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Sunday, December 7, 2014

December 7, 1941: Honolulu, Hawaii

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the day the United States was launched into World War II.  It was a surprise to all but those who were expecting an an act of war against our country.  The date itself turned out to catch even the military at Pearl Harbor unaware, when Japanese planes bombed the Naval base on Sunday morning, December 7.  President Roosevelt was to give that day a name: the Day of Infamy.
I will give an account of that time as it affected me and my family, from this excerpt from my book, Rachel’s Children: Surviving the Second World War (All Things That Matter Press, 2010).   It is found on pages 9-10 of the book.

“Children in American territories joined their counterparts around the world, by spending the next few years in a climate of war and its accompanying horrors.  It was not a time of glory, no matter how many patriotic speeches would be delivered, no matter how many inspiring songs were sung and encouraging prayers offered.  It was instead, a time of war.

“My own experience as an eight-year-old in Honolulu was shared with classmates many times after my mother, brother and I returned to the “mainland.”  My father remained in Hawaii where he was a pathologist with the Army Medical Corps.  After the attack, he was to continue his service as Commanding Officer of the North Sector Tripler General Hospital.  He remained at that post until the end of the war, when he was assigned to the Army hospital at Ft. Hamilton in Brooklyn, NY.  By then I was in grade 7B at Public School 104, and wrote an essay during that time about my experience of the December 7th day in Hawaii.”

From a poem in my book:

            Black smoke on a Sunday morning,
            planes appear from the sea
            to interrupt the December weekend.
            Sirens scream through streets
            indiscriminate of homes and buildings
            where Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian
            and wahine neighbored.  Church bells
            call worshipers to services while whine
            of bullets and flash of light accent
            the morning bright with hope transformed
            into fearful surprise.

Monday, October 13, 2014

What's On My Plate

This is one of those details of how I did my most recent chip carving piece, a plate.  

Here is the first step: getting the pattern on to the wood:  there are various methods of copying that pattern.

Now to begin the actual carving.  There are knives designed especially for this.

Then you keep on until the whole pattern has been carved.

Now you are ready to finish it up by adding a stain and then spraying on a polyurethane finish, and  you have this:

There are other ways to do this, but this is the process I use.  The most beneficial aspect of carving is first the therapeutic process of carving, and then the pleasure of giving your finished work to someone else, or have it displayed somewhere in your own place.  Many relaxing hours are the effect.  I studied this with Wayne Barton, a master carver who comes regularly to the Brasstown Folk School.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Charlie's brother, Leigh Rodenbough, died two weeks ago, on September 21, at the age of 90.  A retired attorney, he went full time into his art after years of finding a moment here and there to spend time with a canvas during his law practice.  His work was remarkably beautiful, showing his love for nature and his children and grandchildren.  Seascapes were dominant for the former Naval officer, who spent World War II on ships.  He also loved clouds, farm scenes, wooded areas, trees, rivers and skies.  My favorites were the scenes from nature.

The evening of funeral visitation, his new work of art was the absolutely beautiful double rainbow visible from the the funeral home in Madison.  It was stunning, and viewers were convinced Leigh was once more plying his art, this time with the canvas of the heavens.  I was moved to put the experience into a poem:


 “This is what all art strives for: the creation of a living permanence.”  John  O’Donohue

(for Leigh Rodenbough – 1924-2014)

                              sea foam, star, cloud of  clear puff
                              or dark edges, they caught his eye
                              and found homes on canvas

                              old barns, woodlands, river scenes
                              on the Dan and Mayo, leafy trees,
                              mountain views, autumns of clear sky

                              boats that sail, ships that cross seas,
                              each trusting waves to bear their weight,
                              small craft lead the way, sing lake poems

                              shores with children shaping sand                                    
                              into castles as sea water fills holes
                              a sand crab scrambles seeking safety
                              while shovels work their artistry

                              it comes to us framed, the artist’s gift
                              to tell us the story he learned from ages
                              of study and the glory of light:
                              a rainbow that carries the love he sends
                              arcing over skies but touching earth

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Jesuslove in an Alien World

            A recent issue of Christian Century takes a second look at the book Resident Aliens, as viewed 25 years later.  The authors, Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, were former professors of mine during my sojourn at Duke Divinity School.  Commentaries by a number of current theologians, church leaders and seminary professors critique the book in light of our own time.  Some find it wanting, others see its continued relevance.

