My Ancestors on Nantucket: Quakers and Whale-Hunters Both?

I’ve just had a brush with some of my ancestors, and the experience has left me quaking in my sneakers. OK, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. I wasn’t exactly frightened…more stirred up, the way somebody on a turbulent ride might get. The questions I had before the meet-up have been partly answered, but now I have many more, plus a few contradictions that aren’t easily put to rest, as the ancestors themselves lie silent. Hearing that I … Read More

Just the Facts Please, Hold the Bravado

“Alternative beliefs” I can buy, but “alternative facts” ? The landscape is shifting, for sure, and my panorama is not what it used to be. Now, Truth has to go into battle with Falsehood on a daily basis. Contrasts and juxtapositions may be my bread and butter here, but I didn’t count on the kind that threaten to pull the rug right out from under us. Essentially, I was pretty content trying to deepen my understanding of the different ways … Read More

The Passion and All Of Our Other Passions

Spring began with a snowfall last night, while a single word from the season offers contrasting meanings, bringing the religious and secular worlds into collision yet again. I feel right at home. Yesterday the sky was clear blue and the air fresh and cold for Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. And so the Passion begins. In my particular life, this marks just over a quarter of a century since I’ve been fully aware—or at least as fully aware … Read More

Ah, Marriage: In Any Form, It’s A Mystery

Just when you think, after about 25 years in the marriage pond, you might be getting the hang of it, you realize there might be a whole other way of swimming than the one you learned—the one you’re still learning, actually. That’s kind of how it feels when you have a burgeoning anthropologist in the family who is studying how polygamy has worked, over generations, in peaceful communities on a distant continent. In this country, we’ve been widening our definitions … Read More

It’s Easter, and More

Over the course of the past Holy Week, my husband was preparing for services culminating with Easter today — the pinnacle of the Christian calendar. Meanwhile, I was, for the first time, teaching a unit on ancient India to high school juniors. In my mind’s eye, I saw temples with elaborate carvings and women in colorful saris as I made the daily drive up and down a fairly bland stretch of highway. It made for a kind of interesting mash-up … Read More

Dr. Martin Luther King, Extremist

You wouldn’t have thought so, would you? But that is, in fact, how Dr. King referred to himself in his magnificent “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written in April, 1963. We’ll get to that text in a minute, and it’s worth waiting for. First, though, since the whole concept of “extremism” has been thrust at us almost non-stop in recent days, let’s take a moment to consider how the word actually reverberates. Not surprisingly, it can take on completely different realities … Read More

My Sports Cup Runneth Over

It was just about exactly a year ago that I drove my son and a carload of stuff down to register for Harvard Summer School. While in the parking search that is a perennial part of visiting there, we came upon an enormous protest taking place on the Cambridge Common. There was a sea of green and yellow and plenty of shouting through megaphones, most of it in Portuguese. People, entire families, kept arriving, walking vigorously towards the event. It … Read More

The Varieties of Religious Experience, Updated

When our first son was born, a good friend and upstairs neighbor gave us a HUGE black and white mounted photograph of the philosopher William James. I’ll have to ask him again where he got it, but he always did move in highly intellectual circles. Anyway, we were thrilled to put the towering thing right in the corner of the baby’s bedroom, so that he could feel no pressure at all about growing up smart. In one packing episode or … Read More

Cardinals in the Conclave, People in the Pews

My foraging for juxtapositions is often rewarded by coming upon a page in the daily newspaper, something – who knows – we may not have around much longer. This past Sunday, on the first page of its International section, the New York Times ran this banner headline:  “Scandals and Intrigue Heat Up at Vatican Ahead of Papal Conclave.”  The story on the left, sure enough, was about the sad state of affairs in Catholicism as a whole during these days following … Read More