April 30, 2013

Book review: The African Trilogy: “Things Fall Apart,” “No Longer At Ease,” and “Arrow of God” by Chinua Achebe

Midway through Chinua Achebe’s 1959 novel Things Fall Apart, the central character Okonkwo is getting a dressing-down from his aged uncle Uchendu. Okonkwo has been sulking in deep despair because his gun was involved in an accidental shooting that left one man in his village dead. As a result, he’s been forced to take his family into exile for seven years in Uchendu’s village. The shame and the loss of his former high status has him wallowing in self-pity. Which is what Uchendu tells him. Do you know that men sometimes lose all their yams and even their children? I had six wives once. I have none now except that young girl who knows not her right from her left. Do you know how many children I have buried — children I begot in my youth and strength? Twenty-two. I did not hang myself, and I am still alive. If you think you are the greatest sufferer in the world ask my daughter, Akueni, how many twins she has borne and thrown away. Have you not hear the song they sing when a woman dies? “For whom is it well, for whom is it well? There is no one for […]
April 26, 2013

What is a parish? Woven lives

The baby crawled along the carpet in open area in the back of church. She was dressed in a celebration of white and red horizontal stripes, and she was happy. She was delighted at her new-found ability to get from here to there. She smiled and giggled. A few steps away was Ann who was dying. It was the 10 a.m. Sunday mass at our parish, St. Gertrude, on the far north side of Chicago. It was a special mass to honor Ann, the longtime religious education director who, six months earlier, had been struck down with a vicious cancer. After the gospel reading, dozens of children throughout the church walked, ran and skipped up the aisles to the altar and went through a side door into the rectory for Kid’s Word. That’s a weekly age-appropriate lesson in faith that the children receive on their own while their parents and older siblings take in the homily. It was instituted years ago by Ann. But, on this Sunday, Ann wasn’t yet in church. Merry shadows on the carpet And she wasn’t there when our pastor preached about all the great work she had done while on the parish staff.
April 10, 2013

Book review: “The Lovers” by Thomas McEvilley, Marina Abramovic and Ulay

As originally conceived in 1983, The Lovers, The Great Wall Walk was probably a bit too cute. Performance art runs that risk — that risk of coming across as a gimmick — if it lacks grit, tension and instability. No question, it was clear from the start that there would be an immense effort required from Marina Abramovic and Ulay (real name: Frank Uwe Layslepen) in bringing the piece to life ¬— a walk along the Great Wall of China. Ulay would start in the west in the Gobi Desert, and Abramovic would jump off from the far eastern end of the Wall at the Yellow Sea. After more than 1,000 miles each, they would meet in the center and be married in a Chinese ceremony.
April 9, 2013

Book review: “War in Heaven” by Charles Williams

If you’re a teacher, you never know how something you do or say is going to affect one of your students — how a phrase or an idea may embed itself in a student’s mind and blossom, sooner or later, in some deep, rich way. More than 40 years ago at St. Louis University, I took an English literature course taught by an older Jesuit priest whose name I don’t recall. What I do remember is that he had a lot to say about the importance “point of view” in literature, except he pronounced it “poin’-a-view.” One of the books he taught in the course was Descent into Hell, a 1937 novel by Charles Williams. My memory of the book is that it seemed to me to be a bit of religious mumbo-jumbo, not at all in sync with my own Second Vatican Council sense of faith. Yet, I was enough struck by it that, ever since, I have kept my copy of the novel through my moves to California and back to Chicago, and through a succession of apartments and homes on the Southwest Side and in the neighborhoods of South Chicago, Lincoln Park, Lake View and Edgewater. And […]
April 2, 2013

When things go right

Years ago, when I was maybe 14, I ended up in a 16-inch softball game on a big field behind Austin High School on the Far West Side. It was just a few blocks from my home, but I don’t think I knew any of the other players. I just happened to be standing there and got put on one of the teams. Tall and lanky, I normally played first base. These guys, though, sent me to left field. We started the game in the late afternoon, and, as the innings went on, it began to get darker and harder to see the beat-up old, gray softball. Over my head So, I’m out in left field when this big bruiser comes to the plate. He takes a huge cut at a pitch and sends the ball soaring straight out in my direction. I can tell immediately that the ball is hit so hard and high that it’s going to go far over my head. Without thinking, I turn and run as fast as I can with my back to the rest of the field. After several steps, I look up, see the dark gray ball against the darker, almost black […]