Thursday, November 29, 2007

An interview with Philip Pullman

I saw this link on iMonk and thought it was worth posting here. Anyone interested in what Pullman, author of His Dark Materials trilogy, has to say about his books, the movie (The Golden Compass), and Christianity should find this interview enlightening.

Peter Chattaway interviews Philip Pullman

I'll post my own thoughts soon.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving to all...

Our Thanksgiving didn't work out the way we'd planned, but it was great, nonetheless. Originally we planned to take the week in New Bern, NC. We planned to go out to eat for Thanksgiving, and do some site seeing and relaxing the rest of the week. I made these plans last spring and no one seemed to mind, but two weeks ago I started hearing rumblings of discontent. It seems it "not right" to spend Thanksgiving away from home unless you're spending it with family. The grumbling got louder and louder until Will and I realized it wasn't worth it. I canceled our plans and we stayed home. We didn't make final plans until the last minute, so we still planned to go out to eat. That all changed yesterday when a friend called and invited us over for Thanksgiving dinner. Inviting my clan at the last minute is no small thing. There are eight of us, including six who are adults, or who eat like adults! Not only did they invite us, they had the whole dinner planned and I didn't have to do anything but help out once I got there.

We had a great afternoon, ate plenty of great food, played games, and talked, talked, talked. The kids from teens down went to a local park after dinner and played Ultimate Frisbee. I'm afraid the adults were too full to move that much!

And if being blessed by one family isn't enough, we received a second invitation from another family. Wow! How blessed can we be?

I'm thankful for many, many things this year, but right now friends and family are at the top of the list.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my online friends, as well. You brighten my days!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Understanding and tolerance....

Tolerance and understanding are hard and, maybe, impossible. We are each rather small packages of our own life experience with limited abilities to get outside and truly see things from another's point of view.

For years I've thought a great deal about understanding vs tolerance, but lately I am simply not so sure it's as "easy" as opening your mind to new ideas and not prejudging. Perhaps I am being really nit-picky about the definition of understanding and tolerance, but I also see how really, really difficult it is in practice, even if it seems possible in theory.

Sometimes I feel we have it really backwards. I think it is much easier to tolerate than to understand. I do not understand a lesbian or gay person's position. It is fathomless to me. I can tolerate and I can treat the person with respect, but I don't understand. I may respect a friend who leaves her faith behind, but I don't understand it. I may see the steps she took, read the books she read, and ask a million questions, but in the end, since I am not making the same decision, I am not truly understanding her or her reasons. I can "tolerate," I can "agree to disagree," I can love, but I cannot understand.

So I guess I'm saying it is possible to understand the process, or someone's position, to better understand a line of reasoning, or the foundation behind actions and life decisions. But I do not think that is the same thing as truly understanding a person or another position.

I also don't know how much tolerance there is when two positions are diametrically opposed to one another. I won't stop fighting to end abortion on demand. I don't care how much I respect or "understand" the reasons people have for being pro-choice, but I think they are wrong and I'll keep trying to change the system if I can't change their minds. That's just one issue. When it goes on and on, I see no way people with truly divergent positions can tolerate each other forever. It's like a law of physics- two objects cannot occupy the same place at the same time. One will have to move before the other gets there. Someone has to give ground because two opposing views cannot occupy the same space at the same time. We can't have abortion on demand and ban abortion. We can't tolerate gay marriages and ban gay marriages. Etc., etc.

So, yes, I can better understand a position other than my own. And I strive to. But I am less sure that understanding leads to tolerance because 1) I don't think true understanding is possible while holding divergent positions and 2) true tolerance isn't possible in the long run.

What I'm getting at is slippery, even to me.

I'll use the example that came up in my life recently: Rollings saying Dumbledore is gay. I was accused of intolerance because I was upset by Rowlings' "revelations." I was told that "Hate the sin, love the sinner" is a hopeless failure because I am hating something integral to a person, their gayness. "How would you feel if people said they liked you but hated Christ, or Christianity? How would you feel if people felt like the should protect their children from you and your ideas?"

Well, huh! That would stink. (But guess what, I think that's happening all over the country, as evidenced by the recent Barna report on how negatively Christianity and Christians are perceived.)

The point I'm trying to make is, I can't be "tolerant" the way these people want me to be. Tolerance means acceptance. Tolerance means I allow them to continue to influence public opinion while I keep mine to myself. And tolerance will always mean that, because tolerance means leaving people alone to live their life they way they want.

I can't do that and neither can they. They aren't tolerant of my beliefs or my right to live my life as I want to, which includes speaking out against placing homosexual relationships on par with heterosexual ones for marriage and child raising.

So the bottom line is, no matter how much we like and respect each other, no matter how much we try to understand, we cannot "tolerate" each other forever. We hold mutually exclusive ideas. To truly tolerate a position you are opposed to, you have to avoid discussing it. You have to avoid it, period. Because real engagement with an idea will mean the differences in opinion will surface, and someone, or everyone, will be labeled "intolerant."


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dealing with memories....

Music is a powerful prompt for memories. I've heard that smells are that way, too, but music seems to be either a more powerful, or perhaps just more ubiquitous, cause. While I drive, which is frequently these days as I carpool the kids, I often listen to the radio. I have several stations preset in the car, and all of them play classic rock or a mix of new hits as well as old. Lately I've noticed the music keeps taking me back in time. Sometimes I don't even recognize what is happening. It starts out as a daydream, where I suddenly recall people, places, and events from 25 or 30 years ago. I've only just started to realize it's the music that starts these "flashbacks."

Of course, there are certain songs that put me back to a very particular place and time. Like "I Shot the Sheriff" by Clapton. I was working with my best friend as a waitress at a restaurant that served mainly pizza and sandwiches. It was called The Chat and Chew. I kid you not. Much of the time I worked there, Clapton's song was on the charts, and it was playing on the jukebox several times and hour. It's a good song to work to, with a lively beat and catchy tune. The problem is, thinking about that job makes me think of many other things going on around that time that I'd rather not remember. Like my friend, who moved out to California and lost touch.

That's the whole problem with these music-driven memories. You can't control them. They take you back whether you want to go or not, and they take you to the whole time period, warts and all.

It was a song that spurred my Gallop Down Memory Lane last week, for example. While I loved thinking about Rightpot and being an exercise rider, I don't want to remember other things from that summer. In fact, I don't seem to be able to think about my racing days without more pain and regrets than fondness. It's a shame, too, because I loved the horses. It had been my life's dream to work full time in some aspect of the horse world. The horses were great. The circumstances were not.

Part of the pain associated with the memories are nostalgic. To be young, strong, fit, and on a horse again! To have the illusion of freedom in my life and choices. To have that carelessness that youth has, taking it all for granted. Thinking you'll never really be older and grayer. Or perhaps simply not thinking about it at all. Because who at 2o can understand what it is to be 40, or 50, or 60? But a 50 year old like myself can remember what it was like to be 20. Yes, some of the pain is simply the desire for what is gone- youth, energy, and abandon.

But most of the discomfort in the memories is not what I want back, but what I wish I'd never experienced to begin with. Along with the supposed freedom of youth comes the choices one lives to regret, the failings one wishes to forever erase. Alongside the joy at being young, healthy, and doing something I loved, were four years of a dysfunctional marriage, betrayal, anger, revenge, and regret. It's not just what was done to me that I want to forget, but what I did to others as I lashed back, sought comfort, gave up, and finally left.

For 25 years I've mainly pushed the memories back while I've focused on my wonderful husband and family. Along with the bad memories, I've had to push the good ones back, as well. Yet as Trisha Yearwood put it, the song remembers when.

But that's just a lot of water
Underneath a bridge I burned
And there's no use in backtrackin'
Around corners I have turned
Still I guess some things we bury
Are just bound to rise again
For even if the whole world has forgotten
The song remembers when

So now I'm walking, and galloping, down memory lane, and it's a mixed bag of emotions. I guess in part I'm showing a sort of pathetic mid-life yearning for youth. But also, I'm just doing what we all do- trying to learn how to grow old gracefully. For me that means facing down a few demons and coming to grips with the forward march of time.

Monday, November 5, 2007

A gallop down memory lane

The early summer mornings don't start off hot in Delaware. At least not at 6 a.m. I remember it was one of those almost cool mornings, the kind where you get a hint of a chill as you pass through the shade of a tree or building, as I made my way through the maze of barns on the backside of Delaware Park Racetrack. I had just turned 23, and had been working in some way or another with racehorses for over 3 years. I was married to a struggling trainer and he and I had four or five horses in training at the racetrack that summer. To supplement our "income" I was working as a freelance exercise rider. I had succeeded in getting hired by another small stable to ride three to five mounts a day after our farrier put in a good word for me. That's where I was headed that beautiful June morning.

As I approached the shed row, I saw the hotwalker (a person who walks the horse around the shed row, either after they exercise or when the horse is getting a day off, like after a race) walking a beautiful bay colt I didn't recognize. As I was waiting for my first mount, I asked the assistant trainer, Steve, about the new colt. It seems they had bought him in a $15000 claiming race the afternoon before off of a mass market stable run by King Leatherbury.

(Note: A claiming race is a race where you enter your horse for a specific dollar amount, and anyone who meets certain criteria (different tracks have different rules about who is eligible to claim) can put the amount of the claim into an account with the horseman's bookkeeper and claim (buy) your horse. The idea behind claiming races is to keep people honest. That way owners run their horses against other horses of equal value.)

My first question was, "Will I get him?" He was gorgeous and feisty, dancing around the shed row, and I really wanted to be his exercise rider. My second question was, "What's his name?"

Well, his name was Rightpot, and I talked them into letting me handle him. The trainer was skeptical at first because Rightpot had a reputation as a handful on the track. But I convinced them that what he needed was a lady's touch.

I wasn't just blowing smoke. I knew the way most of Leatherbury's boys rode. They stood straight up in the irons and hauled on the horse's mouth. In my opinion, that's how riders with little talent were able to ride a wide variety of horses without having to get to know them individually. Leatherbury was a master at the claiming game and had 100 horses or more stabled at Delaware Park that summer. With high turnover and high numbers, his exercise riders didn't have the chance to get to know their mounts.

I found several of Leatherbury's boys in the cafeteria later and asked about Rightpot. The one who rode Rightpot was there, and he told me the horse pulled hard and lugged out (tried to run toward the outside of the track). "Be sure you use a ring bit on him! You'll pull anything else right through his mouth trying to keep him straight."

I went back to my own barn and dug out my favorite bit, a full cheek snaffle. The full cheek snaffle is not typically a racing bit. It's used more for hunters. But I knew that with the long side pieces there was no way it'd get pulled through Rightpot's mouth.

Rightpot and I got to know each other over the next few days. I had a totally different riding style than Leatherbury's boys. I tended to ride low over the horse's back, crossing the reins and bracing them against the top of the horse's neck. That way, the horse was pulling against himself more than me. He quickly became a favorite of mine, and his whole attitude towards life changed. The new bit, the training style, and I'd like to think the rider, all worked together to help Rightpot relax and enjoy his gallops instead of fighting constantly.

Two or three weeks later I was in the grandstands on another beautiful summer day, this time in the afternoon. From there we all gathered to watch Rightpot win his first allowance race. (An allowance is a race in which a horse is entered according to eligibility conditions, usually the number of races it has won or money it has earned. Allowance races are a level above claiming races but a level below stakes races.) I cashed in a modest bet on him, but I was mostly just proud to know I was part of it. Part of helping Rightpot not only to win, but to enjoy himself doing it.

Rightpot went on to run well in a variety of allowance races that summer, and I had fun riding him for his morning workouts. That fall, his trainer left for a Maryland track and I stayed locally to work on a training farm. I worked at Penn State RaceTrack some that fall and winter, but never went full time on a track again. By the next spring I was divorced and starting life over again. But I remember. I remember the rhythm of the horse's strides, the feeling of the rough reins and the prickly mane on my hands. And the sounds, hooves thudding on the track, the snorts of breath making a kind of popping sound, the squeak of the small leather saddle, my own breath or my words of encouragement and correction. I remember the smells. The warm smell of horse and sweat, the smell of leather, manure, and the dirt track.

I never saw Rightpot again, but when I close my eyes and remember the racetrack, he's usually the horse I'm riding.