Book Review: Paisley Memories by Zelle Andrews

Love and loss and making decisions – Zelle Andrews’ Paisley Memories is the epitome of the noble genre we know as  bildungsroman….

Paisley Memories by Zelle Andrews (image courtesy Goodreads)

When we meet Tess Cooper, she is a young woman in trouble. Her father has just died, and she is left to fend for herself as the single mother of a two year old with Down’s Syndrome. The little Alabama town she hails from is like most little towns: gossipy, judgmental, and uncomfortable for a young person who carries visible proof of an unfortunate life decision. Faced with the choice between rearing her daughter in the social ignominy her home town provides or striking out on he road with her child and her father’s old car (a 1957 Thunderbird in need of restoration), Tess chooses the road.

Her year of wandering is passed over quickly, though Andrews’ description of a typical day (that eventually turns out to be unusual) gives the reader a glimpse into what that life has been like – struggling from small town to small town, working menial jobs to supplement her small inheritance, trying, though she hasn’t realized it yet, to find a place where she and her daughter, the Paisley of the novel’s title, fit in.  Continue reading


Colorado Springs, Planned Parenthood, and our cultural insanity over guns

Read this excerpt from an article in the New York Times about the people around the Planned Parenthood clinic that was attacked yesterday:

Her boyfriend, Jackson Ricker, 18, placed his arms around [Miranda Shilter’s] waist and his chin on her shoulder and noted that Ms. Schilter had witnessed a different shooting a few weeks earlier when a heavily armed man shot and killed a bicyclist and two women in the downtown. “The first time she cried,” said Mr. Ricker, looking at his dry-eyed girlfriend. “She’s a veteran now.” (link original)

Let that process for a minute.

Over the course of the last three weeks, Miranda Shilter was a bystander to two different shootings, and “she’s a veteran now.” Continue reading


James Street’s The High Calling: Perhaps Peace Demands Understanding

James Street’s The High Calling is the rare sort of sequel that continues a story without giving in to the typical reader’s desire for neatly tied up plot lines.

The High Calling by James Street (image courtesy “From Among the Books of…”)

As I have written on a couple of occasions now, work and the need to complete my latest book have slowed my reading. As a bit of indulgent diversion for myself, I have just completed the sequel to James Street’s novel about the life of a Baptist minister, The Gauntlet. This later work, The High Calling, picks up Baptist minister London Wingo’s story some 20 years after the ending of that earlier novel. While The High Calling is a sequel, however, it is a sequel that cares less about tying up previous plot lines than about exploring how time and change (that elusive quality we know as mutability) affect the lives of Wingo, his daughter Paige, and their friends.

Street’s novel finds London Wingo returned to Linden, MO, where he began his career as a minister to accept a call to a church. That church, Plymouth Baptist, is a new church founded by members of Wingo’s earlier church, First Baptist. Street seems to be setting the stage for a battle between churches, between ministers (the current First Baptist minister, Harry Ward, seems to be the sort of minister cum entrepreneur one sees much of in contemporary American religion), between visions of what the Baptist church should be. Continue reading


Sports: it’s how America deals with big social issues

SEC-football-modern-plantation-systemAhhhh sports. For whatever reason, we’ve decided that the best way to deal with our most pressing national issues isn’t directly through our elected representatives, but metaphorically, through sports.

Guns, drugs, income inequality, violence against women, gender identification, homosexual rights—you name it, our sports venues are where those issues are debated.

This week end was a big one on the metaphorical battlefront. Continue reading


Andrea Quenette controversy: what happened at the U of Kansas and why won’t the AP tell us?

Associated PressWhen “political correctness” and bad journalism collide…

I appreciate the fact that we live in an age where finally – finally – we have grown more sensitive on issues like race, gender, sexual orientation and privilege. (I wish I could add class to that list, but so far I can’t.) I’m sincere about this. The language we use can do more harm (or good) than I think 99% of us imagine, and we are a better society for our growing awareness of how important words can be.


We can also take this sensitivity too far. It can become a weapon for cudgeling intellectual discussion (if you’ve been watching the news lately you know which elite northeastern campus I’m referring to) and, as we’re seeing in a story this morning, a smoke machine that completely obscures any attempt at basic communication. Continue reading


America, refugees and assimilation

twelve-syrians-drown-heading-from-turkey-to-greek-island-1441235628-2607Jeb Bush has proposed only admitting Christian Syrian refugees. On the face of it, it’s an obnoxious, bigoted suggestion, a clear violation of the fundamental principle of separation of church and state, and flies in the face of all this country stands for. But what if he’s right?

