Monthly Archives: January 2011

On Disney Princesses

My friend Jan posted a great reflection on the Disney Princess phenomenon today. I too have been hearing about Peggy Orenstein’s book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter. Of course our house was hit by the Disney Princess mania—twice. I’m happy to say we are on the other side of that, though some princess detritus remains in our home, along with a Disney Fairy poster on the girls’ wall. Like most things, I feel OK with the middle ground we sought in that whole deal.

Jan was interested in the fact that the DPs never look at each other in the posters and marketing. Rest assured that the dolls, when in the hands of actual girls, do not remain so segregated. But her post prompts me to share this bit I wrote back when the DP craze was at its most fervent in our house.

Disney Princesses

Disney princesses
have no mothers.
They have dwarfs in a frat-house,
mice in hats,
a tiger, a dragon,
a Jamaican lobster,
and a fairy godmother
oblivious to child-labor laws.

But no mothers.

Let’s swoop in
and do the job:
teach Cinderella to kick down the tower door
or Snow White to sing “heigh ho,”
pack up Belle’s books in heavy trunks
for a semester of study abroad, where
she’ll room with Jasmine.
Help Ariel keep her voice.
Who knows? They might still live
happily ever after; they might even look
in that mirror mirror on the wall
and see the ones they love most.

In Memory of Dad

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger disaster, and the eighth anniversary of my dad’s death. This Tuesday is the anniversary of the Columbia disaster, which occurred on the same day as dad’s memorial services. There were two gatherings, one in Houston and one for me, great with child, in Atlanta.

I’ve tinkered with this poem for years. This is the current form.

Relics: A Diary

January 28
As the phone call ended downstairs
I folded down a corner of the Secret Garden,
perched it atop a stack of books, way too optimistic
for the fortieth week, and turned
toward the door to my husband’s
ashen face—
I turned toward the door, the door,
the door beyond which
there be dragons, as the mapmakers used to say
with their quills poised over a tattered void.

February 1
While the family gathered
four states away,
filed past his red motorcycle loitering
at the church steps,
I placed a picture on a low table,
exhaled into a chapel, and sat down creaking front.
And people who didn’t know him,
but who knew me, loved me (loved me! loved me?)
filled in respectful rows,
heard how he made French toast and adored
Alice’s Restaurant,
stood at table
tore bread
fumbled a hug
and left.
And debris rained over a Texas plain.

February 12
In dreams, at least,
a gleaming new child
met a confused old wanderer.
There, she said, pointing behind her,
to forever, to Goodness,
that’s the way you’re looking for.

All right then, he said,
lifted her,
cradled her for an eternal instant,
then twirled her around to the path he’d completed
and wished her luck and love.


Travelogue Part VII: Barcelona

This month marks 10 years since the big Columbia Seminary Jan Term in Geneva. A couple dozen of us went that year, along with a group of DMin students. It was a spectacular trip and thanks to that experience, I still get the urge to travel each January. Several years ago I wrote some memories of the experience. I’m posting them this week in the hopes that it will inspire some of the other Geneva folks to reminisce as well.

This post begs for pictures, but I don’t have any that are scanned. Use your imagination…

Part VII: Barcelona
We had a free weekend during our stint in Geneva, so a bunch of us decided to take a Friday-night train to Barcelona. Thankfully, the Barcelona train was much nicer than the jalopy we had taken to Florence, so we got a decent night’s sleep.

Remember at the beginning of The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s house lands with a bump, but she doesn’t know anything is different until she throws the door open and all that Technicolor floods in? After weeks in misty Munich, Florence and Geneva, we pulled into Barcelona with a bump, and because we went directly from train station to city subway, we didn’t know anything was different either. It was not until we were riding the escalator up to street level at our metro stop that we realized we had arrived in Oz.

Blue sky and a farmer’s market, with endless displays crammed with fruits, vegetables and flowers. That was our first glimpse of Barcelona.

Most of us were running out of money by this point, but I found a couple of rooms near the town center that ran each of us about $15US a night. It cracked us up to be spending so little. We were giddy with the bargain for a week afterwards. Was it safe? Well, it was down a secluded alley, and the locksbasically worked, but we all survived. Was it clean? Let’s just say I wore socks in the shower. Who cared?

Barcelona is an easy place to be a tourist. There are two tour routes with continuous bus service all day, so you can do an entire loop at once and get an overview of the city, or you can hop off some place that interests you and stay at that particular site as long as you want.

To be honest, I can’t remember half the places we visited.

I do remember the Picasso museum. And I remember lots of buildings designed by Antoni Gaudi—they’re interesting. They look like they’re melting. The Sagrada Familia temple is the most famous and enormous example of Gaudi’s work; it has been in various levels of construction since 1882. I guess that’s not unheard of—the old cathedrals were built over decades, even centuries—but there’s something unsettling about this huge monstrosity standing unfinished for 120 years in the heart of a modern city. It’s the architectural equivalent of the 10,000 Year Clock; it violates our sense of time. Shouldn’t it be done by now? Maybe, but it’s not. [Edit: it wasn’t then but it is now!] And someday we will be gone, and construction will continue, and cities will continue, and the world will continue.

The tourist attractions were interesting, but my most vivid memory of Barcelona was the color blue—the blue of a cloudless sky, which I’d been walking around underneath all day, and the blue of the Mediterranean Sea, which knocked me right out. We took a tram up the hillside on the edge of town, and there it was, poured out below us, seeping out into a cloudy white horizon.

In the old Crayola box of 64, there was a color called green blue: blue, with green in it. Blue green was the closest color (green with blue in it), but really there was no comparison. They retired green blue in 1990, the idiots. It was always my favorite color. I spent hours looking at it, drawing with it, but I can’t remember ever seeing anything that color in real life, until a tram in Barcelona gave me a glimpse of the green blue of the Mediterranean.

This sea, which carried a man named Paul on three missionary journeys almost two thousand years ago, this sea is a color that I once held in my stubby little hand and drew fanciful pictures with. I don’t know what that means. Maybe nothing.

Travelogue Part VI: Geneva

This month marks 10 years since the big Columbia Seminary Jan Term in Geneva. A couple dozen of us went that year, along with a group of DMin students. It was a spectacular trip and thanks to that experience, I still get the urge to travel each January. Several years ago I wrote some memories of the experience. I’m posting them this week in the hopes that it will inspire some of the other Geneva folks to reminisce as well.

This post begs for pictures, but I don’t have any that are scanned. Use your imagination…

Part VI: Geneva
After two days here, two days there, Geneva is where we got to unpack and live for a while.

We took a day train from Florence to Geneva, meandering around mountain after spectacular mountain. Geneva finally announced itself in quiet glory; we came around a mountain pass, and suddenly Lake Geneva lay shimmering before us. We had arrived.

We stayed at the Cenacle, a beautifully simple retreat center with single rooms, a huge common area, a cool and quiet chapel, and rustic bread and jam for breakfast, and a unisex bathroom and shower. OK, that made for some funny conversations.

We commuted via bus each morning to the World Council of Churches for classes, then spent the afternoons shopping, sight-seeing, hanging out, and occasionally studying.

Geneva is a wonderful city, no doubt about it. Cosmopolitan, bustling, convenient to get around. The John Calvin sites are sure to please even the nerdiest of Presbyterians. We toured Calvin’s church, stood next to Calvin’s pulpit, and took photographs next to Calvin’s immense statue. The church used to be decorated with ornate frescoes, but in a zealous attempt to root out any idolatry in the church, Calvin and his associates had the walls scrubbed clean. There’s one secluded corner where the frescoes still remain, but are barely visible—little ghosts of pre-Reformation worship, lurking in the shadows.

Geneva has scrumptious food. The fondue was first-rate, and the chocolate! Oh, the chocolate. You know Hershey’s Miniatures? The bag of assorted chocolates—Mr. Goodbar, Special Dark, etc.? Imagine bags like that, available in every shop, and filled with chocolate that doesn’t suck.

The class was interesting, too—an introduction to the work of the World Council of Churches, and an opportunity to research a topic relating to global Christianity. My group researched the role of the worldwide church in advocating for an end to apartheid. How does the church witness for change, while acknowledging its complicity in unjust systems? That is always the question.

Geneva is a city with gravitas. It’s the home of the World Council of Churches, but also the United Nations European office, the World Health Organization, the International Red Cross (and its wonderfully moving and informative museum)… and last but not least, a place I never would have visited if I hadn’t been married to a geek, CERN, “the world’s largest particle physics laboratory” according to its website.

But for me, Geneva was all about the Cenacle’s common room. Most seminaries like to harp on the importance of community. Building community, creating community, an inclusive community, a diverse community. Blah blah blah. I lived off campus in seminary, so I sometimes felt separated from the heart of the community; but for me, the common room was community. In one corner sat huge brown couches—the American kind, big and slothful, the kind of couches that eat paperbacks and loose change. There was always someone sitting there, ready to chew the fat. The rest of the room was filled with mismatched tables, usually packed with people playing hearts or spades. Day and night, the place hopped. And when I didn’t feel like hopping, I could retire to my cozy single room, to read, write, or make plans for my free weekend: