After working two 19-hour days and a 13-hour day, followed by a cross-country flight, it was wonderful to get to my desk and find Dima, my teddy bear, holding things down for me. In my absence, someone had made sure that he found his way to my keyboard.
Dima and I get along together because we complement each other. He's dignified, always wearing a tie. He is quiet. I may be free with my opinions, but he keeps his own counsel. I am constantly on the move, but he stays put. I sometimes worry about what I might have done better, but he's always looking forward.
I almost didn't get Dima. It's been about eight years since Paul Riley, a Friend and doctor in Indianapolis, helped us gather stuffed animals for children at the orphanage in Buzuluk, Russia, the city where Quaker relief efforts during the Russian civil war and the associated famine were headquartered.We filled two suitcases with the wonderful collection Paul provided, but one big bear just didn't fit. When I got home from Russia, Dima was patiently waiting for me. He has been with me ever since.
A few of you might already know that my ever-helpful Dima played a role in the stories I used to tell our boys when they were young, and later told to the children at Reedwood Friends Church. When Garfield and Lamb Chop decided to open a restaurant, the Sassy Animal Cafe, Dima was the banker who helped them arrange the financing, asked thoughtful questions about their business plan (which was to charge people what they could afford, while making the place the place to be seen in Kokomo, Indiana, so that people who could pay more would pay more, making it possible to provide for people who had no money to enjoy Garfield's signature lasagna).
Dima also taught Garfield and Lamb Chop about grace and about honesty. These qualities weren't just important for the Sassy Animal Cafe's finances, but also for the rivalry they had with Barney the Dinosaur, whose Eggplants R Us restaurant was their main competition. It was okay for Garfield and Lamb Chop to give out placemats with discount coupons in their own restaurant, but to smuggle them into Barney's restaurant was crossing a line.
While I was in Oakland, at least eleven U.S. soldiers died in Iraq, along with a harder-to-determine number of Iraqis. Politicians continue to jockey over the terms of relief for Darfur, Sudan, while Kofi Annan's rhetoric understandably grows more frustrated. Litvinenko's radioactive corpse takes center stage in a macabre search for political meaning, and political advantage, in his mysterious death. I think back to my innocent fantasy land of Garfield and Lamb Chop, where Dima tried to open up the world of truth and promises for his young listeners. I'm glad that they didn't ask him whether adults actually behave the way he described.
The habits of imperial arrogance are hard to break. It used to be that negotiations were conducted with people and countries with whom we had a serious problem. The more serious the problem, the more urgent the need for discussion. Now it appears that such forms of communication are reserved only for nations on our "approved" list. Iran and Syria are not on that list, although James Baker and others are lobbying our petulant president to bend. I am certain that discussions are in fact going on behind the scenes, perhaps through intermediaries, but we moralizers must maintain appearances at all cost. Well, maybe not at all cost: of course, We are pragmatically allowed to make exceptions. When someone refuses to speak with us (as in the case of Iran, whose president demands a change of attitude), I wonder whether anyone on our side recognizes the taste of our own medicine.
A few days ago, Wolf Blitzer of CNN hosted Jimmy Carter for a conversation on Carter's new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter's reasonable and low-key description of the actual facts of Israeli policies and actions on the West Bank were inexplicably labeled by Blitzer as "very blunt talk." There was nothing blunt about it; it was simply at variance with the U.S. government's abject public subservience to those forces within Israel that functionally promote apartheid.
A few righteous links:
Simon Barrow refers us to an article on giving up Christmas for Advent. For more heat and light on the fraught relationship between Christmas and culture, Christianity Today's Ted Olsen tells us about "the year conservatives saved Christmas."
Nancy's Apology takes us to an emergent church called Next. Also see her follow-up, "Next on Next." And take a look at Ryan Bolger's brief essay on Lesslie Newbigin and the church in the 21st century.
Gene Stoltzfus answers a student's question on the role of interfaith dialogue in building peace.
For Russian readers: the BBC posted an article on the World Wide Russian Web--interesting Web sites serving Russians in various far-flung places. One example: africana.ru, a serious site with the tagline, "All good people love Africa."
Finally, a Hound Dog Taylor blues clip with a rare glimpse of one of my favorite blues harpists, Little Walter: