Wednesday, April 25, 2007

In Memoriam: VTI

I have just returned from our annual faculty retreat. During one session I was reflecting on the shootings at Virginia Tech (my mind was straying a bit). The words below are the result.

A couple of words of explanation. Last Monday the university resumed classes, one week after the shooting. They rang a bell 32 times, one for each of the victims. The number four is associated with bad luck in many Asian countries, since in Chinese it sounds like the word for Death. With those thoughts in mind, my reflections:


Thirty-two tolls
The bell rang thirty-two times
Thirty-two, young and old
The bell rang thirty-two as all fell silent and listened
For thirty-two tolls.

Thirty-three dead
And thirty-two tolls.

Four fours, twice repeated
The Chinese number of death
Squared and repeated
Death takes us all, one day.

Eleven threes: a trinity of twelve less one
Three sets of flawed disciples

Thirty-three dead
And thirty-two tolls.


A family grieves, whose son
Died many times as he died.

A killer justly censured
Turned away from help in others' hands
And filled his hands with thirty-two others.

Caught between cultures, identities, a fractured self
Exploding in misery and rage
Thirty-two tolls from the bell
I grieve also the thirty-third.

Daryl Climenhaga, 24 April 2007

Monday, April 23, 2007

Monty Python

I didn't mean to break a long silence in so ignominious a way. I am in the last week and after of the semester, and grading has squeezed out any journalistic impulse. But this news story from NPR "All Things Considered" at least notice. A crowd of 4,382 "coconut-bangers" playing along with "Always look on the bright side of life". Wow!

Well, back to the papers.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Death

Alvin L Heise: Lois' father.

Alvin and Maxine: Mother and Dad Heise's wedding picture.

We sometimes call this Dad's movie star picture.

Mother and Dad just before Dad's death

One of the last family pictures for Lois' family.

Today is Good Friday, sometimes called Dark Friday. It is good, of course, and it is dark, even though the sun is shining. Easter comes on Sunday. As Tony Campolo reminds us, quoting from a black preacher in his home church in Philadelphia, "It's Friday. But Sunday's coming."

I could run with that sermon, that theme, on this Dark Friday, as forces of evil work behind the scenes in the USA and Zimbabwe and every other country in the world. I could think deeply about the darkness that envelopes Zimbabwe today, in which a cameraman this week was shot to death by security forces, because he dares to take pictures of the brutality that stalks Zimbabwe daily. "It's Friday. And some people in Zimbabwe wonder whether they will ever be free of tyranny and hunger. But Sunday's coming!"

But instead I remember another Easter, 16 years ago. Mother was scheduled for heart surgery the day after Resurrection Sunday, and Lois and I and Vaughn and Nevin were visiting Mom and Dad for Easter weekend.

We lived then at Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, and spent most weekends with Lois' parents in New Madison, Ohio. Dad Heise was dying of lung cancer, and we treasured every moment we could spend with them in his last days. But Mother was scheduled for surgery to correct a defect in a heart valve (I have never been good with these details), and we wanted to see her and Dad before the surgery. So we drove to Pennsylvania for Easter weekend.

Friday and Saturday we spent a lot of time with friends from our days living in Lancaster County. Sunday was set aside for Mom and Dad. Then about 4 a.m. Resurrection Sunday, my Dad came down the steps to wake Lois and me. Dad Heise had suffered cardiac arrest, brought on by the trauma of the cancer in his body, and died just before.

Sleep was forgotten. Plans to be with my parents that day were set aside. We dressed, woke the boys, gave up plans for the day and started driving to Ohio. I don't remember much of that weekend or the week that followed: only pictures in my mind.

The family sitting in a circle, laughing and crying, remembering and grieving. It is quite surprising how much laughter there is in times of grief, as those who have experienced such bereavement know.

Amazingly long line of people to pay their respects. Dad was the family doctor for New Madison from somewhere around 1960 until 1991, when he retired as his cancer took hold.

