Monday, June 30, 2008

Surprised by Colbert

I just saw on Ben Witherington's blog that Anglican bishop, New Testament scholar N.T. Wright - one of my favorite theological conservatives - was a guest on the Colbert Report on June 19.

I'm not quite convinced the segment "worked," but it was certainly interesting. And, of course, I'm all for theology being discussed anywhere, especially on a comedy show. So, here's video of that appearance, with Wright and Cobert discussing the bishop's new book, Surprised by Hope, shamelessly stolen from Comedy Central:

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Fun on the Internets

Cracked's take on II Kings 13:20-21:

Adventures in Parenting

Adam just issued a bold, albeit unusual, proclamation:


OK, buddy. I wouldn't dream of making you.

Monday, June 23, 2008


I'll be out of town for a family reunion until late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning. I don't know if I'll have Internet access.

When I get back I'll catch up on comment moderation, and should have a new post or two.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Clowns at a Funeral

Sami, Adam and I went to a funeral this afternoon, for our good friend Harold, a clown. He died in his sleep last week. At the funeral, in the sanctuary of our downtown church, other clowns kept trickling into the service to pay their respects to their departed friend. The sight of these clowns - most of whom were in costume - so jolted and delighted me that I started scribbling this free-verse poem on the back of the bulletin:

I saw clowns at a funeral this afternoon.
Four of them.
Sitting right up front, in the center
of the church's front pew,
their cartoonish figures cutting through the would-be melancholy of grief.
Purple clouds of hair.
Plaid shirts.
Bold, orange suspenders.
Red hats, sparkling like Dorothy's ruby slippers.
The pastor couldn't look at them;
she kept staring at the ceiling
biting her bottom lip,
choking back giggles.
The image of those clowns among the mourners stood out
like the opening line of a Lyle Lovett song:
I went to a funeral, and Lord it made me happy...

I saw clowns at a funeral this afternoon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

To Catch a Troll

An individual who has previously remained nameless here, has been trolling and leaving nasty comments, necessitating my implementation of comment moderation.

In the spirit of Keith Olbermann's Worst Persons bit, I'm posting here a comment left this afternoon by this individual, who blogs under the name Jack:

You are, of course, an ignorant little cry baby. I see why you can't find a job.

That is the last comment of Jack's that will ever appear on this blog, and it stands as one of many examples of why he has been banned here.

Jack: Don't look now, but your character is showing. You are today's Worst Person in the Blogosphere, and exhibit number 3,438,942 in the case for the need for comment moderation, and some basic civility.

Can Vegetarians Be Kick-Ass Athletes?

That's the question Page 2 columnist Jonah Keri is asking. And, as a vegetarian, amateur athlete (and I do mean amateur!) with a sports fetish, I find it a question worth asking.

Taking on the stereotype of the athlete as a steak-chomping meat-head, Keri offers profiles of several professional athletes who are either vegans or vegetarians. A piece well worth reading for anyone who cares about either the ethics or the nutritional value of what they put in their body.

So, if baseball slugger Prince Fielder, future Hall of Fame football player Tony Gonzalez, rising Mixed Martial Arts fighter Mac Danzig, and others have anything to say about it, vegetarians can kick ass!


Once again I'd like to note that no AP news articles were harmed in the making of this blog post. However, Tom did call my attention to an interesting conspiracy theory concerning the Unholy Trinity of the AP, the New York Times, and the Media Bloggers Association, published in Tech Crunch.

Bigotry is Not Just a Republican Sin

The Republican Party has long been rightly mocked for staging political events to portray a diversity by and large lacking in the party as a whole. The Obama campaign, alas, has just gone the other way.

It was with great sorrow and more than a little bit of disappointment that I read this article by Politico's Ben Smith, about two Muslim women who "were barred from sitting behind the podium by campaign volunteers seeking to prevent the women’s headscarves from appearing in photographs or on television with the candidate."

