What about the Stuff?

Except for the extreme ascetics among us we all have STUFF. I have a friend who capitalizes the word, just to remind us that STUFF occupies a liminal space between “Really Need” and “Why Is This Still Here?” For the deskworms among us, a credenza of some sort is the fashionable answer.credenza-webBut I have a lot of STUFF and some of it is odd in shape or use. So I built my own credenza. It has a lot of drawers. Nobody can see my STUFF except what I put on the top. That is only temporary use, say, for less than two years. Otherwise, there’s a place for maps I never look at, a slide viewer I rarely use, letterhead paper and envelopes waiting desperately to enter the mails, and those thing-a-ma-jigs for those things you…well, you know. There are two file drawers for files I thought I would need to get to easily from my desk chair. We’ll see. And there’s room for my granddaughter’s latest picture on the top. I made it out of cherry, with ash legs. The design matches the hefty printer stand I made earlier. It can be broken into three sections when we finally down-size. But, of course, I’ll still need all of it.

Posted in Woodworking | 1 Comment

A New Processional Cross

I was recently asked to make a new cross for the Sanctuary at our church. I was told it should be able to stand as a focal point in worship as well as be carried in procession on special occasions. The church interior is clad at the front with cherry veneers and furniture. The cross should stand out in that setting and yet be compatible with this color scheme.cross-at-altar-closeup-72

It was first used at a memorial service for our friend and neighbor, Joe Boone, who died after a long illness. It was then received in procession at our regular worship the next day.

In making it, I returned to the design I had used ten years ago in the processional cross at Andover Newton Theological School. I extended the rays of the cross to a span of 22 inches. I then added vertical and horizontal laminates side-view_ed_72of holly to each “ray” emanating from the disc at the center. This highlighted the arms of the cross, but it also presented a small cross to every line of sight.

The Andover Newton cross utilizes a maple sapling from our woods that had been shaped into a serpentine form by an encircling vine. This gave a more primitive angularity to the cross, reminding worshippers of the serpent Moses lifted up in the wilderness to heal the people (Numbers 21:8-9). This image was then used to interpret Jesus’s crucifixion in John 3:14. In this instance, in order to make the cross more compatible with the church’s décor (and to sidestep the difficult search for a natural sapling shaped into a serpentine form!), I simply cut a walnut piece into an octagonal staff.

With this design I wanted to honor the historic themes of self-sacrifice and atonement while at the same time lifting up the imagery of a dawning new sun of light and healing. This imagery understands atonement as a moment in healing, reconciliation and new creativity. I hope that it will enable worshippers to open up new lines of understanding in their own lives.

Here is what I wrote in presenting it recently to the church:

In making the standing/processional cross I thought of the maple disc at its center as a sunburst of energy, a circle of light. In its center is a circle of purpleheart reminding us of the self-giving sacrifice at the heart of God’s love. The walnut arms radiating out from this core bear a light of healing in the holly laminate that forms a cross reaching out to the world in all directions. The walnut and maple came from the forests around us. The holly is from Georgia and the purpleheart from Latin America.

Posted in Arts, Woodworking, Worship and Spirituality | 4 Comments

My Cyprus Memoir is Available

cover-flyer-72I am happy to announce the publication of Mining Memories on Cyprus 1923-1925: Photographs, Correspondence, and Reflections in a Kindle e-book format.

Regular readers will know, through my earlier reports on our travels to Cyprus in 2012 and 2015, that this has been five years in the making. By using an e-book format I was able to include 116 of my photographs from my grandparents’ collection. Moreover, readers can zoom in on the pictures to identify people and places that might be significant to them. It also makes it easily available to anyone with internet access in Cyprus, the US, the UK, South Africa, or anywhere else that people have been affected by this historic mine. And all this for only $3.99.

As a memoir, the book not only introduces readers to the people (especially my maternal grandfather, Charles F. Jackson, and his family), but also to the geography, machinery, and events shaping the early days of re-opening the world’s oldest copper mine. In this little memoir you are stepping into a long history indeed. As you can read in Homer’s Iliad, Book 11: “Atreus’s son…put on his armor of gleaming bronze…that Kinyras gave to him from Cyprus…”

Moreover, I take some time in these pages (do we still speak of pages?), to reflect on what it is to recover pieces of our past, rub off some of the tarnish of forgetfulness, and try to reconstruct a history that binds us to people and places far from our usual paths. As I say in the book, our patrilineal culture tends to subvert or erase the knowledge that accompanies one half of our genetic makeup. The experiences that yielded up this book have enabled me to re-balance my own identity and discover more clearly the traits as well as even the bodily form that constitute what I am.

I also see the book as an invitation to others, not only to recover forgotten or repressed parts of their memory, but also as a reconstruction of their identity. I am keenly aware, all through writing the book, of how Cyprus’s division between Turkish-speaking and Greek-speaking populations has made it very difficult for Cypriots to claim their joint history, appreciate the ecological unity of the island, and find a way toward a workable federalism grounded in a new social covenant among diverse peoples.

