Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Education at Starr King

There’s a flap going on over at PeaceBang about a story told by a Starr King graduate in a sermon recently published in Quest. She wrote of an all-school meeting where it was announced that the term “brown bag lunch” would no longer be used, as it was a painful reminder for some of a skin color test used by light-skinned African Americans to discriminate against African Americans who are dark-skinned.

Insert full disclosure paragraph here: I am a graduate of Starr King School. I am also the current President of the Starr King Graduates Association, a position which puts me on the school’s Board of Trustees ex officio. I am a 63-year old white woman, and a cradle Unitarian.

I read the story in Quest as a story about learning about another example of oppression, an oppression that we white people would be unlikely to know about at all, but which is another painful chapter in African American history. The point is not whether or not the term “brown bag lunch” is used at the school; the point is that the school is deeply and very seriously committed to learning about the myriad oppressions that people have suffered under and continue to suffer under. This story is one example. At Starr King, we believe that the ability to recognize and address oppressions is important in one’s preparation for ministry. Being present to suffering without turning away; crossing thresholds; encouraging speech in those who have been silenced; calling forth people’s inherent strengths — all these are significant tools in the work of building a better world.

ECO work (Educating to Counter Oppressions and Create Just Communities) runs through the entire life of the school. Of course Starr King is an academic institution whose responsibility is to teach and to grant graduate degrees to those preparing for a life in religious leadership. People study theology, world religions, sacred texts, the practical arts of ministry, and many other areas of inquiry that you would expect in a respected seminary. And woven into the matrix of life at Starr King are deeply serious commitments to be what we want to see, to shelter prophetic witness in the world, to counter white supremacy, and to work for the common good.

At Starr King, we seek to advance liberation, healing, and the establishment of a just and sustainable society by enabling people to gain the knowledge, experience, skill and religious understanding they need to address widespread and subtle (and often not so subtle) forms of oppressions, be they related to race, gender, gender expression, age, physical ability, class, or myriad other categories in which some people are diminished at the hands of others. Please believe me when I say that I am incredibly impressed with the seriousness of this work. There is nothing frivolous, “PC,” or dilettantish about it. Starr King is bending its efforts to addressing a wounded world and bringing to it the healing powers of love and understanding.

Those who wish to know more about this extraordinary and very serious educational effort are encouraged to visit the Starr King web site. (Note: that page contains links to longer documents describing the ECO work at the school.)

And to answer PeaceBang’s query: yes, our world is filled with grace. It is the grace of courage in the face of adversity; it is the grace of a love which overcomes all obstacles; it is the grace of heartfelt commitment to be a community of interdependence, connection and relationship; it is the grace of forgiveness.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Blogger Woes

Okay, in the post below? Just make "left" into "top;" middle is still middle; and "right" becomes "bottom."

Please, someone, teach me how to do this! (I guess I could start by previewing the post, since obviiously it appears differently than when I'm composing it...)

Knitting to gauge

Last weekend I took my first-ever knitting class. I’ve been knitting for 45 years, but never took a class before. I learned by what my mother and grandmother taught me, by reading patterns over and over again until I “got it,” or by asking any sympathetic knitter I could find – usually the owner of the local yearn store. (Nice typo! Of course I meant “yarn store,” but it’s always a “yearn store” for me as well.)

About two years ago I decided to get serious with my knitting and challenge myself to try things I have never tried before. There are so many beautiful patterns out now, and such wonderful materials to work with; I wanted to make something (many somethings) with my own hands that were lovely, complicated, and appropriately difficult. I felt it was time to stretch my mind and try something that I knew would be hard for me, but not impossible. I know the importance of keeping those synapses firing as I age, and this is a fun way to challenge my brain cells while producing something beautiful and useful.

Here’s the reason I knew it would be difficult. When I was a junior in high school, we took IQ tests. (We probably had taken them earlier as well, but this is the year that I remember.) When the results came back, I was called in to the principal’s office and told that I would have to take the test again. No explanation was given; this was all very buttoned up and hush-hush. So I took the test again. What I learned later (my mother had her ways of finding out what was going on) is that I had scored so much lower in the Spatial Relations part of the test than the rest of it that they assumed there had been a mistake in the scoring. Second time, same results. This girl is abysmal in Spatial Relations.

So knitting and sewing are challenging for me. It takes a huge effort for me to look at a sewing pattern, for example, which is printed to show the garment inside out, and figure out what it’s supposed to look like when it’s finished. It’s a little easier with knitting, for some reason, but there are still plenty of spatial challenges. Oh, and math challenges, too. Did I mention that I was pretty much a Math Moron after seventh grade?

So last weekend I gave myself a Saturday and hied me off to The Mannings (left photo -- click on it to enlarge), which I am told is the largest and oldest yarn store in the country. And it happens to be right here in central Pennsylvania, off in the middle of nowhere. Isn’t this bucolic looking? Wouldn’t you just like to move in and spend the rest of your days knitting there? I was enthralled!

My class was on gauge, a knitting essential which I have pretty much ignored for the past 43 years. When I got serious about knitting two years ago, I realized I was going to have to pay attention to gauge if I wanted things to fit, and this three-hour class gave me all sorts of good reasons to knit swatches and figure out gauge – not just for the increased likelihood that things might fit when completed, but also as a way to try out pattern stitches and see how the material behaves.

I’m about to launch into Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Baby Surprise Jacket, a classic that has probably been knit by every serious knitter since the 1950’s. It’s a real spatial relations test! And while gauge probably doesn’t matter all that much for a baby sweater, I am using unfamiliar yarn (Sirdar Tango, which knits up sort of like terrycloth) and I needed to do some experimenting to figure out what size needles to use.

In the middle is a photo of my first swatch, using size 5 needles. (You can enlarge this by clicking on it, too, but who would want to do that?) Way too big! The fabric was floppy and loose, just generally unsightly and unsatisfying. Furthermore, look at how it bulges on the sides. (This is a 6” swatch, much bigger than I really needed to make it, but I have plenty of yarn.) I tried out some stripes, and learned that two rows (bottom) or four rows (top) of contrasting color look okay, but three rows (middle) looks downright weird.

On my next swatch (right photo), I used an edge that I learned from sock knitting: knit to last stitch, put yarn in front, slip last stitch as if to purl, and on the beginning of the next row knit that stitch through the back loop. It makes a tidy edge that stayed tidy through being machine washed with a load of towels and jeans. The gauge was nearly right with size 3 needles. So I’m knitting the sweater with size 2’s, and now I know that it won’t shrink in the washing machine and dryer, for which the Mom of this not-yet-born baby will thank me. I’m a firm believer that baby clothes should be completely washable.

Stay tuned for photos as I sweat my way through this simple but not intuitive pattern.

And if anyone knows how to post a blog entry with the text wrapped around the photos, instead of having them all appear at the top, please let me know! (Does anyone else find Blogger very difficult to work with?)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Back in the Swing

After THREE MONTHS of silence, I find myself wanting to get the ol’ blog going again. Herewith, a photo of the socks I made for my sister-in-law for her March birthday. I loved these; wish I could have kept them for myself.

Pattern: Jaywalker, from Grumperina. Not too difficult to knit, and snazzy!

Materials: Austermann “Step” – 75% superwash wool, 25% acrylic, with aloe vera and jojoba oils embedded in the yarn. Very soft, nice to work with and to wear. The colorway on these is “Grass Green.”

I’m feeling very rusty about downloading and prepping photos, but photos on blogs are where it’s at, so I will persevere. Stay tuned for more.