Sen. Obama neither made nor supported this decision, and his campaign has apologized for it. Anyone who has followed this campaign understands that it happened in a particular context in which he - cast in many corners as the suspect "other" because of his race, must constantly fend off unsupported, far fetched, and often crazy rumors. Rumors such as that he is a "sleeper Muslim," a rumor ridiculously at odds with that other attempt to paint him as religiously suspect.

However, this is simply not acceptable. Being victimized by racism, by our xenophobic fear of the "other," should create empathy for those who - for reasons of race, gender, class, religion, or any other reason - are discriminated against, feared and hated, in American society. That was not the case here.

Despite some transparent attempts by conservatives to claim that this incident sheds some light onto some long dark region of Sen. Obama's character and judgment - a tired trick employed at every "gaff," real or manufactured - I'm not sure we learned anything about Barack Obama here. But we did learn that Republicans do not own a monopoly on bigotry. They never have, and they never will. Bigotry knows no political allegiance. It is an equal opportunity sin.

My hope is that Barack Obama will personally reach out to these women, and - though he was not directly involved in the sin against them - take responsibility for the actions of his volunteers. This would, of course, mean that he's holding himself to a higher standard than any other presidential candidate, past or present. But isn't that what the politics of hope are about? An attempt to change the climate and conduct of politics. In reaching out to these women, in talking to them directly, apologizing to their face, and offering them the chance to appear with him in public, he would be explicitly communicating that the politics of preying on fear - especially the fear of difference - has no place in his campaign, and would have no place in his administration.

But in American politics, such a move may be too audacious to hope for.


Update: 6-19-08, 2:18pm

Brian Francis at POLITICALINACTION.COM has a slightly different take on this story:

Volunteers for Obama's campaign prevented 2 Muslim women wearing headscarves from sitting behind him and Gore the other night. First, Obama has had women in headscarves sitting behind him before. Secondly, take off your damn headscarves. If the candidate you support, and will bring a differently level of respect for your faith than Bush/McCain, swallow your damn pride and take that nonsense off. 13% of the country believe Obama is some secret Muslim terrorist. When he fist bumps, they call it a 'terrorist fist jab'. Obama has an image problem, and all I'm saying is that people shouldn't wearing attire that would further that problem. It's not like black people show up with 'black power' t-shirts on or something. All Obama supporters now need to think of 'old white set in their ways narrow minded male swing voters' if they want change. These were 2 volunteers working in Detroit. I don't think it will happen ever again.

I don't entirely disagree with his take, but I am incensed at his line, "take off your damn headscraves," which is blatantly anti-Islamic. Such a suggestion, coupled with his connecting the decision of these women to wear overtly religious clothing to their "damn pride" smacks of the kind of bigotry that informed the young campaign volunteers who turned these women away in the first place. It fails to respect these women's faith, or how that faith functions in their decision to wear headscarves that overtly identify them as Muslims.

I understand that the Obama campaign is under fire from the right, who - because of his race, his name, his background, and a politics of fear and bigotry - wish to tie Sen. Obama to jihadist expressions of Islam, and, of course, radical Muslim terrorism. But - and maybe I'm naive here - let me suggest that anyone who would fall for that bullshit wouldn't vote for a black man named Barack Obama, anyway.

Headscarves on the Muslim women who choose to wear them are not fashion accessories that can be taken on and off at will. They are expressions of identity, and expressions of devotion to their God. While I do not share their religion, as a religious person in a pluralistic society, I do feel the need to respect their religion, and not to use the fear and bigotry of others as cover for prohibiting the free exercise of religion in a country whose Constitution expressly grants such a freedom as an inalienable right.


Last update: 6-20-08, 9:53 am

Politico's Ben Smith: Obama apologizes to Muslim women; apology accepted.


Once again, no AP news articles were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Sami's Happy Place

For those of you who rejoice in those rare moments when I turn this blog over to the only guest-blogger I'll ever tolerate, my dear, infinitely kind and patient (not to mention gorgeous) wife, I've got good news for you:

Sami's got her own blog!

She just started it tonight, while we were playing our favorite game - dueling laptops. So, right now, she's sitting next to me updating her brand spanking new blog, which I'm updating mine. I feel a family rivalry coming on.

Anyway, do yourself a favor and check our Sami's Happy Place.