Nevin standing by the grave as the casket and body were lowered into it: a detail I felt was important -- to see the casket into the grave and throw a handful of dirt there. Nevin (four years old) singing softly to himself. I was afraid that it was his favourite "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", but it was "1, 2, 3 Jesus loves me; number 4 more and more; 5, 6, 7 we're all going to Heaven; 8, 9, 10 He's coming back again."

The funeral service, as we pictured to ourselves Dad singing in heaven's choir instead of the choir at Highland Church. More tears, more remembering, more laughter, more tears.

Easter Sunday. The day Dad died. Joy and grief live together, a union God has joined together.

Postscript: Mother went into surgery on Monday. Six weeks after Dad died was Mother's Day: May 12, 1991. On that day an infection on the new valve in her heart brought her life to an end. Joy and grief joined together forever.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Men and Women Blogging

In my sister’s blog the question of who writes blogs and participates in the blogosphere more: men or women. It is certainly something I have observed: that in the few blogs I read men and women write and respond quite differently.

I read Vaughn’s blog, a loose collection of thoughts that appear periodically, apparently when inspiration (or guilt at a long time without a post) strikes. Often the trigger is some event in his life, such as driving to help with reconstruction after Hurricane Katrina, or trying to fix the car.

I read Donna’s blog, an equally loose collection of thoughts (I suppose that might be one definition of “blog”) that appears rather more regularly. Either she is more disciplined than Vaughn, or just less able to keep quiet for any length of time. Similar triggers apply: cats and dogs and birds, mixed in with the vagaries of students and weather forecasters.

I would read Kristen’s blog, but she only posts when she is in Ghana. And I would read Nevin’s blog, but he only posts when he travels to Europe. So, although one is male and one female, my niece and son don’t help me with understanding the way that blogging works. Or if they do, it is negatively, by posting only when something quite unique is happening in their lives.

I would also read Denise’s blog, but she posts less often than I do. There is a pattern here: from oldest to youngest of me and my siblings -- either more talkative to less, or more disciplined to less, or perhaps more accurately, from more likely to post on their blog to less likely to post. I don’t think I can discern anything from that!

I would read Hendrik’s blog (a colleague at Providence); but he only posts when controversy strikes, and he seems to be feeling less controversial these days. And I read Ben and Leah’s blog, usually Leah, but sometimes Ben. Here is a seam for mining: compare for gender differences! But the project is scuttled for lack of data. Leah posts more often, if only because Ben is going full tilt trying to finish his M.Div. program.

I read several other blogs periodically: for theology and the emergent church, Andrew Jones ("tall skinny kiwi"); Ed Buller (a former student at Providence now pastoring a church in Hawaii); and so on. But family and one or two friends are the most regular.

When I don my researcher’s hat and put all of these together, I am forced to say that the whole question is scuttled for lack of data. A proper piece of research remains to be done. But here are some thoughts.

1) I suspect that men tend to write more about ideas than women do. Perhaps just a stereotype in my mind: certainly Donna is quite likely to address ideas (such as those surrounding climate change); but I think I am more likely to ramble on about what community means than she is. I also doubt one can read anything into this. If the hunch has any truth, the converse would be that women are more likely to write about stuff that’s happening around them. But then Vaughn and I are just as likely to write about such stuff, so I still doubt one can read much into this.

2) I suspect that men are less likely to make comments on each other’s blogs, except for some specific purpose, and that women are more likely to make encouraging comments, however brief. When men do say something, they may be more likely to cite a point of disagreement. Again, this is hunch based on stereotypes and could be quite wrong. Donna, at least, has always been able to argue when she wants to! Not to mention Denise.

I don’t have other hunches here yet, and I mistrust these two. I think it would be most interesting to do a thorough and careful piece of research, controlling for the presence of stereotypical hunches of the sort I have just laid out and checking to see if more men or more women blog and comment, and in what ways their contributions may differ.

I enjoy settings in which men and women both contribute, and in which whether one is male or female is relatively unimportant. Differences in how we contribute remain (I think), but they are the sort of differences that make the whole conversation richer, more enjoyable, and more profitable.