In a completely unexpected way, the book and the experiences that gave rise to it form a sequel or counterpoint to the story I told through the voice of Earth in Red Clay, Blood River. There it was a story of Earth’s struggle for unity and integrity in the face of human struggles of division, domination, and exploitation. Here, it is how we humans struggle with healing not only the earth we have dug into to enhance our lives but also the people who have been divided by our ceaseless will for domination.

Whether for healing, for knowledge, or simply for the enjoyment of living for a moment into the lives of people you may never have imagined, I hope that readers will find this book something that expands not only their horizons but also their hearts.

If you want a copy, just CLICK HERE.

Posted in Cyprus, Ecology, On Writing, Personal Events, Travel Journal | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Publicity, Celebrity, and Salvation

Like some other people my age, I have been trying to sift through my thoughts and writings to trace the threads that have become the enduring fabric of my way of thinking about things. One of the themes that keeps reappearing, especially in these disorienting and dangerous times, is the way people’s longing for “publicity” has become a vessel for earlier religious searches for “salvation.” I spent a good deal of time chewing this idea over in my reflections some thirty years ago in God’s Federal Republic, where I laid out how we might re-interpret the traditional Christian symbol of “kingdom of God,” in the light of our actual commitment to federal republics with democratic participation in pursuit of the common good.

Instead of the early Christian prioritization of humility, obedience, and self-denial (with their sins of pride and self-assertion), I proposed that we think about how our language for participation in a wider public of justice and divine creativity might better express the ancient Biblical longing for God’s order of righteousness and shalom. In ancient and medieval times this vision of “the Kingdom of God” supported the legitimacy of the Kingdoms of Europe as if they reflected this divine order. In our own times a vision of democratic, republican government within a constitutional order has become the touchstone of legitimate governance. How, then, might we better think of it from a religious and theological standpoint? The language of “publicity” offered one element in this rethinking.

“By “publicity” I meant the acts of making ourselves visible before others who also are engaged with us in trying to sustain and improve our common life and the world we share. Becoming “public” in this sense presumed a common world with others with whom we were in conversation and argument. This public life of argument was held together by covenants, constitutions, and compacts governing us through law.

The traditional language of humility, obedience and pride had been inextricably tied up with a model of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus to the will of God the Father. This image of hierarchy and obedience became the model for just governance by monarchs throughout the medieval world. It still shapes much of Christian thought and worship. However, I was seeking a language and set of symbols more in line with our commitment to the longing for a more perfect federal republic.

I was aware even then of the distorted forms of narcissistic “publicity” that were emerging in the fevers of media celebrity and fame, but I knew of only some visionaries like Marshall McLuhan (Understanding Media) who were trying to describe what electronic global communication might produce. It is now clear that the longing for public recognition, unconnected to actual publics of mutual accountability, threatens to destroy the arduous two-centuries old republic in which I live. Now a “celebrity” detached from the actual publics in which politicians have acted within a constitutional framework has brought this distorted vision to a pinnacle of power. The anti-politics of “celebrity” threatens to undermine the very culture of constitutional civic republicanism that has guided us for two centuries.

When I originally proposed that we rethink salvation in the language of republics and “publicity,” I knew that it was an “eschatological” vision that pushes us beyond the known conditions of life in this world. Since there is no prefect publicity in this world, our longing always includes a thrust toward a radically new order. I also believed, and still do, that this “salvation” of publicity was only a saving power within a particular public of mutual accountability and care for a common creation. The Christian public, originally known as an “ecclesia” (assembly), was a little public that could and should contain, nurture, and manifest this deep anticipation of a life when we could fully entrust ourselves to each other and embrace the very source of our being, namely God.

Like the sin of pride that accompanied the earlier virtue of humility and obedience, the sin of “celebrity fame” accompanies the longing for true publicity. It is this sin, this evil, into which we have been led in a media world that threatens to eclipse the republics and constitutions that have been the vessels of our longing for a saving publicity.

Well, this is all a very short-handed effort to rehearse what I have been thinking for thirty years! Right now, with the very expression of pure celebrity narcissism seeking to displace the publicity of republic and democratic constitutionalism, we need to think about it theologically as well as politically. As Americans (and this goes in various ways for many others) we have never worked out a way to speak theologically in the language of our project of republican and democratic constitutionalism. If we can learn better to express how civic “publicity” is related to our longing for salvation we might begin to reclaim the ways local communities of mutual accountability and care can offer a way out of the unconstrained digital celebrity which threatens to devour our public life.

If you’ve read this far, I want to thank you. I’d appreciate any reflections that might guide us toward a greater light.

Posted in Ethics, Public Life, Worship and Spirituality | Tagged , , | 2 Comments