The problem is not so much that some of the refugees could be terrorists, although that’s certainly a possibility, e.g., the Tsarnaev brothers, as it is that they could form a potential breeding ground for future terrorists. The risk is second-generation terrorists. Continue reading

Without ordination, women can’t contribute equally in decisions on religious dogma

By Whitney Downard

Despite political and social gains elsewhere, women cannot hold many high religious offices because of their gender. By limiting leadership positions to men, churches erode women’s role in defining worship.

The priesthood, a cornerstone of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, grants the holder the power and authority to act in the name of God. Only those who hold the priesthood can administer priesthood blessings, bless the sacrament (the passing of bread and water) or perform baptisms. Most importantly, a majority of leadership positions within the LDS church can only be held by those possessing the priesthood. Only worthy male members, 12 and older, can be priesthood holders.

The LDS church isn’t the only church to limit women. Several major religions in the United States don’t allow women to hold meaningful leadership positions. The authorities in power – men – dictate what, how and if women can contribute to religious dogma. This prevents women from performing important spiritual rituals or practices.
Continue reading

Donald Trump, Public Idiot

Would Donald Trump close the Westboro Baptist Church?

I’m not saying that Donald Trump ought to close the Westboro Baptist Church. Or that Donald Trump ever said that he might close the Westboro Baptist Church. I’m just asking if he would.

Republican candidate Donald Trump told MSNBC Monday that he would consider closing US mosques with radical leaders if he were elected president. Continue reading

Online Dating

Online dating tips for women: how to write a winning profile

New scientific analysis provides insights for women seeking Mr. Right. Works for OK Cupid, eHarmony, Zoosk, Tindr, Christian Mingle and Plenty of Fish, too.

I’ve seen a lot of women’s dating profiles over the past five years. Thousands of them, literally. And I’ve had plenty of conversations with other online daters, men and women alike, as I have sought to better understand this fascinating new (well, relatively new) mode of social interaction.

In the process I have noted a broad range of patterns and tendencies and have come to a highly scientific understanding of what works. Ladies, follow these simple steps and you’ll be reaping the rewards of your successful new dating profile in no time at all.

1: Always – always always ALWAYS – use the word adventure.  Continue reading

Miley Cyrus VMAs

Is this what our culture has come to?

Miley Cyrus VMAsMiley Cyrus is a Girl Scout compared to Wendy O. Williams, whose performances were getting her arrested for lewd conduct 30 years ago.

Three faculty colleagues and I spoke informally last week at a lunchtime program for people who work at the university but don’t teach. They invited us to talk about what it’s like to host a weekly show on the university’s student-run radio station.

One of the speakers is in his early ’70s, I would guess. He’s a good guy: cordial and well traveled, with deep knowledge about a wide range of topics. He began by saying he had seen a clip from an MTV music awards special that showed Miley Cyrus being her faux outrageous, self-promoting self.

“Is this what our culture has come to?” he asked earnestly. Continue reading


The best Halloween movie you’ve never seen

Herk Harvey’s cult classic Carnival of Souls is full of creepy, atmospheric goodness – just right for a Halloween movie fest…

Press book cover art for Carnival of Souls (image courtesy Wikimedia)

Given that it’s Halloween, time to take note of a cult classic that in its atmospheric creepiness ranks as high as Romero’s original Zombie classic or anything dreamed up by David Lynch, Brian de Palma, or any of the other more  recent masters of what Count Floyd would call “scary stuff.”  In fact, this is a film that both Lynch and Romero have cited repeatedly as influential on their work.

The film is Carnival of Souls, and it was made by a highly successful industrial/educational film director. Harold “Herk”Harvey spent most of his career making films for Lawrence, Kansas, based Centron Films (later subsumed under Coronet Films, an even more well known ed/industry film company) with titles such as Health: Your Posture, Shake Hands With Danger, and Manners in Public. On the road driving back to Kansas after having worked on a film in California, he passed an abandoned amusement park outside Salt Lake City that creeped him out – and which inspired Carnival of Souls.

The film concerns a young woman who is involved in a horrific car accident (the car she’s riding in plunges off a bridge into a swollen river). As rescuers are dragging the river trying to recover the car, she emerges from the water, having somehow survived the catastrophe. Perhaps. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writing about writing is not writing…

Giving attention to what others write – and what they say about writing – is very enjoyable…but it does keep one from doing what a writer is supposed to do…write….