            The book defines resident aliens as Christians who stand apart from the common culture, in communities which consider themselves unaligned with the state but instead are the church in its broader scope: as witness against the state or society on occasion.  As assessed by the authors, they were part of the counterculture.  Today as I stand outside that time, I wonder how we as Christians can remain in the alien fold, when it is more likely that the world around us is alien and we have become part of the culture that surrounds us.

            Our measure is Jesus.  Did he represent the culture of his day or the counterculture?  As I consider the matter, I realize that Jesus was actively political.  He stood squarely against the injustices of the Roman rule, the discrimination against women in his society, the needs of the poor and the sick who did not have access to the health care of that time, and the society of rank, which marked the boundaries between the wealthy and the poor, as well as including the economic needs of those between those two categories.  Today we label them the middle class.

            To follow the teachings of Jesus calls for us to live in a world that is alien to Christian practices.  We are not the aliens, we are the inhabitants of an alien society, when we try to show love to others in a way imitating Jesus’ love.  To remove the barriers that we cannot breach is a daunting effort.  The discoveries of what I call Jesuslove among those we condemn as undeserving because of their failures defines one way we can carry that love with us to the alien world surrounding us. 

We are all failures in some manner, yet so was Jesus.  He failed to follow the religious laws when human need interfered.  He failed to acknowledge the power of the Roman rule over his people.  Yet the failures were the very factors that brought forth his love for others.  He dared to include the fallen of society, and declared himself on a mission to bring the Creator’s love to everyone.  The result was to be punished severely for such efforts.  He visited the sick and restored life to those believed to be dead.  In the last chapters of his story, he overcame even his own death at the hands of an evil power.  The aliens did not win then, nor will they do so ever, because what is lasting is the kind of love no one can adequately define.  We do know, however, that it is most powerful in an alien world, the world we live in.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Heavy Reading

            I have now FINALLY completed two very long reads: Gabriel García Márquez’ one hundred years of solitude, and Rabbi Michael Lerner’s Embracing Israel/Palestine:A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East.  Reading in these two very different genres at the same time provided challenges of focus for me, but also relief when one book might overwhelm me without having the other for contrast.

            Márquez’ long story of a family in a remote mountain (in the Andes?) in South America was difficult to follow if I tried to keep all the characters straight.  Every generation had similar names, not only for the male lineage, but also for the women in the families.  The founder of the family and the village, José Arcadio Buendía,  and a son, Aureliano Buendía, provide names for multiple descendents through the Arcadio and Aureliano names.   I gave up trying to follow these relationships and simply took delight in the many stories of war and peace, chicanery and loves and sexual activities that were detailed in this lengthy history of the beginning of a village until its destruction a century later.  How Márquez kept the many characters and events straight was indeed a phenomenal achievement.  In fact, his book took a Nobel Prize.  Reading a few chapters at a time was the only way I could manage this voluminous creation, but it was worth the effort.  The humor, the hijinks, the sorrows and tragedies all kept me reading to the end, of over 450 pages.

            In contrast, Rabbi Lerner’s non-fiction study (also around 450 pages) of the disturbing and frustrating relationship between Israel and Palestine, particularly since 1947, held my attention for other reasons.  Lerner’s Network of Spiritual Progressives and his Tikkun Community provide the basis for his current efforts to find a sure path toward healing and community between Israel and Palestine.  In his study of the current situation and a broad historical view leading up to the present, I found this clear account enlightening.  His strategies for healing the relationships between these two people, his detailed steps for ending the terrible conditions that exist for everyone in that land, are a light we could follow successfully if only this effort were realized.

            Reading two books at the same time has become for me helpful in keeping up both with important publications and what I love so much: mysteries and the methods for solving those mysteries.  My current very favorite reading has been with the Canadian author Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series set in Quebec.  I would dearly love to live in Three Pines among all those delightful characters.  Now on the latest of that series I am already sad that another is not waiting in line.  The author recently spent time in Durham, but alas, I was not able to be there to see and hear her.

            Old age is a great time to catch up on the books that were once put aside in deference to required reading for degrees, or for learning skills about writing, or some other Important Reason.  Now I can read what I want, in both Kindle and real book forms.  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Field of Childhood

            In my childhood, my literary education was guided by my mother and also my imagination.  The first stories I was acquainted with were those told by my mother while I sat in her lap on a summer evening on the front porch.  She rocked while she told the stories.  Two of them stayed with me, as I asked for them over and over again, during the warm Southern evenings accented by katydids and lightning bugs and the hum of her voice.  There was Lambikins and The Little Red Hen, both of whom outwitted the bad fox every time. The Little Red Hen had scissors with her and cut her way out of the fox’s bag.  I forget how Lambikins escaped, but both used their ability to outwit the evil fox.  I also remember feeling sorry for the fox’s children, when he came home with an empty bag, and they remained hungry.

