Beauty Will Save the Seventh Grade

By Callie R. Feyen

The_wednesday_warsThe school administrator wants to know when my students will experience beauty in my classroom. He asks this question while going over our teaching contracts. A copy of what I signed back in April is magnified on a screen in Covenant Hall, a giant room that serves as a cafeteria and also a chapel.

Last year, I took my eighth graders here to practice reading Romeo and Juliet. We took turns standing on a stage, reading about two houses divided while inhaling the scent of bologna sandwiches and orange peels.

His question pulls me out of the back-to-school funk I’ve been in. I don’t like teacher meetings and in-services. They make me sad. I’m shaking my right foot and twiddling my pen frantically when he asks about beauty.

I don’t hear anything else he says.

Less than a week later, I’m standing in front of my seventh graders with a copy of Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars in my hand. Holling Hoodhood, the main character, has to stay with his English teacher, Mrs. Baker, on Wednesday afternoons because he is not Catholic or Jewish. He is Presbyterian and has no religious classes to attend on Wednesdays. [Read more...]

The Inner Life of Everyday Objects

HelminenclothespinsOn a morning when I was doing laundry, I was also reading Edward Dougherty’s new collection of poems, Everyday Objects. I would read some poems till the dryer buzzed, then go and fold the dried clothes, then return to reading until the next load was dry.

Because I was moving between these poems and my laundry, as I pulled each item from the dryer I related to it in a way I hadn’t previously. This years-old green washcloth: it has done more than a lifetime’s duty washing my husband’s face.

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The House Where Beauty Lives

Rosenthal artwork 137“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

Art collector Roberta Ahmanson quotes this famous challenge by the late nineteenth century British artist William in her interview with Greg Wolfe in the current issue of Image (issue 83). Morris’s imperative naturally moves me to make a mental inventory of the stuff in my house.

In my clothes closets, I instantly fail his test; too much there is no longer useful. The hand-woven blouse that I bought in Guatemala and don’t wear passes because of its beauty.

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Wearing a Coat of Many Colors

orange coatAround eight years ago, I bought a coat. I hardly ever bought brand-new clothes, and this was a real splurge on a Bible College-student budget. The coat was from Target, and it was a bright-orange corduroy plaid. I loved how it made me stand out amid the sea of black pea coats in the dreary Pacific Northwest winter.

I come from a background of believing that fashion isn’t important at all. The larger Evangelical culture routinely rejects the body and adornments as unholy, as distracting, as weirdly sexual. Even so, I loved how the coat made me feel special, and different, and colorful.

A year or so after I bought the coat, I watched a documentary about labor practices around the world. For the first time, I started to understand the systems of oppression that modern American fashion is based around. Horrified, I swore off buying new clothes for good. I committed myself to secondhand shopping, to making do, or doing without. I started reading and learning more and more from people who were loudly opting out of the “Empire.”

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Everybody Should Write Poetry

Vision After the Sermon (1888), Paul GauguinPeople who read poetry but don’t write it are like those who have just heard about the burning bush. They’ve got to write poetry. They’ve got to read it also, because then they’ve heard about the burning bush, but when you write it, you sit inside the burning bush, which is different. I think everybody should write poetry.

This radical viewpoint is that of poet Li-Young Lee, speaking to the editors of a rich book published a couple years ago, A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith. When I recently quoted Lee’s words to a friend who is a fine poet, at first he scowled. Doesn’t writing poetry take special dedication and talent and hard work? That’s what his scowl seemed to ask. And yes, of course, writing good poetry does take all this.

But that’s not Lee’s unconventional point. He’s saying, in effect: everyone needs to nestle down inside language to get to know its ways, to get comfy with how playful it can be, how expansive, how unexpected in its openings to new experience. [Read more...]