Archive for September, 2010

A New Mexico sunset

Posted in art on September 21, 2010 by Trip Jennings

The orange glow to the west was hard to miss, even for a tapped-out slacker like me. I’d spent a languorous afternoon — 3 1/2 hours to be exact — loitering around a local community center. Actually, it wasn’t loitering. I had donned the mantle of dutiful dad Monday afternoon, taking off a few hours from work to ensure my son’s spot on his school’s sixth-grade youth basketball team.

I wasn’t alone. Dozens of other equally dedicated parents had showed up too, the same goal sketched on their determined faces. Not the greatest way to spend an afternoon I’ll admit, but it was much better than many other scenarios I can dream up.

This scrum of young to middle-aged parents idled away the afternoon, most of them seated in those collapsible chairs you see at weekend suburban soccer games. There we sat plying one another with tales of our children’s lives: how they liked this year’s crop of teachers; what subject engaged them the most; how fast they were growing up; were they noticing the opposite sex yet? Thankfully no was the answer in most cases.

But by the time the local parks and rec department opened the doors, I was past ready to depart the premises, no matter how engaging my fellow conversationalists had been. (Truth be known they were very engaging. We talked about everything from state politics to where to find good Korean food in Albuquerque.) I handed over the necessary forms and payment in the form of a check, and bolted, ready to grab a quick dinner and then head home.

I stopped by a local Mexican restaurant, where I wolfed down a big, fat beef burrito and a shredded-beef taco doused in red chile. It was about 6:45 when I hopped back into the car, happily fed and slightly drowsy for the drive home. About three miles into the otherwise uneventful drive I noticed an orange glow out of the corner of my left eye. The late-afternoon incandescence only grew more brilliant as the miles rolled on my odometer, creeping steadily from the horizon to spread across a quarter of the sky. It was one of those magnificent New Mexico sunsets you hear about, but don’t see all that often. I hastily took some photos of the sunset to share on Facebook, and with relatives across the country.

I got back home, and took one more photo because I couldn’t help myself.

Then I sat down to write a small narrative to accompany the pictures for this blog. It was then that I began thinking back on the afternoon and how I had spent it: I had sat in the company of other parents who, like me, were proud of their children and who didn’t mind sacrificing an afternoon to give their kids a small opportunity. I also thought about how I had not spent the afternoon: not staring at a computer screen; or talking with public officials about the state budget; or hearing the latest political gossip.

It had been a good day.

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What it’s like to be Muslim in the U.S.

Posted in news, religion with tags , , , on September 13, 2010 by Trip Jennings

O.K., maybe I’m obsessing, but the national debate over the cultural center/mosque in NYC sometimes makes me question whether the America I thought I knew actually exists, at least to the degree that I thought it did.

So when I stumble on something that reinforces my sense of this country, I have the urge to share it. Today there are two pieces: One comes from Religion Dispatches and is titled “You’ve never met a Muslim“; the other comes from Foreign Policy, and it bears the provocative headline of “The Talibanization of America“.

Both are worth reading because they get past the white-hot rhetoric and, perhaps more importantly, make one think not just as an American, but as a world citizen.

If these are times that test America’s values, here’s to hoping we pass.

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2010 by Trip Jennings

Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, wrote yesterday that times like these test our values as a nation. Kristof was remarking on the ongoing national debate over the proposed Muslim cultural center near Ground Zero in Manhattan. The ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks seems to have breathed life back into the discussion unfortunately.

Kristof starts by noting some troubling examples of American nativism and xenophobia that have accompanied the debate. Frankly they’d be shocking if I hadn’t already read about them 30 dozen times. But if they’ve lost their power to shock, they still make me shake my head in amazement. (You can read the column for those anecdotes and poll results. I provided in the link the paragraph above).

The main reason I’m drawing attention to Kristof’s column, however, is the way he ends it. He briefly profiles people who have stood up against such fear-mongering. They represent the America I identify with, the America that I think a majority of Americans really, truly believe in, even if the polls don’t reflect my hope at the moment.

Here are the final paragraphs of Kristof’s column:

If this is a testing time, then some have passed with flying colors. Hats off to a rabbinical student in Massachusetts, Rachel Barenblat, who raised money to replace prayer rugs that a drunken intruder had urinated on at a mosque. She told me that she quickly raised more than $1,100 from Jews and Christians alike.

Above all, bravo to those Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders who jointly denouncedwhat they called “the anti-Muslim frenzy.”

“We know what it is like when people have attacked us physically, have attacked us verbally, and others have remained silent,” said Rabbi David Saperstein. “It cannot happen here in America in 2010.”

Cardinal Theodore McCarrick put it this way: “This is not America. America was not built on hate.”

“Shame on you,” the Rev. Richard Cizik, a leading evangelical Christian, said to those castigating Islam. “You bring dishonor to the name of Jesus Christ. You directly disobey his commandment to love your neighbor.”

Amen.

Let me second that.  Amen!

9/11 nine years on

Posted in music, news, religion with tags , , , on September 11, 2010 by Trip Jennings

Today is the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Nine years on, it’s still an unforgettable day for me, partly because at the time we lived in Connecticut, 80 miles from Manhattan, and felt keenly connected to everything that was going on.

We knew people who lost loved ones and friends. We struggled with the reality that another human being could hatch and then carry out a plan so evil and grandiose that it could snuff out 3,000 lives in a matter of hours on one September morning. We also lived with the terror of never quite knowing if another attack was about to happen. In one sense those attacks came, with the anthrax scare that killed five Americans, including a 94-year-old woman who lived 10 miles from us in Connecticut. I’ve written elsewhere about the terror of that time.

The ninth anniversary of the attacks comes as the images and pain of that day are employed in a national debate over who we are as a nation, a debate that tests how comfortable we are with religious diversity. The way I see it, the 9/11 terrorist attacks should not be divisive, but unifying, as a reminder that the perpetrators of that terrible crime do not represent any one religion, or any one nationality, or any one group. What they represent is the human capacity for evil.  They are the outliers, the fringe. Most people, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic or any number of local religions around the globe, do not condone such heinous behavior but unequivocally reject it. In that they are unified.

Let us remember that today, on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I’ll shut up now and let U2 and the Boss do the rest of speaking for me.

Pagans, religion and a sense of wonder

Posted in literature, pop culture, religion on September 7, 2010 by Trip Jennings

Last weekend a friend and I attended the annual Albuquerque Pagan Pride Day fair. It was interesting and educational, partly because one of my hobbies is people watching and the crowd easily qualified as watchable.

The smell of string-tied sage and burning incense, the ethereal playing of harper Dave Hoover, not to mention the broadsword replicas and nifty helmets, kept me interested.

The belly dancing was a selling point too, as was watching a local coven bless canned food attendees were asked to bring for a local Unitarian congregation’s food bank.

But something else was at work, something deeper.

The event put me in a reflective mood. Ever since adolescence, it’s what I do after a mind-bending book, a moving film, a new experience. I ponder. Heck, even after a trip to a theme park with my kids sometimes I lapse into reverie. Seems age only has magnified that propensity.

So why drop in on a mixer that was equal parts Wicca fest, Renaissance Fayre and Doomsayers’ road show?

Put another way: Why would a 46-year-old former Southern Baptist with a Master’s of Divinity from a Presbyterian seminary hang out with a crowd of devotees and adherents of alternative beliefs?

Good question.

Maybe it’s my curious nature. Or the allure of the new, at least for me. Or the change of seasons; autumn is my favorite time of year, prompting in me a taking-stock-in-life contemplation.

Could be all of the above. Continue reading