Thursday, July 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Sarah

I think it’s fair to say that I have never quite been normal. Classmates would write in my Sr. Memory book about my being “strange.” Underclassmen would call me “weird.” And teachers more tactfully would mention that I was “different.” Even in graduate school after answering a question about library statistics a professor announced that I was an “odd duck,” to which my two closest friends in the room chimed in, “Yes she is.”

I imagine now that being the older sister so close in age to such an oddity was not always fun. Where Sarah excelled in school and sports I was more likely to be in detention for uncompleted school work and thinking strategically about how to participate as little as possible in phy-ed without getting in trouble for it. There were however areas where Sarah and I found a lot of common ground. We liked the same TV shows; we spent countless hours in the front yard playing catch discussing our peers and teachers. We both held the same opinion about a particular Hungarian dancer with brown eyes that we had seen in Winnipeg at Folklorama. And then there was music. We grew up singing together. Be it crawling into bed with Grandpa for a repeating chorus of “School Days” or hymns at the piano—As long a we kept singing Mom would take care of the dishes—we shared songs and would sing them readily. We enjoyed two years of high school in the same choir. If you want to get either of us to laugh just pick it up from “everybody knows a turkey.” At Rebecca’s wedding we were able to get the happy couple to kiss with a bit of “My Heart is Full of Merriment and Joy.” Rebecca would describe Sarah and me as children as the best of friends and the worst of enemies. I’d say that was a fair assessment of our relationship, but music was always in the friends category.

Happy Birthday Sarah from your Sister Goofus Dear.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My Problems with Potter

I’ve read through the Harry Potter series four times finishing most recently yesterday. Some of the early books I’ve read many more times that that. It would be safe to say that I’ve enjoyed my excursions into that world, but I have some issues with the series both trivial and grave. On the trivial end are certain plot inconsistencies that shatter the illusion of a well thought out whole. These are two that nag me the most.

  1. In book 4 Barty Crouch Jr., in the appearance of Mad-Eye Moody, takes Harry’s Marauders Map and thus is able to continue to conceal himself. That he has the map and what the map does is revealed to Dumbledore, Snape, & McGonagall. No where is it ever mentioned that Harry gets the map back. A map that most surely all those teachers present would want to keep or at least keep out of the hands of a student. Yet without any mention of its return, there he is in book 5 fetching the map out of his trunk.
  2. Inconsistency number two also concerns a book 4 to 5 problem. Harry sees Cedric die and then goes home at the end of the 4th book riding to the train in a horseless carriage, but when he gets to Hogwarts in book 5 he can see that Thestrals are pulling the carriages and it upsets him. Why can he see them now? Well, because you can’t see them until you’ve seen someone die as Harry saw Cedric die. But then why didn’t he see them at the end of book 4? This brings up another issue. However young he may have been Harry did see his mother die so shouldn’t he have been able to see them from year one?

Now my more grave issues with Harry Potter. While it can be categorized as a battle between “good” and “evil’ this in no way means that we can somehow draw any Christian meaning from it. The story is simply Godless. Allegories and vain attempts at seeing Christ-like sacrifices all fail to grasp that this world at its core does not acknowledge a creator and the characters hold no hope of resurrection. In fact, to seek not to die or to bring back the dead is seen as folly. There are impressions of the departed left on those who choose to become ghosts or who have let portraits carry something of themselves, but the body and soul once separated cannot be reunited and any to attempt to create a new body for a soul is seen as the height of evil. There is a lot of talk of death as “moving on.” There is the goal to become a master of death. To quote Dumbledore, “You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.” But this fails to see what the Christian knows. We master death when we live in Christ. That Christ will preserve our soul and will reunite it with our body. A body not made from flesh of a servant, bone of a father and blood of an enemy. But a body whole and complete made from the love of our God. This is what is wrong with the series at its core. The dichotomy of good and evil is not paired as being between life and death but between those who die and those who are afraid to die.

It is this total lack of Christian understanding that makes itself known in some details, that children I’ve discussed these books with, find disturbing. First among these is the fact that Harry uses so called “unforgivable” curses. Curses whose use on another human should land one with a life term in Azkaban prison. Harry mostly uses them ineffectively and only against “Death Eaters” but he does not suffer any consequences at all for using them. Also disturbing is that aside from Dudley offering a handshake in the last book there is very little in the way of changed hearts and forgiveness among any of the principle characters. Even Snape who has a change of heart and vows to protect Harry can never repent of his hatred of Harry’s father and thus can not act kindly towards Harry, who look like his dad, even for the sake of his love for Harry’s mother. That Harry and Malfoy are enemies and hate each other is not seen as something to overcome but rather a fact to live with and work around. Friends fight and make up, but those who were never friends are never reprimanded for this or encouraged to love one another.

So while I enjoy the books as a form of escapism, I do not imagine them as teaching any great life lessons and certainly no good lessons about forgiveness, death, or even love. At best you can pick up a little pseudo Latin and some tips on good gift giving. The rest is just captivating but frivolous fantasy.

Friday, July 17, 2009

NonInformative Letters

The last time I spent a summer at Concordia University Wisconsin I was producing a newsletter called The NonInformer. This was a low tech effort created with the simple but important goal to get mail over the summer. That was the stated reason; the truth was that it was all part of a plot to catch a husband. But I digress. The newsletter, typed on my Smith Corona Word Processor Typewriter, had regular features like: Szedlak’s Typical Day, If you care, this is my life and the annual Company Report that vented disputes among the President, Writer, Editor, Art Director and all around Supreme Authority of NIL Co.: Ruth Szedlak.

Being back at CUW has been a bit of a surreal experience for me. I used to live there. I fell in love there. Those were some of the happiest and silliest days of my life and it is easy to get nostalgic and tell stories. But a college is sort of like a river. You can never step into the same water twice. The professors who were new and working on advanced degrees now are doctors and hold top administrative posts. Summer students still all live in Augsburg, but those with east windows can’t see the lake because Coburg is in the way. The campus belongs to the students that are here now. I’m just one of the staff they have to deal with and in the future may tell stories about. “Remember that librarian who did those instruction classes. She told those lame jokes and always started with the search on ‘alien abduction.’” Sort of like how I remember Richard Wohlers whose retirement last year paved the way for me to come back. In explaining Boolean operators he would always say, “Now let’s say you want to do a search on “dolphins,” but you don’t want the football team…..”


lhg edited and approved

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Sticking My Tongue out in Church

One thing I love about St. Stephens, where Latif and I are members, is the wonderful stained glass windows. On my first Sunday I could hardly take my eyes off them. On the north side of the altar is this one:

When I went up for Communion I noticed a detail that escaped me from the pew. The lamb at Christ’s right side has his tongue sticking out. Just as I was wondering what would lead the artist to include such an odd detail I found myself doing the most natural thing a member of Christ’s flock does at the altar rail…I stuck my tongue out and my pastor put Christ’s body there. I think the artist was a genius.


lhg edited and approved

Thursday, July 2, 2009

We're green. Yes, that's it. We're green.

When we moved into hour home last September our landlord told us that the lawn was not our problem. Apparently it isn't his either. So while most homes on the block have pristine carpets of green, ours is a clutter of weeds. But we live in a part of town where the more hippy minded will not tend their lawns, reveling in nature and not harming the earth by using power to groom their front gardens. So I've decided that what may seem like an eye sore is really a neighborhood statement. We're green. Yes that's right. We don't do anything because we care about nature.

I have to admit though that the flowers look pretty.
lhg edited and approved