Archive for July, 2007

The African-American Experience (from my history units) Part 2

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

For the next twenty minutes Viola, with great reticence, and I shared our stories.

With great hope, Viola, her husband, and two children migrated to Pittsburgh–the Promised Land–in the middle fifties. Immediately, her husband found a job in the J&L Steel Mill. Settling in the lower hill, in spite of an inadequate educational system and occasional acts of prejudice, life was better than Marianne, Arkansas. But, since her husband had a low-skill job, and in spite of the fact that he belonged to the union, J&L laid off Viola’s husband in a late sixties’ recession. Later, when the Civic Arena was built, they were forced to move to public housing in the East End, Garfield section of Pittsburgh. Then her husband disappeared. The child with her was from a new boy friend.

The African-American Experience (from my history units)

Monday, July 30th, 2007

She was my twenty-first client. An overall-clad toddler was attached to one hand, and a mini-cart was in the other. This middle aged, slightly overweight black woman seemed ordinary enough as she requested a bag of groceries from my Pittsburgh church’s cooperative emergency food pantry (operated by forty churches).

I was one of the afternoon volunteers entrusted with this duty.

Number 20 had been Jessie.

Great Literature Part 2

Friday, July 27th, 2007

At some point every educated person needs to read Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Chaucer was the first great poet in the English language. Venerable Bede first wrote history; Chaucer wrote poetry. Chaucer did more than this: he wrote English social history. Chaucer’s pilgrims represent all facets of English social life. Chaucer was the first English author to try to do this.

Great Literature

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighlieri is one of the defining movments in western lilterature. It is a serious moral tale written in Italian (vs. Latin) and is the first serious poetry to be written in this language. It is a comedy (vs. tragedy) because it has a happy ending.

The Divine Comedy three parts: Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. Most people only read Inferno and that is too bad because Inferno is a description of hell; Paradise is a description of heaven.


Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

My favorite Shakespeare tragedy is Macbeth. I am tempted to nominate the melancholy Dane Hamlet who has been embraced by most American high school teachers. However, I agree with Charles Eliot who argues, “AMONG the tragedies of Shakespeare, Macbeth is noted for the exceptional simplicity of the plot and the directness of the action. Here is no underplot to complicate or enrich, hardly more than a glimpse of humor to relieve the dark picture of criminal ambition, only the steady march toward an inevitable catastrophe.”

One thing I like about this play is that there are unambiguous villians (Lady Macbeth) and unambiguous heroes (Banquo). I am sick to death of experiencing complicated, multi-faceted characters who are neither good nor bad and I want to spew them out of my mouth! No, give me a vicious Lady Macbeth and her wimpy husband Macbeth!


Tuesday, July 24th, 2007

Many of us think Michael Moore created a new genre. But not only are his satires low humor, vulgar, and terrible inaccurate, but they are not even unique. This sort of satire–done much better–was occurring centuries before Moore demeaned the whole thing.

For one thing Athenian, Greek playwright Aristophanes wrote three biting satires during the Peloponnesian War. He attacks everyone: the government, the army, and the populace.


Monday, July 23rd, 2007

Mortimer Adler’s and Seymour Cain’s groundbreaking (and now out of print) series on Imaginative Literature argues that the Greek dramatist Euripides was the quintessential, modern dramatists. His play is full of shocking, even terrible stories that mirror the pseudo-realism of the 1960s. First, in the Medea we meet a vengeful wife who visits a grim, if appropriate punishment on her unfaithful husband. Second, in the Electra the reader explores the same theme of revenge: a husband and his wife destroy the son’s mom for murdering the son’s father (a precursor to Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Finally, in the last of the trilogy, Orestes the reader learns about the inevitable punishment that the young man and his wife experience.


Friday, July 20th, 2007

Beside the great biblical pilgrims of Abraham and Moses stands the Homeric hero Odysseus, introduced to the reader in The Odyssey. As you know this epic Greek poem recounts the arduous and ten year journey home of the quintessential hero, Odysseus. All modern characters are there: the unfaithful but sincere husband Odysseus, the patient, beautiful, and felicitous wife Penelope; the whining son Telemachus who stands in the shadow of his larger-than-life father; the devoted servants Eumaeus and Euryclea, who were precursors to Batman’s faithful butler/steward. The Odyssey has it all!


Thursday, July 19th, 2007

Billy Pilgrim, the profane and now deceased absurdist writer Kurt Vonnegut, jr.’s protagonist, in Slaughter House Five becomes “unhinged from time” and “wonders from place to place, epoch to epoch.” In these post-Christian, post-modern times, it feels a lot like that today. It feels like we are “unhinged from time.”

Walter Brueggemann reminds us Christians if there is one thing we have, we have had, will always have is history. Sacred, divinely appointed history.

A Long Day’s Journey into Night Part 2

Wednesday, July 18th, 2007

As the antiquated ambulance sped me toward the hospital, I touched my cold, severed right foot lying beside me on my stretcher. As I gently wiped blood off my ankle I wept – not in pain, not in anger, but in incredulity, and profound grief. Incredulity because I could not believe that I would do such a stupid thing to myself; grief because I knew that I would never run on that foot again. My life was forever changed.

I felt like the poet James Dickey’s young girl injured in an auto accident:

“Her beauty gone, but to hover
Near for the rest of her life,
And good no nearer, but plainly
In sight, and the only way.
(from “The Scarred Girl”)