I shamelessly stole this from Comedy Central:

Disclaimer: No AP news articles were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Timothy I and the Caliph Madhi

At Levellers, Michael Westmoreland-White's blog, in the midst of a discussion of the new Narnia movie (a movie that, as reflected in that discussion, disappointed me) a bit of a fight over Christian-Muslim relations has broken out. Perhaps "fight" is the wrong word, but I can't seem to come up with a better one. Voices from the nether regions of the Christian blogosphere have seen fit to arise once again with cries of "blasphemy!" and "heresy!" at the notion that just maybe some Christians and some Muslims actually, gasp, worship the same God.

To say that the vitriol in this discussion does little for Christian-Muslim relations would be an understatement. Hell, this conversation does little for Christian-Christian relations, carrying with it as it does the relentless drive toward one form of imposed orthodoxy or another. Anyway, I will probably shortly either reproduce one of my comments there or, more likely, revisit and expand on themes that emerged in one of my comments there, revisiting the tired topic of conversational ethics in a last-ditch effort to restore some semblance of civility to the blogosphere. The best fights are, after all, losing ones.

But, in the meantime, dissatisfied with the tenor of that conversation - a conversation that reflects poorly on those haphazardly tossing out labels that used to come equipped with death sentences, and not on Michael Westmoreland-White, who has acquitted himself well in dealing with this sort of nonsense - I wanted to post a paper I wrote loosely on the topic of Christian-Muslim relations. Actually, it is about a single conversation held in the eighth century. But hopefully an understanding of that conversation, and its historical, political, theological and ecclesial implications shows that something fruitful can emerge when Christians and Muslims engage each other in respectful dialogue.

Of course, nothing fruitful emerges when Christians accuse Muslims of worshipping some demonic false deity, or when Christians accuse other Christians of heresy for suggesting that just maybe the one true God of the universe is not some tribal deity to whom only those who believe exactly the right things may have access.

A rabbi once explained to me the most logical conclusion of monotheism: If there's only one God, and you're praying, then you're praying to God, because there's only one God. We Christians could learn something from that simple statement of faith, rather than engaging in endless disputes over which language God would rather hear people pray in.

Anyway, here's the story of that eighth century conversation between patriarch Timothy I and the caliph Madhi:

In 781 CE, roughly a year after becoming patriarch of the Nestorian/East Syrian church, Timothy I engaged Mahdi, the Abbasid caliph, “in a two-day interreligious dialogue” that he later recorded in his Apology Before the Caliph Mahdi. At one point in that wide-ranging philosophic and theological dialogue, the caliph, who holds all of the political power in the room, asks an important but – in the context of Christian-Muslim relations in Muslim controlled land – loaded question: “What do you say of Muhammad?” Timothy responds, “Muhammad is worthy of all praise, by all reasonable people, O my sovereign." Does Timothy’s answer reflect a recognition of the caliph’s power? Does it reflect an authentic respect for his host’s religion, and the prophet whose revelation from the angel of God stands at the root of that religion? Does it reflect some apologetic strategy? What, in other words, is going on here, as a leader of a Christian church voices such praise of the Muslim prophet?

The first thing that can be ruled out is that Timothy, in ascribing “all praise” to Muhammad, is committing some sort of apostasaic blasphemy. While we often and rightly ascribe “all praise” to God, any giving to Muhammad what belongs only to God would be as offensive to Muslim ears as to Christian ears. What Timothy is certainly not saying – as it would have gotten him killed – is that the praise due to Muhammad is the sort of praise which we generally give to God. But, if he was not exactly betraying his own faith, what exactly was Timothy doing? To understand that, we have to understand a little bit about both the historical and textual contexts of this comment about Muhammad.

Baghdad, where this exchange takes place, was founded in 762 by Al-Mansur as the new seat of the Abbasid caliphate. The Abbasids came to power roughly twelve years earlier, amid concerns about corruption in the previous Umayyad empire. The founding of Baghdad as an urban center, a City of Peace and a storehouse of learning, represented in part the promise of a new and more pure beginning for the Muslim world. Part of the vision for Baghdad included a symbolic and pragmatic “opening to the world.” Baghdad was thus open not only to commerce, but also to the kinds of cross-cultural and pluralistic encounters that come with open commerce.

In Baghdad there was a great concern to build up Islamic scholarship in part by bringing it into contact with other traditions. This did not keep Baghdad from being distinctly Muslim, with an Islamic government based on Islamic laws. But it did mean that within Muslim Baghdad there was an understanding that Muslims could learn from non-Muslims. Muslim scholars, in developing their kalam, their philosophic theology, consulted many diverse sources, and interacted with Jewish, Christian, and other scholars from other traditions.

It is in this more pluralistic culture no less than in a situation in which Islam was normative and the Muslim caliph held all political power, that Mahdi entertained Timothy. In this environment of curiosity and respect we can see Timothy’s statement about Muhammad as at least an honest form of courtesy. The textual context reveals, however, that it was also much more than that.

Before the caliph asks the patriarch about Muhammad, they were discussing the authorship of the Gospels, which Mahdi had previously asked Timothy to bring to him. In that discussion they attempt to reconcile the Gospel’s standing as, historically speaking, human products, with the Christian claim of the Gospel’s divine origin (the caliph asks, “Was it not written by four Apostles?” in the face of Timothy’s claim that “the Word of God… gave us the Gospel.”) It is within the context of this discussion that the conversation shifts to Muhammad, and the shift occurs first not with the caliph’s pointed question – a question to which the answer may mean life or death, if there is no conversational charity – but with Timothy’s use of an analogy.

In making his case for the Word of God being the source of the Gospel, Timothy builds an argument that moves toward a subject the caliph may be more familiar with, and points that the caliph may be more inclined to grant because his position may have some stake in them. He first makes an analogy between the Gospels and the Torah, saying that the divine authorship of the Gospels was worked in a similar process to the divine authorship of the Torah. Just as “the Gospel was written by the apostles,” who “simply wrote what they heard and learned from the Word-God,” so too “the Torah was written by Moses,” who “heard and learned it from an angel,” who in turn “heard and learned it from God.”

This, not coincidentally, is much like the process by which Muslims believe the Qu’ran came to be. Thus, Timothy continues, the way in which both the Gospel and the Torah originate in God even though they were recorded by human beings is much like the way the Qu’ran originated in God though it was recorded by Muhammad. “In the same way also the Muslims say that they have received the Qu’ran from Muhammad, but since Muhammad received knowledge and writing from an angel, they, therefore, affirm that the Book that was divulged through him was not Muhammad’s or the angel’s but God’s.”

So, when the caliph asks Timothy what he has to say about Muhammad, the question – though it may well be loaded – does not spring up from the ground like a trap, but rather arises naturally in the conversation. Timothy’s use of analogy, in fact, makes the question not unexpected, but rather almost unavoidable. Similarly his answer, which in part declares Muhammad “worthy of all praise by all people,” is also not entirely unexpected, because he needs a rather high understanding of Muhammad in order for his analogy – on which, for him, the divine authorship of the Gospel depends – to have any weight.

His answer to the caliph’s pointed question, however, does not end with Muhammad’s being “worthy of all praise,” though no part of the answer takes that back. The rest of the answer fleshes out why Muhammad is “worthy of all praise,” and it does so on Timothy’s Christian terms, though they are terms that the caliph can agree to. Muhammad is worthy of all praise because, like “all prophets” he “taught the doctrine of one God,” driving his people “away from bad works” and toward good ones, away from “idolatry and polytheism” and toward God. Timothy sees Muhammad as a prophet, much like the prophets celebrated by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It is in this participation in the prophetic form that Muhammad is “worthy of all praise.”

Timothy goes on in his praise of Muhammad, but much like his praise of Muhammad as a prophet, his praise does not entirely yield the ground to Islam. Rather he praises that in Islam which is like his understanding of Christianity – and, as he understands it, that is quite a lot. But it is important to note that in the analogy that sets up Mahdi’s pointed question, Timothy, in the way in which he sees how each document moves from divine origin to human recording, gives the Gospel a more privileged position (though he does not call attention to this). Both the Torah and the Qu’ran had an angel standing between God and the human recorders of the text – Moses and Muhammad respectively. But in Timothy’s account of the recording of the Gospel, there is no angel. The Word of God speaks to the four Apostles.