            When I began to wrestle with the written word, however, my world widened forever.  For my seventh Christmas, I received Eugene Field’s Poems of Childhood from my grandmother.   My mother and I both were captivated by the poems and also the magnificent illustrations by Maxfield Parrish.  Those pictures will always be in my head.  (I also had a Parrish-illustrated play that I loved throughout my growing up.  I don’t know which of our children now has that.) 

            I think the tragic poems still draw me back into Field’s book, as it also did with my mother.  “Little Boy Blue” evokes tears even now: the story of a little boy whose toys were faithful to him and waited for his return even though he had died in childhood.  Legend holds that this was about Field’s son, but his death occurred a year after this poem was written.  The poignant ending continues to have its power:  “And they wonder, as waiting the long years through/In the dust of that little chair,/What has become of our Little Boy Blue,/Since he kissed them and put them there.”

            Another tragic poem is “The Little Peach.”  My mother and I both agreed that this was one of our favorites, despite its sorrow.  Johnny Jones and his Sister Sue take bites from the green peach they knocked down from the tree.  “Under the turf where the daisies grew/They planted John and his Sister Sue,” were the lines that caught me, but all because of the Maxfield Parrish illustration that accompanies the poem.  These two creative “fields” brought me my first fascination with books and poetry.”

            Tragedy is not the sole proprietor of this volume, however.  There are close to 200 pages of poetry collected here.  Only a few have claimed their own fame: “Wynken, Blynken and Nod,”  “Jest ‘Fore Christmas,”  “The Duel” (the battle between the gingham dog and the calico cat), “Seein’ Things at Night.” Many others are light-hearted and fun to read out loud.  I love the lyricism of “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night/Sailed off in a wooden shoe— ” the rhythm captures an essence of our human need for order.  In this poem, the Parrish illustration in its mystic setting provides the right mood for a sleepy child.

            When I wonder how our sense of timing, our joy in particular words and phrasings, the plots of simple stories suited to childhood affect our later use of language, I find the answers in what we heard and read in our first years.  Our ideas form, our manner of speaking and writing, can be traced back to what held meaning for us not only in ideas but in speech patterns and emotions.  These remain with us.  I am grateful for wandering in the Fields.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


            One of the best-known gospel stories has to do with Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes with nothing but five loaves of bread and two fish, offered by some who were among the crowd.  At the conclusion of the event, we are informed that there were leftovers: twelve baskets full of broken pieces.  It was mention of the broken pieces that my attention refocused.  Broken pieces.  Isn’t that what all of us are in this broken world?
            My thoughts go to Israel, Gaza, Syria, Iraq, and well, the whole Middle East.  They also go to our own country, in places like Ferguson, Missouri and other places of racial tension and anger and bloodshed.  I think of Greensboro and the poor and hungry residents here.  I think of the violence against women across the country, of families who are broken because of a multitude of reasons . . . we are indeed a broken world.
            Sometimes we take refuge in our Face Book messages, our Twitter accounts, our organizations and places of worship, waiting for the Great Superhero to swoop into our lives and rescue us all.  Sometimes we simply feel so overwhelmed that we withdraw into ourselves, our own needs, our own ideas.  Sometimes instead, we let our vulnerability to the power of others, their words and their wealth, provide escape routes from the realities we live in every day.  We forget our own power, as we cower under the weight of brokenness in our world.  We depend on what is beyond our own strength to make everything right.  The result simply becomes a life that is more broken.  The pieces taunt us and we escape into whatever is available to make us ignore the pain of being broken.
            I strain to recognize where the glue is that will mend our societies, our political structures, our battlefield injuries, our hatreds, our efforts to kill possibilities for change.  I hope that we can lay down the guns of death, both those real and those symbolic of death.  I hope we can discover how to put back together this jigsaw of pieces so that the complete picture will be one of community and progress.  I know it is present somewhere in the maze of disarray and splintered society, and our call is to locate the healing and become what we once dreamed of for our lives together.  Thus endeth my sermonizing for this day.