We’re siding a house! The original was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. The owners are living under the new building & in tents. Hope our efforts get them into a new home sooner. Some pix from our youth group in Alvin, TX
On Sunday, my church youth group is going on a week-long mission trip to Houston, TX. Since “Director of Christian Education” is one of my three titles at the church where I work, and since being a DCE invariably includes working with the youth group, it means I am going on a mission trip, too.
We'll be repairing homes damaged by last fall’s hurricane. Our kids go on mission trips almost every summer and we take a “big trip” (one that often involves air travel) every four years. This is the year for that!
Our group will be split in half during travel. The reason is the male chaperone and his two sons decided to fly out to Houston early to catch an Astros game. Guys! Meanwhile, I will be taking two girls and two boys on a plane. We will then meet the Astros group at Enterprise Rent-A-Car at the Houston airport, rent a minivan and a compact car, and drive the rest of the way to the mission camp.
Lest you think this is all fun and games, it isn’t. Our accommodations this year are interesting. The mission organization that sponsors this was gifted with temporary use of a big warehouse. Shower and toilet facilities (which I was assured were clean) are separate from the warehouse.
Meanwhile, the organizers were met with a distinct challenge: no beds. So, resourceful folks that they are, they got hold of some shipping pallets and built bunk beds – enough beds to hold 100 people. Then they threw air mattresses on the bunk beds. We are supposed to come with our own sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths, and pillows. No pillows for us since we’re flying, so we’ll hit the local Wal-Mart to get some. When we depart on Saturday, we’ll leave the pillows at the camp for other individuals with space-limited packing.
Our task is going to be construction. That’s right. Construction with six kids between the ages of 13-18, a 50-year old male, and me (66 years old with bad knees and a newly discovered possible tear in my left rotator cuff). I think my job is going to be standing on the sidelines shouting, “You go, kids!” and "Put that chainsaw down!!" But knowing me, I’ll probably want to do something more useful, even if it’s being the water-bearer.
I was told that the community we’d be working with are primarily Cambodian. After the hurricane, they were ripped off by an unscrupulous contractor, and so our mission organization stepped up to see if they could help the community make some progress over June-July.
I look forward to doing a lot of hard work, helping other people, getting to know to folks who “aren’t like us,” getting fed a steady diet of carbs (there goes my Weight Watchers plan for the week), worshiping nightly (the kids like this – guitars and drums, you know), and growing a little closer to one another. And we get to go home with lots of memories and photos.
Best of all, one of our former group members will be in Houston with us as the Work Site Manager. Her attendance on previous trips moved her move to on the other side of the equation. I’m looking forward to seeing her again.
So, stay tuned for a week of videos and photos. The historical blogs, book blogs, and blogs of general weirdness will resume Tuesday, July 3.
I love working with a character like Maggie. She tries her best to treat others with love and respect. She is gentle, attentive, and kind. And she often does the unthinkable – she makes sacrifices in the name of those qualities. She is not afraid to do the right thing.
Maggie is not perfect. Her daughter Frankie can try her patience. Her husband Eli’s behavior can frustrate her. The foibles of other folks might confound her. Nevertheless, she presses on toward the goals of love and respect.
Maggie is notorious for opening her home to others – so much so that, in Seeing the Elephant, She is taken by surprise when Eli sends people from the hospital to their house without consulting her. When she confronts him, Eli replies, “Unavoidable. The hospital kicked them out. But I knew you’d take them in.” And Maggie tartly replies, “Yes, well, it’s a good thing we have the guest rooms and the resources. Otherwise, we’d be sleeping in the same bed and sharing a potato among us.” Obviously, she felt he was taking her kindness for granted. Also, hey, hubby forgot they were partners.
But Maggie does have a propensity for taking in those in need. In the prequel short story, “The Dundee Cake,” Maggie learns that Nate and Emily Johnson have been the victims of a hate crime: someone has torched their home and Nate’s carpentry business. The couple is living in the surviving part of the shack, and it is smoky, makeshift, and cold. Maggie could opt to give them food, supplies, or money as she is able. But she goes one step further and invites the couple to live in her boarding house, regardless of the ramifications that might have (the Johnsons are black). When they move in, Maggie pleads with her boarders to donate their rent money to help provide the Johnsons with new clothes and Nate with new tools. Normally, the money would have gone to purchase the necessary items for the traditional Christmas dinner, but Maggie forgoes tradition to help someone else.
