Uncommon Courtesy

pub housing

 In the early 1990s I worked for a foster care agency in New York City.  It was my job as a “homefinder” to interview potential foster parents and assess whether they could provide a nurturing home for traumatized children.  The work was an intimate education in human nature, from its most generous to its most sordid, but from a quarter-century’s distance one couple stands at the forefront of my memory. Continue reading

“Telling It Like It Is”: The Alley’s “A Night With Janis Joplin” Rocks the House

“Telling It Like It Is”: The Alley’s “A Night With Janis Joplin” Rocks the House

 

A few years ago I saw “Love, Janis” at The Alley Theatre.  It was one of the best things I had ever seen there, and I didn’t want it to end. The actress channeled Janis Joplin and her songs with aplomb, and it was one of the most successful runs in the history of The Alley.

Now, The Alley offers the stellar “A Night With Janis Joplin,” and although I don’t know how it is possible, it is even better. As in, about six standing ovations before the end of the show better.  From the minute the show opens with a rock band, dancing backup singers, and lighting that makes you feel like you really are at a Janis Joplin concert, the atmosphere is electric, and that excitement level never wanes.  You immediately plunge into Joplin’s deep pool of emotion and creativity, and you begin to understand how she was able to create music that was never imitative and wholly revolutionary, yet still connected to the musical predecessors that she so admired. It is easy to see how, for her, “Music is everything.” Continue reading

The Top 3 Reasons Christians Should Study Spanish

Peruvian children

“If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space.” 1 Corinthians 14:9 (NLT)

If you’re looking for motivation to study Spanish, there are numerous top 10 lists out there to help you out (here, here, or here for example) Most of them hit the usual points: it’s good for your career; it opens up travel opportunities; studying a second language makes you smarter. All of these are true, and are good reasons to take up Spanish. However, as Christians, there are three more important motivations for us to spend time learning a language integral to the Western Hemisphere. (These are applicable to learning any foreign language, but as a Latin Americanist, I’m obviously a bit biased.)

  1. Seeing the image of God in others: We all want to be respected and valued, but how often to you think about your monolingualism as disrespecting or devaluing someone else? You don’t do it out of hate or mean-spiritedness. You just don’t speak Spanish (or French, or Dutch, or…). Yet, the common refrain “but everyone speaks English” communicates a great deal to those who have to accommodate themselves to our language. Taking the time to learn the language such a large portion of our country speaks, (13% given the latest Census data, and it rises to 37% here in Houston), communicates that we value those members of our community as they are, and that their inherent worth is not dependent on what language they speak. Leviticus 19:34 (NRSV) speaks directly to us today in this regard: “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself… .” Whether alien or citizen, we are to love those living alongside us, and treat them with dignity. A first step is learning their language.

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The Revenant: A Savage Grace

campfire

As a child I felt the call of the wild.  Jack London’s book sat on my bedroom bookshelf and every so often I would take and read.  Or rather, I would drink it in, as I did all of my favorite books, living moment by moment Buck’s eerie transformation from favored pet in sunny Santa Clara to wolf fiend of the Arctic.  Why did I love the tale?  Its cruelty held no charms for me, but its stark beauty captivated me.

One day my friends and I found a small, hurt animal – mouse, bird, I no longer remember what.  When one girl wanted to rescue it I spoke frostily of the law of club and fang until she protested, “Well . . . jeepers!”  That gentle “jeepers” sank its fangs into my soul.  Why would a Christian girl love The Call of the Wild? I decided I had overdosed on wolfish creatures (“They were savages, all of them . . . ”) and read London no more.

This past Christmastide I heard an NPR review of Alejandro Iñárritu’s The Revenant and knew that I had to see it.  I had a professional motive, besides.  As a history professor specializing in the early nineteenth century, I did not want to be mauled by a student who had seen this film when I had not.  So, one fine Friday before the spring semester hit, I took myself to see The Revenant. Continue reading