It is difficult to make too much of this, especially without some consideration of what it meant here by the Word of God. But that there is a subtle difference in Timothy’s account to the divine inspiration of the Gospel should provide some comfort for those who see Timothy’s praise of Muhammad as some ceding of ground to his Muslim host. He is offering here an apology of the Christian faith, in a Muslim culture, that calls Christians to be proud of their faith, and to hold fast to it even as they acknowledge the value of the dominant faith in their culture.

So, what does this have to do with the conversation at Levellers? Not much, perhaps. But it does demonstrate, at the very least, that Christians can engage in reasoned discourse with Muslims, and offer a respectful apology for their faith, without being assholes. This approach, then, should be tried in our pluralistic setting no less than it was in eighth century Baghdad.

Monday, June 16, 2008

If it can happen in Gaza...

it can happen here.

And no, I'm not talking about a terrorist attack. I'm talking about ingenuity; a creative response to an economic and environmental problem.

The Christian Science Monitor's Bright Green Blog (aside: is something a blog if its run by a traditional media outlet? Heather, feel free to answer that rhetorical question, as you are uniquely situated, blogging for a newspaper and all) has a wonderful story (which they in turn borrowed from The Independent) about Fayez Annan and Wasseem Al Khazendar, two businessmen in Gaza who have successfully "converted a Peugeot into plug-in electric car."

Performance is an issue, as the car has a top speed of 62 mph, and a range of 110 miles. But if a couple of guys in a garage in Gaza can come up with this, I wonder what the best minds in the world, funded by transnational behemoths and charged with delivering a safe, efficient, affordable electric car could do. I suspect, however, that until the auto industry as a whole decides to wake up and smell the shrinking profit margins and lack of sustainability (not to mention the pollution), they'll continue to invest just enough in alternative ways to power cars to be able to wring their hands and cry "Well, at least we tried."

As anyone who has seen the powerful documentary Who Killed the Electric Car? can attest, they haven't yet tried hard enough. Not nearly hard enough.

(And, let the record reflect, I didn't link to an AP article, so please don't have me arrested or anything!)


Update: 6-17-08, 8:15 am

My evil twin Tom v. the AP.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Not sure what it means...

but I think I like it.

On the way to church yesterday I saw a bumper sticker worthy of my long-retired recurring schtick, Bumper Sticker Watch:


Thursday, June 05, 2008

Free Music!

My evil twin, Tom, has just made the entire catalogue of his albums available for free download!

So get yourself some free music!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Confessions of a Gulity Tourist

This is what I wrote on Saturday, a fragment that will be part of a larger paper:

I'm writing from the balcony of room 1406 in the Majestic Colonial resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Here for my brother's wedding, I can't help but notice that the name of this resort is both apt and honest. It is undoubtedly “majestic.” I lack the vocabulary to discuss the lush beauty around me. From my deck on the fourth floor I can see not only the opulent architecture of this resort and its immediate neighbor, but also the natural splendor of the coconut trees, the various palms, and the wealth of natural beauty for which I simply lack words. No doubt those who visit Kentucky, the only state in which I've lived, are struck by the natural beauty of our hills and mountains, our valleys and rivers, and of course our famous bluegrass; but life in Kentucky has not equipped with with the vocabulary to describe this very different natural splendor. Staring at the turquoise water, with its gentle, rolling waves, the white sand beaches, and the lush greenery full of plants whose naves I've never heard, the aesthetic is almost enough to make me drop to my knees in prayer, begging for forgiveness for ever doubting the majesty of God.

And the natural beauty is not the only beauty. My room has magnificently tiled floors and a cathedral ceiling. The local art hanging from the walls speaks to the deeply human beauty in this place. And, of course, the people here, those few locals who my fledgling Spanish has allowed me to meet, exude a grace and beauty which almost shames me. Add to these beauties the freely flowing food and drink, the nightly shows, and the largest pool I've ever seen, with a bar you can swim to, and I cannot doubt the “majestic” in the name here.

But I'm not staying at the “Majestic.” I'm staying at the “Majestic Colonial.” And, as noted above, the name is both apt and painful honest. It is impossible to ignore the fact that here I participate in what can only be described as a neo-colonial economy. The opulence of this resort contrasts so painfully with what little I could see of the surrounding area on the bus ride here from the airport. Outside this splendor I saw shanty towns. Houses made from cinder blocks, yards made of gravel. Such makeshift dwellings stood within eye shot of grand vacation homes, an unpleasant reminder of the extreme distance between the rich and the poor.

While most of the signs along the road to this resort were, of course, in Spanish, I also some familiar signs from home, from Realtors such as ReMax and Century 21. These signs, which offered to sell pieces of this gorgeous land to those lucky enough to be able to afford it, were almost all in English.

None of the many tourists here can be blind to this, it is so striking. And the creeping awareness of this dynamic no doubt makes many of us uncomfortable. I know this is the case for the many family and friends gathered here for my brother's wedding. At one point or another each of us have offered up some awkward apology for the resort, and especially for our presence here. And, not just our presence, but especially at the fact that we enjoy it here. This is a great place to be a tourist, surrounded by freely flowing food and drink – I can vouch especially for the local beer, Presidente, offered to me constantly and free of charge – and entertainment without end. While here we live a life of leisure, waited on by locals almost all hours of the day. The wristband labeling one a guest here serves as an admission to royalty. Here there are no demands on us guests – we make the demands on others.

Our awkward apologies are also honest, at least to a degree. My grandmother, a preacher's wife her entire adult life, grew up poor in rural western Kentucky. Having spent most of her life hosting and serving others, she was visibly uncomfortable at breakfast this morning. Reconciling herself to this new situation of luxury, she noted – probably rightly – that if it weren't for this resort, many of the people working here would have no jobs. And, even if they could find work, she mused, what work they could find would not pay nearly as much as their jobs here. Such apologies are common among the my friends and family, and began to appear months before we arrived here. And they speak to at least one truth about the situation here: the economy in and around Punta Cana depends on tourism. But that is not the only truth of this situation.

Another truth is this: In my time here, though I've trotted out my feeble Spanish and seen it met with a more than adequate English, I've not yet really met a person who lives here. Sure I've seen the faces that they show me, those who serve me and the other guests here. I've heard their voices, seen them laugh politely at my poor jokes. We've danced the familiar dance wherein I say, for instance, uno cerveza, por favor, receive my complimentary Presidente, offer a heartfelt gracias coupled with a smile and sometimes a tip, which is then met with denada (Amy, feel free to correct my spelling!). But the moves are choreographed. This dance has been danced many times before. And many of its performances through history have been, frankly, disturbing. This dance is not unlike those danced on many an American plantation, where black women and men, held in servitude by physical and psychological chains, would perform for their slavemasters, my cultural ancestors. In that dance as in this one, smiles often adorned faces, compliments were often offered, service rendered as though it were the greatest joy. Slavemasters, confident in their knowledge of their “darkies,” knew nothing whatsoever of the lives and culture of those women and men held in slavery.

Like those antebellum slaveholders, here I receive service from those I know nothing about. I came to the Dominican Republic filled only with stories of shoeless children playing baseball with neither gloves nor a field, armed only with a stick and a ball. In such contemporary folk legends shown often on ESPN and other American sports television stations, those exceptional children, athletic prodigies, get noticed by some adventurous scout for this or that Major League baseball team, and are offered a chance at salvation in the form of a Minor League contract. They then lie about their age, sign the contract, move to the United States and become rich and famous. Such stories reinforce the myth of America as a classless society into which anyone can enter, where all – no mater how humble their origins – can succeed beyond their wildest dreams if only they have the talent and the work ethic. They may be more or less factual, but they are dishonest, telling the truth about neither America nor the Dominican Republic, nor anything else.

Now as I type this from the deck of my luxurious hotel room, looking out over this majestic resort, one last cerveza in hand, I still know nothing of the Dominican Republic, save for another sort of myth. I've seen here nothing of the people nor the land save those bits that the proprietors of this resort think that I want to see. I've seen a land full of splendor, a gracious and joyous people who live to serve and entertain me. I've seen enough food to keep me stuffed, enough drink to keep me happily buzzed, enough entertainment to keep me from thinking about the existential crisis that began the moment my flight touched down. I've seen luxurious restaurants and swimming pools, handsome men and beautiful women, all of whom are happy to see me, and a natural beauty that I hope stays burned in my mind until I die. But whatever I've seen, I'm sure I haven't seen the Dominican Republic. Not as the many people who live here experience it, anyway.

That Dominican Republic, the one whose economy depends in part on the money I and others like me have spent here, is like so many other cogs in the wheels of neo-liberal economic globalization, global capitalism, characterized by a vast chasm between the rich minority and the poor majority. And – despite the apologies I've offered in chorus with my friends and family – most of the money I've spent here will undoubted line the pockets of the rich rather than the stomachs of the poor. Whether Dominican, American, European, or from anywhere else, the people who own this resort are rich. The people who own the land around, also rich. The people who own the vacation homes sold by those Realtors whose English signs stand next to the Spanish roadsigns, are rich. In fact – especially as the tourist trade booms here – the rich serve more and more as gatekeepers to the beauty here. Beauty that, like any other commodity, is bought and sold, or in my case, rented. I may ease my guilt by telling myself how much good this resort is doing for the local economy, but if I'm honest I must note that, most likely, here as elsewhere, that economy serves the interests of the wealthy and powerful. And, despite the protests of my brother, the student of mathematical economics whose wedding brought me to this tourist's paradise, the health of the economy as a whole is a poor indicator of how any particular person within that economy is fairing: no one makes the per capita income.

One Hell of a Week

With a few splashes of heaven now and again.

Later today I'll post a much more in depth essay on our trip to my brother's wedding at the Majestic Colonial resort in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, which I wrote Saturday from the balcony off the back of our room. Right now, however, I just want to give a quick overview of what our week looked like:

Monday: As you know, we lost the baby on Monday. We got up early Monday morning, to start packing for our trip (we were supposed to head out early Tuesday morning). There were some signs of trouble, so we rushed Sami to the ER at 7 am. We were still hopeful, and honestly would not have bothered getting it checked out if we weren't about to leave the country. But, for some piece of mind, we went to the hospital. You, of course, know what happened from there.

Roughly five hours into our stay in the Er we heard the dreaded words, "We couldn't find a fetal heartbeat."

All told, Adam spent about six hours waiting in the hospital, and only really got upset once - right after we told him that the baby had died. He spent most of the day entertaining the doctors, nurses, and various other personnel.

I spent a bit more time, taking only a short break to take Adam out for lunch, and then hand him off to my mother, who dropped everything and drove up from Lexington to help us out as soon as she got the news.

Poor Sami ended up spending the better part of twelve hours in the hospital, most of the time with the sickening realization that not only had she lost the child she was carrying in her, but that this tragedy would most likely be compounded with another one: we were probably going to miss my brother's wedding. And I was supposed to be the best man.

But her surgery went as well as it could have possibly gone, and her doctor - who had been deadset against us flying before the operation said afterwards that if we could arrange to leave a little bit later, the should be, assuming no more complications, no medical reason why we'd have to cancel our trip.

That night we learned that US Air is not above extorting grieving families. But my father graciously paid their ridiculous ticket transfer fee ($500 per person) for the three of us (Sami, Adam, and me) to fly out Wednesday instead of Tuesday.

Tuesday: We were supposed to fly out on Tuesday. Instead we spent the day doing all the things we'd planned to do on Monday to prepare for our flight. I spent most of the day mindlessly pacing the house, or whichever store we happened to be in, buying whatever it was we'd forgotten earlier that we'd absolutely need on our trip. The day is a blur. I now remember almost none of it.

The one small victory of the day was that, while in Borders, I discovered that my all-time favorite Shakespeare film adaptation, Kenneth Branagh's interpretation of Hamlet - an artistic, ambitious commercial flop - is finally out on DVD. (Evidently it came out last year, but I didn't notice. Some fan I am!) Good consumer that I am, I bought it.

Wednesday: We got up at 3 am (OK, I reset the alarm to 3:15 to steal a few more precious moments of shut eye) to drive to Cincinnati to catch our 7 am flight to Charlotte, where we would then have a brief layover before catching our connection to Punta Cana. US Air has one flight daily to Punta Cana, the 11:45 from Charlotte.

We got to the Cincinnati International Airport (which is actually in northern Kentucky) just after 5 am. There Sami got to have a much needed laugh at my expense when I foolishly tried to lug all of our luggage up a flight of stairs (I misread the sign on the escalator, somehow thinking in my sleep-deprived delirium that we weren't allowed to put bags with wheels on it) and broke the handle off one of our bags. After she got over my ruining her luggage on its first EVER trip she happily told this story to my whole family, another bit of evidence confirming what anyone who knows me - especially family - already knows: I am a lovable fool. There's a reason I like the story of Thales and the well so much.

We breezed through security, arriving at our gate, Gate 7, with plenty of time to spare. There we sat down, ate a bagel or two, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

When we hadn't boarded by 7:30, we knew something was up. It was then announced that there had been a minor mechanical problem. The problem had been fixed by another airline's mechanic, and we would wait just a little bit longer for US Air's mechanic to show up and certify the job. It shouldn't take much longer, thank you for your patience, blah, blah, blah.

Then we waited some more.

More such announcements followed, but in the end our flight didn't take off until after our connection from Charlotte. All told, we waited at our gate, then at the ticket desk, then at our gate again, etc. for almost seven hours. Of course, since our plane didn't leave Cincinnati until after our connection left Charlotte, we missed our flight to Punta Cana. After going back and forth with US Air on the ground both in Cincinnati and then later in Charlotte, we ended up with a hotel voucher for the Quality Inn, and a food voucher that would buy us each one meal in the airport.

Sami, beside herself with grief and rage, wanted to say something like:

When we missed our flight because of a medical emergency, you charged us $1500; now that you've missed a flight, too, what do we get to charge you?

She would, I think, have been right to say that, but even in her emotional state she comported herself with dignity. I couldn't have been more proud of her. Of course, I would have been just as proud if she'd told off everyone we encountered, given all the shit we'd been through at that point. But the people on the ground in the airport hadn't extorted us, and it probably wasn't their fault that the plane broke, either. But I'll tell you this: we'll never fly US Air again, even if they do refund the ransom money my father paid them to allow us to attend my brother's wedding.

The Quality Inn was nice, but it wasn't exactly Punta Cana.

Thursday: After more hassling at the hands of the TSA, things were finally looking up. We touched down in Punta Cana Thursday afternoon, and arrived at our resort by roughly 5 pm. While our room wasn't ready for us (there was evidently some confusion when we didn't show up as expected, and then finally arrived two days late), causing us to yet again wait - we're being taught patience, and I suppose I could use the lesson - we were finally done with airports and hospitals.

That night, though we'd missed the rehearsal scheduled for that afternoon, we made it to the rehearsal dinner. My brother thoughtfully arranged for a vegetarian meal for us - the resort is not used to feeding non-carnivores, and has no vegetarian options on the dinner menu at any of its seven restaurants.

Friday: Great day at the pool, the beach, and everywhere else.

My youngest brother got married Friday night. I was the best man. I'm so proud that even now, as I process this complex assortment of joy and grief, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. I'll probably do both.

Saturday: Last full day at Punta Cana. I wrote an essay from my room that I'll share here later today. It will become part of a larger paper.

Sunday: The trip home. Not as complicated as the trip out. We flew from Punta Cana to Philadelphia, then from Philadelphia to Cincinnati. Picked up our car from long term parking, and drove from Cincy back home. We arrived in Louisville a little after 1 am, exhausted, but not defeated.

We made it.