Years later, in Walk by Faith, Maggie’s family moves from Blaineton to Gettysburg. It is 1863 and the town is invaded by Confederate soldiers. Maggie fears this enemy and daughter Frankie is building up a head of hate against them. So, Frankie is aghast when she finds a group of Rebel infantrymen sitting on their porch enjoying a hot meal and cold water. An angry Frankie asks her mother why she is doing such a thing. Maggie replies, “Those poor men are starving, Frankie. What if that was Patrick in Virginia? Wouldn’t you want a Southern woman feeding him and giving him water?” History records that Maggie was not alone in offering hospitality to the military. Many women of Gettysburg responded in a similar fashion for both Confederate and Union soldiers.
Even in the first novel, Saint Maggie, we find that our heroine considers the men who rent her rooms to be part of her family. Chester Carson (a failed writer), James O’Reilly (an old, indigent immigrant from Ireland), Patrick McCoy (a young undertaker’s apprentice), and Edgar Lape (a struggling young lawyer) are among her earliest boarders. They pay what they can afford (and sometimes don't pay her at all) yet she treats them like beloved relatives. In fact, O’Reilly is given the title “Grandpa,” and Patrick and Edgar become sweet on her daughters and Maggie approves. Her generosity even extends to Eli Smith, who asks to rent her outbuilding so he can start a print shop. Maggie lets him use the building even though he can’t (and doesn’t) pay the rent for months. And it is her warm, gracious heart that causes Eli to fall in love with her.
Other people have experienced Maggie’s hospitality, too: self-emanicipator Matilda Strong and her daughter Chloe; Union and Confederate soldiers; a mysterious little peddler by the name of Ira Strauss; Edward Caldwell, a young African American reporter; Irish immigrant maids Birgit and Moira Brennan; and people from the town's insane asylum.
Maggie’s tendency to do the right thing even rubs off on Eli. In Seeing the Elephant, friend Chester Carson tells him, “My dear chap, have you ever looked closely at your employees? We have an old Irishman setting type; a fellow operating the press whose Norwegian accent is thicker than a Christmas pudding; two new employees one step away from imprisonment; a reporter and telegrapher who is an accomplished young colored man; and a senior reporter who happens to be an old homosexual.” Yes. Carson is gay. He comes out to Eli in Walk by Faith. Eli accepts him and the two remain close, happily-bantering friends
Maggie exemplifies the kind of person I want to be: a kind one. I hope to be someone gentle enough to coo over and cuddle children and strong enough to confront the arrogance and abuses of the powerful and to do it with love, rather than harsh words and violence. (I am still working on that last part, but I've got the kids part down pretty well, as I'm well into the "granny stage" of life.)
But I also want the impossible: for people to live in love, understanding, and peace. It sounds impossible, right? But, doggone it, a character like Maggie has taught me that “impossible” is only a perception. Doing the right thing is not just a theory, it is a possibility.
*I’ve included YouTube links to excerpts from the film. I apologize for the ads. What can you do? Everything is monetized these days. Except this blog!
It sounds a bit mad, but I don’t find it odd to have found a connection between the film School of Rock and Benjamin Reiss’ book, Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums & Nineteenth-Century American Culture. Moreover, I realized the film had another connection, this one with the literary theory of the carnivalesque.
If you haven’t seen the film, shame on you!
I mean… here’s a brief synopsis with scholarly stuff thrown in like a badly tossed salad.
The film centers around Dewy Finn (played by Jack Black), slacker and dysfunctional rock-god-wanna-be. His roommate Ned (Mike White) is pushed by uptight girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman) to threaten to evict Dewey if he does not get a job. Things get worse for Dewey when his band fires him because they don’t like his chaotic style. Can you spell “loser”?
All that stuff is pressuring Dewey to conform to societal norms. In short, he has a virtual asylum around him, pressuring him to behave in a socially acceptable manner for his own good.
Later, a despondent Dewey answers the apartment’s phone. On the other end is Miss Mullens (Joan Cusack), the principal of a posh private school. She is calling to offer substitute teacher Ned a long-term job. Dewey assumes Ned’s identity to get the money without, of course telling Ned.
Dewey quickly discovers that Horace Green Academy is an asylum where the children of the upper class are taught to suppress their exuberance, joy, and playfulness. Instead, they are prepped to take their place as kings and queens of the economy and the culture. They study all the right subjects, are supposed to excel academically, and live in a world of gold stars and demerits. Their asylum is designed to shelter them from the outside world and focused on goals established by their parents and teachers. Instead it has created stress. The children respond to this stress by being over-achievers, withdrawn, sullen, and a variety of other responses.
The kids at Horace Green are very much like patients in nineteenth-century asylums. Although asylums had been designed to reduce stress, living in one could create a stress of its own because only certain cultural pursuits and attitudes were considered acceptable – and these were determined by those who ran the asylum, not by the patients. (Reiss 2008, 2)
It also did not go unnoticed that being in an asylum was akin to being enslaved: the patient had no civil rights. Patients also were viewed as childlike and incapable of navigating the treacherous waters of contemporary life. However, unlike being enslaved, it was possible for a patient to get better and re-enter society. In order to survive and eventually win release, asylum patients needed to “get with the program” by modeling rational behavior. (Reiss 2008, 15)
The Horace Green kids do the same thing. Their asylum is funneling them into acceptable pursuits, studies, and attitudes. They go along with a program to survive, with the hope graduation glimmering in the future.
Now comes the carnivalesque part. Mikhail Bakhtin’s essay “Carnival and the Carnivalesque” offered up a groundbreaking theory. Carnivals were a common form of celebration in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. Bakhtin emphasized that a carnival was a lived expression of the workaday world turned upside down. “The carnival for Bakhtin is an event in which all rules, inhibitions, restrictions, and regulations which determine the course of everyday life are suspended, and especially all form of hierarchy in society.” (Cultural Studies Now)
Bakhtin outlined four carnivalesque sensibilities: 1) “Free and familiar interaction between people” 2) “Eccentric behavior”. 3) “Carnvialistic misalliances” that connect things normally separated. 4) “Sacrilegious” or all things ungodly, particularly the parody or profaning of sacred things. (Cultural Studies Now)
Now let’s see how Dewey Finn turns the asylum of Horace Green into a carnival.
Dewey is ‘free and familiar” with the children in the class in that he doesn’t act like a teacher. He subverts the system of grades and gold stars and demerits. At first, the children resist him and his ideas. He seems weird and out of control (“eccentric behavior”) and not the least interested in the values they carefully have been taught to revere (“sacrilegious).
Dewey is all about carnival. When Principal Mullens asks him to compare Horace Green to the other schools where he has worked, he says, “You know that kids at other schools just have fun all the time? They run around. They’re happy. It’s anarchy.” He tells Mullens what she wants to hear, even as we know that he wants his class to have fun, run around, be happy, and enjoy anarchy.
Once Dewey discovers that the children can play instruments, he decides to turn them into a rock band to win his rent money from a Battle of the Bands contest. He lies to them, telling them that they will be doing a project and it will go on their permanent record, which in turn could get them into Harvard. Then he tosses out the old curriculum and brings in a new program consisting of “Rock History,” “Rock Appreciation and Theory,” and band practice. The kids begin to bloom under his tutelage and discover parts of themselves that had been suppressed.
Dewey also teaches them to “stick it to The Man” (the core value of rock). He even encourages the kids to tell him off. Such activity would be viewed as sacrilegious outside his carnivalesque classroom.
Dewey is changed, too, as he comes to care for the kids in his class. When he sneaks the kids out of school to attend an audition for the Battle of the Bands, Freddy the drummer sneaks off. Panicked, Dewey searches for the boy and finds him playing cards in a van with another band. Dewey chastises the guys from the other band: “That kid’s ten years old. He looks up to you. You are setting an example for him, so start acting like a responsible adult!”
But the carnival for the kids (and Dewey) is cut short when Dewey’s fraudulence is uncovered on Parent Night. He is dismissed and retreats in despair to his bed (still in Ned’s apartment).
However, the kids will have none of that. Dewey had requested a bus for their “field trip” to the Battle of the Bands. They direct the driver to Dewey’s apartment and convince him to come with them, even as Principal Mullens and the parents discover that the kids are missing.
Eventually, the parents make their way to the theater where the Battle of the Bands is taking place just in time to hear the kids’ band, the School of Rock, play and see that their kids are more than just little learning machines.
Dewey’s carnivalesque mission to upend the asylum is complete.
Or is it?
In the scene during the final credit roll, Dewey and Ned have started their own School of Rock in Ned’s apartment. Has Dewey conformed? Has he has created his own oasis of carnival? Is he fomenting a revolution by unleashing these carnival kids upon an uptight world?
I have no answers. But I do know this: the film has one heck of a kick-ass feel-good performance during the Battle of the Bands show.
Rock on, my friends. Rock on.
Benjamin Reiss. Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums and Nineteenth-Century Culture. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)
Cultural Studies Now: Article Summaries and Reviews in Cultural Studies. “Mikhail Bakhtin: ‘Carnival and Carnivalesque’ – summary and review.” Downloaded 6/19/2018.
“School of Rock.” (2003) Director: Richard Linklater. Writer: Mike White.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder