maps show what misleading nonsense this is.
Beyond the obvious questions about the problems of self-reporting, the definition of affiliation, etc., I'm curious why Business Insider thinks this worth reporting. Even if such information could be had, what would one do with it - whether as a reader of CIA reports or a businessperson?

Friday, July 18, 2014


Also at LACMA yesterday I saw the two big blockbusters, From Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Expressionism in Germany and France, which weaves together post-impressionist pre-WW1 painting through detailed accounts of who saw what exhibited when so successfully it all seems one congeries of artistic movements, and Calder and Abstraction: From Avant-Garde to Iconic, a Frank Gehry-designed exhibit which was fun the way the spaces of Disneyland's old Tomorrowland were fun. In Calder, you weren't supposed to take pictures, though the guard let me keep what I'd taken. In the other, a few of the paintings could be

photographed, so here are two: Theo van Rysselberghe's pointillist "Beach at low tide, Ambleteuse, evening" (1900), which catches the turquoise green of many a sunset, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's electric
"Dance Hall Bellevue" (1909-10), which shows Fauvist colors washing over Dresden. They're not representative, any more than that one Calder mobile, but they suggest some of the pleasures of these shows.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bali Hai

Our special island Catalina is rarely as clear as it was today. 70 miles away it's usually invisible (its companion San Clemente was even today).

World cup!

A highlight (one of several) of a visit to LACMA turns out to reside at the Brooklyn Museum. Brazilian artist Nelson Leirner's "Maracana" (2003) is the grand opener of the fun exhibition "Fútbol: The Beautiful Game."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Santo dos peregringos

A story on NPR on Monday made me aware of the tour which a relic of Saint Toribio Romo is making through the Southland this month. I hadn't heard of the saint, but the story - one not without its ironies - couldn't be more timely. Toribio Romo Gonzáles (1900-1928) was one of twenty-five saints and martyrs of the Cristero War - mostly priests like Toribio - who were canonized by John Paul II in 2000.

What's timely is that Santo Toribio Romo is regarded by many Mexicans and Mexican Americans as the patron saint of immigrants, especially illegal immigrants. While unofficial this status as a people's saint seems well-known. The cult started with reports of a young man helping undocumented Mexicans on their way through the dangerous desert borderlands of Mexico and Texas. An article from a few years ago (by a distant relation of Romo's!) reports:

One of the first written accounts of Toribio’s miracles was from a 45-year-old undocumented immigrant from Zacatecas named Jesús Buendía Gaytán. In 2002 he told a reporter from the Mexico City magazine Contenido about a strange experience he’d had two decades earlier. In the early eighties, Buendía had hired a smuggler in Mexicali, Contenido reported, “but as soon as they crossed the line a Border Patrol van spotted them and to avoid arrest Jesús escaped into the desert. After walking for several days in desolate trails, more dead than alive from heatstroke and thirst, he saw a truck approach. A young, thin man with light skin and blue eyes who spoke perfect Spanish got off the truck, offered him water and food, and showed him a place where farmworkers were needed.” The Good Samaritan told Buendía to look him up once he had a job and money; he was sent to the church in Santa Ana de Guadalupe. “I almost had a heart attack when I saw the photograph of my friend hanging over the altar,” Buendía recalled. “Since then I pray to him every time I set off for the United States in search of work.”

It's from that article, too, that I learned the word peregringos, a not necessarily complimentary term for those who leave their Mexican home for el Norte. It seems worth mentioning because, during his brief life, Toribio wasn't exactly an advocate of immigration. Indeed, he wrote an anti-immigration play that warned against the moral consequences of immigration to the United States.

In 1920 he wrote a slapstick morality play titled Let’s Go North! The one-act comedy depicts a cultural clash between Don Rogaciano, an Americanized Mexican emigrant who returns to his village with airs of superiority, and Sancho, a sharp-witted campesino who never left. At first Don Rogaciano impresses the locals by flaunting his newly acquired English, proclaiming himself a lover of “progress and civilization” and denouncing the village priests as “money-grubbing retrograde obscurantists.” But by the end of the play Sancho beats the returning emigrant into submission with a cane and forces him to stand before the audience like a mannequin. Don Rogaciano, with his slicked-back hair, sweet-smelling cologne, and high-water pants, is the very embodiment of the corrosive influences that returning emigrants bring back from the other side—arrogance, irresponsibility, the loss of family values, materialism, and sexual ambiguity. If you betray your country and go north, Toribio’s play warned its Mexican audience, you might come back as a “rooster hen that neither crows nor lays eggs.” Or, even worse, a Protestant.

It's a little ironic that Santo Toribio should now be the companion of countless migrants, in amulets and on prayer cards, and venerated and thanked by immigrants and their families in the US, but that's what the history of patron saints is like. My favorite story has long been Saint Florian of Lorch, a statue of whom stood in the garden of a house our family rented in Vienna when I was a child. Florian was a Roman soldier martyred for converting to Christianity - after the obligatory several other tries (scourging, flaying) - by being thrown into a river with a millstone around his neck. Whose patron saint is he? Obvious really, if you consider that representations of saints were distinguished by their implements of death - in Florian's case a millstone and a bucket of water. (The statue at right is in Poland.) He's the patron saint of firefighters - and, I heard, helps millers, too.

This doesn't explain how Toribio came to be the go-to saint for those undertaking a migration he disapproved of in life, but it reminds of the kind of causality at work in things hagiographic. Eventually a similar story of mistaken identity might emerge for Toribio - perhaps the blue eyes mattered? Or maybe it's not a mistake at all - just as historical happenstance might not be the only causality in question. Maybe he'll someday join the pantheon of specifically American Catholic saints. Saint Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes, came from Mexico, too.

In the meantime it won't hurt to ask him to keep an eye on the Central American children at the center of the current immigration hysteria.

Monday, July 14, 2014

City of Angels

San Diegans like me don't usually venture north past Disneyland to the big bad city Los Angeles. It's a time of discoveries each time I'm there!
I had a blast zipping (and occasionally crawling) around LA/Orange County with the GPS. (Pics are of Chinatown, Downtown, Getty Villa, a freeway - notice the brake lights - and dudleya in the garden of Irvine friends.) A reprise beckons as I need to return Thursday to pick up my Chinese visa!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Veni vidi visa?

Tomorrow's the big day - the day when I finally go to a Chinese consulate to apply for a visa. I'd hoped to have it in hand in New York last month, where I'm just a short subway ride from a consulate, but it's taken a long time for the most official of officials at my host institution in Shanghai to get the most official of invites to me (and then I waited a week, piggybacking a trip to the LA Consulate with dropping my visiting Australian family off at LAX this evening). Turns out that most official of official invites is not for the nine months mentioned in what had before that seemed the sufficiently official letter of invitation from the Chair of the Religious Studies Department, but for just three. (Apparently it's not too hard to extend.) We'll see what the consular official feels like giving me; I'm still applying for the longer stay. I plan to be the first in line tomorrow 9am, and have positioned myself at a nearby motel - in fact, in LA's pre-LED Chinatown. Hope that helps!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Tim the Panda, vol. III

Here are a few more scenes from Tim the Panda's third volume of adventures in California with my Australian nephews.

The sad zebra-painted donkey we saw in Tijuana joined our Lego family - there may even be romance happening! Notice who he's with in the nephew-built restaurants and in the peddle boat below...

Sky colors

Summer isn't really sunset season but we got some nice colors today!


Should you have wondered what's become of me these last days, rest assured that no news is good news. My sister and her family are in California so we've been hanging out at the beach, going on assorted excursions, and of course playing a lot of Lego. As already two and four years ago, Tim the Panda is documenting it all in Lego. Here's a taste!