Thomas Wolfe with a crate of his writing…(image courtesy NY Times)

I’ve been off the radar for a couple of weeks now. Part of this is due to an increase in some of my duties in my job (for those who somehow don’t know, I am a professor of writing as well as a writer – though my professing seems to be becoming more and more eaten up by administrative tasks – not something that makes me happy – these days), part of it is due to some conflicts I’ve been feeling about spending so much of whatever writing time I do have writing about other people’s writing.

Don’t get me wrong. As anyone who reads my pieces knows, I love reading as much as writing. (Sometimes I am tempted to think that I love it more than writing, but that is only the lazy side of me trying to convince me that the hard, painful, rewarding work that is writing can be avoided,  when every writer who is a writer knows that only two things cannot be avoided: writing and death.)

And that leads me to what I want to write about here. Continue reading


The EDWINS Project: a model from Cleveland for reentry

EDWINSA couple of weeks ago I got to tour a new residential project that is taking shape a few blocks from where I live. It’s not a new a development or a swanky condo high rise. It’s a campus to house students from the EDWINS Leadership and Restaurant Institute. The students are former prisoners, mostly from correctional institutions in Ohio, who are working to build new lives on the outside by training full-time for careers in the restaurant industry. The campus will provide a safe, convenient living space for people who might otherwise be homeless.

So far, about 89 students have completed their training at EDWINS in 2 years. The placement rate is over 90%. The recidivism rate: 0%. That’s a much better success rate by far than any sports team in Cleveland could ever hope to have–and one that is far more important.

EDWINS restaurant is in the northwest block of the Shaker Square commercial district. The cuisine is classically French and the atmosphere is upscale enough that we often feel not dressed quite right to even stop at the bar for a cocktail (although last winter, on a blustery, snowy night we holed up by the fireplace in jeans, and no one seemed to have a problem with it).

Continue reading


The sin of gun violence

GunShowI have been asked many times in my life whether I “believe that Jesus died for your sins?” Well, yes I do.

But I also believe that Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. died for our sins. Hey, I’m a Unitarian-Universalist.

And I believe that people continue to die every day for our sins. For the sins of greed, and

Cleveland’s homicide rate just topped 100 for the year. Up 80% from 2011—although the numbers have been rising every year.

In the past month that number includes 5 year-old Ramon Burnett, 3 year-old Major Howard, and 5 month-old Aaivelle Wakefield who was shot while strapped into her car seat. Five. Month. Old. Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Writing more than ever despite not being able to write…

Americans are writing and publishing more than ever; meanwhile, arguments rage about the inability of Americans to write and what educators should do to address this perceived inability. 

Ursula Le Guin (image courtesy Wikimedia)

In a recent interview with Salon, author Ursula Le Guin bemoans the lack of skill she sees in aspiring writers. Le Guin blames the problems she sees in writers – serious, well educated people – on a lack of two sets of skills. First, she notes that she sees many people trying to write who don’t have solid language management skills: they lack solid backgrounds in syntax (sentence structure) knowledge and they have weak vocabularies so that they do not easily see possibilities in sentence construction or word choice that would give their writing imagination and vigor. The other problem Le Guin observes is that the way in which many people attempt to become writers – through creative writing programs – does many nascent writers harm by forcing them to submit to a form of group think.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, writer Natalie Wexler attempts to explain “Why Americans can’t write.” Wexler’s thesis, that Americans do not get adequate writing instruction, meshes nicely with Le Guin’s observation. One can easily conclude that, if Wexler is correct in her claim that Americans get too little writing instruction, it is only natural that their creative writing efforts would suffer from the sort of grammar and syntax deficiencies that Le Guin mentions.

As with most easy explanations, this one leaves some questions unanswered. Continue reading

CATEGORY: PoliticsReligion

Abortion and the separation of church and state

20,000,000+ reasons why separation of church and state remains a good idea

Sometimes I mull and navelgaze and don’t have the decency to refrain from posting. This may be one of those times. Indulge me if you will, or not, but if these musings strike you in some way, one way or another, I hope you’ll share where those musings lead you.

Before our most recent tragedy, Planned Parenthood and efforts to defund it were all the rage in GOP quarters, replete with Fiorina trying desperately to overtake Hillary as America’s most notable serial liar. So while we struggle through this unfortunate hiatus until the next government shutdown showdown, I got to mulling and gazing.

How many people in America actually oppose abortion? Continue reading