The Beauty Dialogues, Part 4

Painting of Socrates standing in the center of a nondescript area, with his arm raised. He is lecturing to a crowd of men who are gathered around him, some lounging, others standing, but all looking towards Socrates in the center of the circle. They are wearing togas. The following is a response to Morgan Meis’s letter posted yesterday.

Dear Morgan:

I’m enjoying this conversation but at times I worry that you’re playing Glaucon to my Socrates. In other words, just egging the “master” on. I want to be sure you’re not just tossing up softballs for me to take a swing at. You’re a professionally trained philosopher; I’ve never taken a philosophy class in my life. So don’t hesitate to take a real swing…at me!

Now I don’t want to bog the conversation down in quibbles but I worry that semantic differences and definitions may be getting in the way. You’re getting at this when you accuse me of doing a “bait and switch” in defining beauty—messing with the “registers.”

My point about Donatello’s Mary Magdalene was that the work of art can take what is ugly—a ragged, gaunt, old woman—and transform that ugliness into a form of beauty—a simultaneous perception of spiritual beauty inhering in outward brokenness. [Read more…]

Love Nailed to the Doorpost

black and white image of a mezuzah on the door post of a house. The commandment to love is nailed to my doorpost. Ritualistically written on a little piece of parchment, rolled up, tucked inside a beautifully painted ceramic case, and nailed aslant to the doorpost.

I almost never notice it. Not when I’m rushing out of the house in the morning, book bag and gym bag slung over my shoulder, head down, rushing to the car, desperate to get to campus before the last available parking spot is taken in the lot at my building. It’s not love, I’m thinking about at that moment. It’s convenience.

Not when I’ve been working at home—on a weekday or Saturday (I know, Saturday, Shabbat, I shouldn’t be working!)—and want to walk up the driveway to the mailbox to retrieve the mail. It’s not love I’m thinking about then. It’s hope. Hope for some surprise, though few surprises arrive in the mail anymore. Mostly junk mail and pleas to contribute to a cause, many of them causes that, in my heart.

Not when, with Laurie, I’m heading out for a Saturday night movie. I like love stories. Romantic comedies. Not that we limit ourselves to them. Most recent film: Paterson. Loved it. Definitely a love story: a love of poetry, a tender love story of a bus driver poet and his partner, a cupcake artist, a whimsical designer. Love stirs when I’m watching a good love story on the screen. Are movies my mezuzah? [Read more…]

Fun with Circumcision

Newborn BabyEvery year, when a specific national obstetrics and gynecology conference (or is it pediatrics?) comes to the Washington Convention Center, the traffic is snarled for blocks along New York Avenue, and the sidewalks thronged thickly with pedestrians. Its scale is such that it seems, in this one local’s perspective, to be outranked by the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee—only without the haze of whirling blue lights from cruisers and snipers atop the roofs nearby.

I don’t have to drive by it now, but many were the days that my car inched forward infinitesimally, as I tried not to swear under my breath. And always across the street from the convention center, on the sidewalk in front of the old Carnegie Library, were a clutch of protesters holding signs bearing the legend, “Circumcision Decreases Sensation!”

And at those moments, I was immediately thankful that my children—younger then—were not in the car and I did not have to explain the terms of the debate. Frankly, before that I hadn’t even known there was a debate. [Read more…]

A Strange Season for Inter-Christian Families

3438325081_caa9a19ee1_oAmerican culture, at this late and plural hour, seems to have pretty well normalized the notion of the interfaith family, to the extent that if your environs are urban and/or coastal, and your circles revolve around the ranks of top- and second-tier universities, then the multiple-faith union is almost a given, and certainly not a problem.

There’s now the cliché—which the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network made a joke about—of Jewish boys and Chinese (Baptist? Confucian?) girls. There’s another pattern, mostly in my experience in the Northeast, of Jewish young adults finding their bashert among a certain kind of generationally-sanded, now-affluent Irish Catholic (cf. Caroline Kennedy and Ed Schlossberg, to cite another generation).

Families that truly number two (or more) faiths have a kind of flexibility that can seem infinitely elastic: The Christmas tree gets rechristened into a “Chanukah bush”—with attendant blue-and-silver tinsel and a Star of David on top—a trope that comes in for annual December scorn among both my Jewish and Christian friends. (Except for those evangelicals of my acquaintance who avow a special relationship with the state of Israel.) [Read more…]

How to Win the War on Christmas

Santa editAfter thirteen years of parenting, my husband and I still know virtually nothing about raising children. But one thing we’ve always agreed on, since even before the first one was conceived, is not including Santa in our Christmas celebrations.

Now don’t get me wrong. We’re not one of those families. I don’t homeschool in a jumpsuit and make my kids play with Old Testament action figures. In fact, for evangelicals, we’re pretty theologically and culturally liberal. And we don’t hate holidays. Our kids dress up for Halloween and make each other Valentines. Christmas sees the usual tree, presents, and lights. We just don’t invite the guy in the red suit down our chimney (or through the heating vent or DSL box, I guess, since we don’t have a fireplace).

I mentioned those people, didn’t I? Those. The ones I don’t want you to associate with me because I want you to keep on reading. And to like me. Even if I didn’t mention, um, them, I would have worried about it, worried you would have placed me in that category of lesser, unenlightened, believers.

Or perhaps you felt judged by my comments about Santa, the creepily omnipresent, omniscient stand-in for God who judges us on our works. And visits only the families with discretionary income. [Read more…]