MWD15

On Finding a More Excellent Way

Welcome to Midweek Dinner, the mental equivalent of scrounging in the fridge to pull together a meal. Except this is a meal of ideas, thoughts, unexpected joys, and yes, sometimes there's food. Subscribe to receive this assortment of goodness in your inbox every Wednesday.


Steady rain has been the soundtrack of the day, and it makes an apt accompaniment to this particular note. Is it raining where you are? Is spring just emerging or on its way out? It has been a quiet week though a productive one, with lots of writing progress. Despite that productivity (or perhaps because of it), I still have lots to do. For me, the revision is where any piece of writing lives, and I am just beginning to peer around the corner, to re-see my own work and spy a new way forward.

That’s the mandrel around which my thoughts have spun this week: a kind of looking back to see the way forward. Perhaps like many of you, the events of the last day or so have made me sad, and I’m not ready to write about them yet, so instead, I’m hoping forward and leaving today for another today. 

Let’s dig around in here and see what’s edible, shall we?

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the Ache is a short film series from Eliot Rausch and Bittersweet Monthly, one of the partners in the Breaking Ground project I mentioned last week. This first film is brief, comprised of excerpts from a conversation the director had with thinker and theologian Walter Brueggemann. I watched it for the first time a week ago, and this phrasing has stuck with me: “...there is a more excellent way.” As Brueggemann insists, this more excellent way will contradict the dominant way and will be terribly inconvenient.

In my research and reading, I keep coming back to this idea of convenience (and its near-neighbor gods: speed and efficiency) as the drivers of much I find most problematic today. Health care? Check. Food supply? Definitely. Climate change? Oh my, yes. But also community and beauty and care and delight and curiosity have been sacrificed at the alter of convenience, and these things are not disposable; they are our very life-blood.

The challenge arises in finding a way to roll those conveniences back. It is not easy work. But Brueggemann offers at least one way forward: “Start by noticing neighbors.” It is a quiet, contemplative video, and as a Christian theologian, Brueggemann draws on the traditions and narratives of his faith, but even if your faith is not the same as Brueggemann’s, you may find something to chew on. Or if you prefer, skip the video and its bible talk, but notice your neighbors. Either way, good is likely.

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In “The End of Meat is Here”,  Jonathan Safran Foer extends and improves my argument (and Michael Pollan’s) from last week about the questionable nature of meat as “essential.” I was particularly convicted by this passage:

At the very least [COVID19] has forced us to look. When it comes to a subject as inconvenient as meat, it is tempting to pretend unambiguous science is advocacy, to find solace in exceptions that could never be scaled and to speak about our world as if it were theoretical.

Tempting to speak about our world as if it were theoretical. Damn, y’all. That’s quiet ferocity, condemnation, and encouragement all in one. (I haven’t yet read Eating Animals. Frankly, I’m a little nervous about what will happen when I do.) I did just read Hope Jahren’s The Story of More. A few years ago, I fell in love with her Lab Girl, and though this book is not - for me - as beautiful, I can see its potential. If you’ve been in this conversation for awhile, Jahren doesn’t offer anything new. But for younger readers, perhaps high school science students, this book could be an excellent way to give structure to an overwhelming conversation. By providing bite-sized overviews of all the major players in climate change (including meat-eating) and serving them with a healthy dose of statistical data, Jahren insists on our very-much-NOT-theoretical reality. 

Near the end of the essay, JSF writes,

We don’t need new information, and we don’t need new values. We only need to walk through the open door.

That walk will not be convenient, but it may be the only way forward.

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As Anne Helen Petersen would say, just trust me:

“The end of something: on radical change in a time of pandemic” by Ben Ehrenreich

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After reading this gorgeous essay — “A Humble Gaze” by Griffin Oleynick — I spent most of the day exploring the Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures online exhibit at MoMA. Everyone likely has some familiarity with Lange’s photography, even if they don’t know it. Her “Migrant Mother” is the iconic photo of the Great Depression, and despite its age, it is fully relevant and alive every time I look at it. Oleynick’s essay (do read it, please) closes with this powerful passage:

But in the long run, anger alone isn’t a winning political strategy, and it won’t solve the problem of inequality in America. The gift of Lange’s art is to show us that solidarity is rooted in selflessness, which begins not with political programs, or policy platforms, or a sense of one’s own moral and intellectual superiority over one’s political opponents, but with curiosity, and a desire to know (and even love) people different from oneself. Lange’s life of looking at others, especially those harmed by vast systems of injustice, helped her see that victims were more than just their socioeconomic scars. Now, in a time when many have lost their lives and livelihoods, she helps us reimagine a better America, one characterized by resilience, sacrifice, and hope.

A more excellent way. It’s here somewhere.

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Unexpected Joy Department:

Listen. After two days of tending to a sick cat with uncontrollable diarrhea, this week’s unexpected joy is finding solid cat poop in the litter box, and I’ve already said more about that than is advisable, so we’re done here.

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And Now for Some Truly Shameless Self-Promotion

(or what I’ve posted lately)

It took some considerable work, but I managed to pull together some unwieldy thoughts on Richard Powers’ most excellent book The Overstory, a book about trees and about people and about everything that matters. I am desperate to discuss this book with someone, so if you’ve read it, let’s chat.

https://www.sarabethwest.com/post/on-stillness-and-richard-powers-the-overstory

I also started a new weekly series - On Sundays We Read Poetry. I opened with Christian Wiman’s Survival is a Style, which I have mentioned before. I loved this collection, and I love giving myself a good excuse to commit to reading new poems every week. Join me, will you?

https://www.sarabethwest.com/post/on-sundays-we-read-poetry


Thanks as always for reading and thinking with me. Have comments, suggestions, or questions? Reply to this email, and I promise a response.