August 30, 2006

In a previous post, I mentioned how we have lately been eating dinosaur-shaped chicken at our house. This is because I purchased an industrial-sized box of them a few months ago, thinking that Tom & Lily would scarf them up. A side effect is that I have been eating them, too. This is what they look like once they’ve been through the toaster oven:

I’m no expert, but I would say that there are two tyrannosaurus rexes flanking two very frightened but resolved stegosauruses.

I ate these for lunch on a tortilla with some red-leafed lettuce and a lemon tahini dressing:

After I wrapped the whole thing up, it looked like this:

In case you were wondering, yes, that is a stegosaurus tail sticking out. He was trying to escape, but they have pea-sized brains, and so he was actually heading deeper into the wrap. It was good, really.



August 29, 2006

I’m in the Religious Studies department at Arizona State, but that doesn’t really say much about what I study or how. Some time in another post I’ll write about what it is that I study. Here is a note about how.

Religious Studies, as a discipline, arose like many others in the 1800s as part of the modern project to know and improve humankind. It started very much as sort of an armchair pursuit in which august university dons would gather ethnographic writings from sailors and other adventurers and draw elaborate conclusions about the religious practices of “savages.” In many cases, they proposed to prove that western European Christianity was the zenith of a long line of religious evolution beginning with some sort of grunting and wondering near the back of a cave.

Since then, things have changed significantly. World religions these days are–generally–not understood as steps in an evolutionary process. Research is now expected to based in actual fieldwork, if ethnographic or anthropological. However, Religious Studies as a discipline also draws on other research methods including such diverse sources as psychological accounts, historical archives, and comparative literature. More recent moves have questioned some basic categories, such as “religion” itself, and have also called into question any sort of conclusion that claims universal application.

All this is to say that Religious Studies is more of a topic area than a method. We draw on other methods–historical, anthropological, psychological, rhetorical analyses–and apply them to religious questions. In my own research, I draw on historical sources and ethnographic material. As yet, I have not done any of my own fieldwork and am not sure that this will ever be necessary as I currently deal with an era before the present. I am interested in cultural and ethnic studies that both describe and analyze. “Ethnohistory” probably best characterizes what I try to do in my own studies. By looking at ethnographic records (loosely conceived), in conversation with other historical sources, I hope to better understand how certain ethnic groups behaved religiously and in other ways in their contexts of time and place.

The American Academy of Religion, the principal guild of Religious Studies, maintains a website about the many benefits of our work.

A year ago, I had one of the best experiences of my life. I found the Golden Ticket and got to visit the Chocolate Factory.

When I was a kid, I fell deeply in love with Charlie Bucket and his adventure in Willy Wonka’s amazing chocolate factory. I didn’t have it as bad as little Charlie, but our life in rural Arkansas wasn’t exactly feature material for the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” either. I identified so much with Charlie and his deep, visceral desire to see at least one of his dreams come true. Naturally, I knew I would never see the oompah loompahs, or ride the invisible elevator, or inherit the vast fortune and genius of Wonka, but such escapes of fancy were clearly something I wanted; I read the book at least two dozen times. I guess it remains the dear fantasy of children. Here’s a website I found of children’s drawings based on the story.

A little more than a year ago, the Johnny Depp remake of the old Gene Wilder movie version of the book came out. Our local independent bookstore teamed up with a real-life chocolate factory in town and ran a promotion on Roald Dahl’s books. For every Dahl book you bought, you were given a chocolate bar from Granny’s Chocolates of Gilbert, Arizona. Hidden in a select number of these bars were Golden Tickets! These tickets, like the one Charlie found, admitted the carrier and one guest to a magical and marvelous tour of the factory.

I went to the store and bought a new copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and a copy of Danny, the Champion of the World (my favorite Dahl tale, in which a young boy learns how to fight classism by poaching pheasants with his incredible father). I got two chocolate bars. On the second one I hastily opened, the glint of gold quickly peeked out. I had won a Golden Ticket! I ran around the bookstore shouting and actually started to cry a little bit I was so excited and overwhelmed. I was actually up nights wondering what it was going to be like inside. It was hard to wait for the day to arrive.

At this time, Lily my daughter was not even a year old. Clearly, I would not invite her–she wouldn’t enjoy it or vaguely remember it. My son Tom was also quite small, not yet three-years-old. So, we dropped them off at their grandparents, and I took my wife, Alex. This may have been some selfishness on my part; this was my dream come true, and I didn’t want to spend it chasing after a toddler in a possibly dangerous factory.

So, the big day arrived, and Alex and I drove to the factory and got ready for surprises beyond all our imaginings (at least I did). The other ticket holders lined up at the door. They were not like me in at least two ways: none of them was even remotely as excited as I was, and all of them were under the age of ten. The bookstore and factory staff lined us up for introductions–mine was a little sheepish, but nothing would slow me down. We got to see some pretty neat stuff, albeit no river of chocolate, lickable wallpaper, everlasting gobstoppers, or hordes of oompah loompahs. But we did see the main ingredients of chocolate bars, we got to see the machines, and there were plenty of samples.

The young folks who ran the factory were pretty cool, though bemused by my presence among the shorter winners. It turns out that they and Alex and I had all just finished reading Candyfreak by Steve Almond. It was a fun read, but it could never pretend to touch the beguiling Charlie.

Proud Dad

August 25, 2006

I realize that parents can get too promotional when it comes to their own kids, but this is my blog. So, I wanted to share some photos of my two.

This is Tom when he was a little over year old. He’s holding Brown Bear.

This is Lily about a year ago.

This one of my favorite pictures ever. It’s from last Halloween and includes Nana.

Tom engaged in some “risky business” last January.

Lily in her baptismal gown last November.

Here’s the whole family last October. We went to a photo studio, and everyone great and small smiled and kept their eyes open!

And finally, the sweetest picture of all the people I love the most. This was an afternoon when everyone was getting tired in San Diego just a few weeks ago.

More breaking commentary on the guy who fell in the chocolate, this time on NPR.
On Fridays, they read on air letters from listeners. You will not be disappointed if you listen to these letters from today. The story is about three minutes long, and the stuff about our guy doesn’t start until around 1:55, so you can fast-forward.

The New York Times reported the findings today of a fascinating poll done by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

The headline finding was that people are finding the Republican Party less friendly to religion. Only 47% (from 55% last year) find the G.O.P. as a friendly home for “religion” (the assumption, I guess, is that “religion” means conservative Christians). Let this Christian state for the record that I didn’t think the Republican Party could get less friendly toward what I consider to be religion.

On a related–and slightly more hilarious–note, the Democrats went from being 29% religion-friendly to a mere 26%. What’s a poor Democrat to do? I vote Democratic but would have to agree that wishy-washy, mealy-mouthed, policy-starved, creepy-personalitied, Democrats are hardly what I would call “friendly” to anyone with actual convictions.

For me, the most interesting paragraph in the article was this one:
“Of the topics addressed by clergy during religious services, 92 percent of respondents who attend religious services regularly said they had heard clergy speak about hunger and poverty, 59 percent said abortion, 53 percent said Iraq, 52 percent said homosexuality, and 40 percent said evolution or intelligent design. Only 24 percent said they heard clergy discuss stem cell research, and 21 percent immigration.”

I preach every Sunday (whether I want to or not). Looking back on my own sermons, this is the breakdown of social issues that I would estimate I have addressed over the past year:

  • hunger and poverty–92% (I’m an average guy in this regard apparently);
  • abortion–0%
  • Iraq–100% (it’s a poor church, several kids over there are family members);
  • homosexuality–1 or 2% (because no one cares);
  • evolution or intelligent design–0%;
  • immigration–95% (it’s a bilingual parish with several new immigrants in the pews);
  • family violence–30%;
  • drug abuse and alcoholism–30%;
  • racism–65%.

Yeah, so I guess I’d fit into the poll at least somewhat. I don’t find either party friendly to “religion,” and I talk a lot about poor and hungry people. Go figure, given the gospel on these sorts of things.

A little treat

August 24, 2006

I made these yesterday and have felt better. Alex says I bake when I’m depressed, but I think I bake to quit being depressed.

Orange-Currant Scones
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound
cold butter (2 sticks)
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange rind (about two
1 large egg
1/2 cup whole milk

Heat oven to 350
degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine the flour,
sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and mix well. Cut in the butter
until it is the size of small peas. Add the currants and orange zest, and toss
to distribute them.
Whisk together the egg and milk. Add to the dry
ingredients and mix and fold until the dough masses and the flour is absorbed.
The dough may be a little streaky.
Divide the dough in half, and shape into
2 balls. Pat each one into a 6- to 7-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.
Roll about 1 inch thick, and cut like a pie into 6 wedges each.
Bake until
golden brown and firm to the touch, about 25 to 30 minutes.

I often substitute raisins for the currants and manage to eat them all just fine.