Monday, October 31, 2016

Night Lights for the Dead?

In honor of Halloween, I give you: cemetery lights. I've spent enough time in parts of the world where world religions meet ancestor worship to have seen or heard about some elaborate funeral practices and memorial strategies. This one's new to me.

Did you know it was a thing? I didn't, not until last night when Chris came home a different route from the hospital and reported that our closest cemetery is aglow with solar-powered lights next to every tombstone. Some quick research suggests this is not, say, a security issue, but a way those left behind can honor, remember, or keep vigil for those who have gone on.

A couple internet searches for news about the phenomenon come up with no informational articles (though I'll keep looking), just oodles of ads for these from a wide variety of companies. They call them memorial lights, memorial lanterns, eternal lights, or vigil lights. Some are shaped as crosses or angels, others as candles or lanterns. As solar lights have become more popular and affordable, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised to see them cross over from gardens and driveways to graveyards as well.

One site says (somewhat ungrammatically),
"Cemetery lights also known as memorial lights are widely used in memory and respect for those departed loved person who passed on. As many consider it’s a bridge to the other side that can help in making the place more accessible. While a cemetery light for death can in no way replace the person who has died it can provide a spark of hope that those who have died will not be gone forever."
Maybe they don't use these on the West Coast, or maybe we just don't go to enough / the right kind of cemeteries to have noticed them. Are they mostly a Southern phenomenon? African-American? Catholic? Let me know if you know anything more about where this practice came from or how widespread or popular it may be. Inquiring minds want to know...

If it's primarily a Catholic thing, it may echo lighting candles for the dead, something that might be more likely to happen this week of the year than others:
"Catholics light candles for the dead as an act of remembrance or as a prayer for their souls. They can light candles at any time; however, death anniversaries and All Souls' Day are particularly popular dates to light candles in prayer for the dead."

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I miss Halloween, you know... Halloween as I think I remember it, Halloween through the eyes of a child in the 1970s. Without all the spooky stuff (which was probably there. I was just unaware).  Without all the institutionally-sponsored Halloween events (Trunk or Treat!). It was just about visiting our neighbors door to door, if only this one time of the year. (Well, this and when we knocked on their doors to sell them Girl Scout cookies or when they came to ours to tell us our dog was on the loose or our sheep had gotten out.)

Costumes were homemade, often a week or day before, not bought in a store. Mom sewed them when we were really small. Later we made them ourselves. Kids might go as pirates, not Jack Sparrow; as mermaids, not Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Now, like everything else, costumes seem to be produced commercially and chosen to highlight some aspect of consumer culture.

Guess I shouldn't be surprised. The culture has changed. It does that! 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Lottie Moon's sister, missionary to Palestine and lady physician to Confederate rebels?

Dr. Oriana (Moon) Andrews
and her husband,
Dr. John Summerfield Andrews.
"One of the most famous single women missionaries of all time would have to be Charlotte Moon," I told my Perspectives students. "She and two of her sisters, touched by the revival that swept America just before the Civil War, ended up as missionaries."

"One sister was supposedly the first female doctor south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and ended up going as a medical missionary to Arabs in Palestine, then came home to be a doctor for the Confederate Army."

"I would love to read her story," I added, before going on to tell a little of Lottie's.

Next day, though, I started wondering if this was one of those things I really could learn more about than in days gone by. I might not need to prowl through archives in Virginia; more and more things can be found online!

After a few tries, Google and I came up with a name and even a biographical sketch of Dr. Oriana Moon. There is also this fun dramatic reading which mentions Lottie's sisters alongside Lottie, apparently drawing on the same secondary sources I'd used previously. (I think that would go well in a Perspectives course, as well.)

So, did I have it right? Or what else might be helpful to share?

The Moon girls were certainly a remarkable bunch. Growing up surrounded by books and well supplied with tutors, they were allowed by their parents to pursue their own interests and given educational opportunities usually restricted to sons. I had to smile when I read that their father purchased an unusually large library for Orie,

"...Consisting of the leading histories, poetry, fiction, and scientific works of the time. For the first sixteen years of her life, Orie was an ardent and persistent reader, often so wrapped up in her readings that she refused to stop for meals. Orie seemed to prefer mental nourishment to material food and craved learning..."

After writing a thesis on the relationship between coronary and respiratory diseases, Oriana got her MD in 1857 from a women's medical college in Philadelphia. That's decidedly North of the Mason-Dixon line, and she certainly studied and worked in the company of other female doctors (though, as the article points out, the women were not allowed to practice in Philadelphia hospitals, limiting their work to a clinic the school set up to treat women and destitute patients). Later she did practice medicine in Virginia, though "despite much urging, Dr. Moon consistently declined to 'hang out her shingle' as a general practitioner," at least at that time. Later she did, and further south.

Oriana seems to have been just as outspoken as Lottie, warning another sister's fiance that he must be brave to marry into a family that included someone like herself. Nothing in this article, though, confirms that she was the first female doctor in the South. Have to look elsewhere for that. Meanwhile, I should at least soften my summary with a "one of" or "some say."

Shortly after earning her MD, Oriana returned to Virginia and signed on to accompany her uncle, an ordained minister and physician, as he and his family made an extended "missionary journey" to the Holy Land. "Orie was determined to join Barclay and assist him where possible by providing providing medical services to the Bedouins." Here's a telling vignette:
"She sailed to Europe, carrying for protection a revolver with which she was an expert marksman. In Turkey, while crossing the Bosphorus from Constantinople to Adrianople, Orie hired two boatmen to row her across the water. In an incident she often retold in later years, Orie paid the two men an agreed-upon sum before they started rowing. However, midway in the trip, the two boatmen threatened to turn back unless she paid them a second time. Orie pulled out her revolver and barked the command "Go to Adrianople!" So motivated, the two boatmen rowed with great speed, and when the boat touched the Adrianople shore, they fled with equal haste. Orie proved to be a fearless American that even these Turks respected."
Religious zeal for God's glory does not seem to have played much of a part in Oriana's initial decision to go to Palestine; though raised in the church and in a Christian family, she had never been particularly religious. So much for the revival connection, at least in Oriana's case. But some serious conversations with her uncle on the journey across the Atlantic seem to have had an impact, and she had her uncle baptize her in the Pool of Siloam.

It may, then, be overstating things to call her a missionary doctor in Palestine without some disclaimers. We could call her uncle a missionary, and she was part of his party, though, so maybe. On the other hand, she was only in the Middle East for 14 months before returning home in 1859. So, similarly, any claim that she only left her missionary calling in the Middle East to patch up Confederate soldiers is misleading. The war didn't start until 1861.

What does seem clear, however, is that her "missionary journey" played a clear part in her personal development, that she felt she made a difference among the Bedouin, and that she looked back on the experience as a significant one. She told the stories for the rest of her life. So, call it a transformative mission trip, a short-term rather than a missionary career.

One thing that the article does confirm is that when the war broke out, Oriana was quick to offer herself to the Confederacy as a doctor. Until her death in 1883 she served in both informal and formal roles as a physician (sometimes, later, alongside her husband, also a doctor).

Oriana's zeal for service and evangelism resurfaces throughout her life, as when she set up, led, and preached in an open-air church in a nearby black village. She stood up to threats from the KKK... once again armed and ready to repel them if they carried out a threatened attack against her! And it was while visiting her sister Oriana that Charlotte Moon decided to go to China as a missionary. In this, Lottie was following in the footsteps of another sister, Edmonia, of whom I know little so far. I gather Edmonia got sick and came home, whereas Lottie served in China for more than 30 years. Time for some more digging, eh? I've never even read a proper biography of Lottie, so let me see what I can find out. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

"Icebreakers Are Terrible. They Also, Unfortunately, Work Really Well."

This is the time of year when walking into a group of strangers with the hope of charming them enough that they will listen to me talk at them for a few hours, or making a new friend (of sorts), is something I do rather a lot. But as a shy (broken?) extrovert, I sometimes find it intimidating and welcome help, like having a bit of structure or someone in charge to set the tone. What about you?

Check out this article from Cari Romm of New York Magazine for an interesting perspective on the effectiveness of "icebreakers."
"It’s back-to-school season, which means it’s time for fresh starts, pumpkin-spice overload, inappropriately themed sale displays, and — if you’re actually going back to school — racking your brain for suitably fun facts to share with a classroom full of strangers, or gearing up for endless rounds of two-truths-and-a-lie in a dorm lounge. Truth: Here’s a thing I did this summer. Truth: Here’s something about, I don’t know, a family pet. Lie: This is fun.

"To all but the most enthusiastic few, icebreakers are just a necessary evil — even though they’re supposed to dispel the awkwardness, forced getting-to-know-you games often feel like they’re just making an awkward event even more so, whether you’re at freshman orientation or a corporate retreat. So why do we insist on beginning so many situations by suffering through trust walks and elaborate name games? Is there any value to making a roomful of people miserable with false cheer?

"Psychologist Anton Villado is adamant that the answer is yes, and that icebreakers don’t have to be pleasant to be effective."
Keep reading to see why Villado says they work and what they can accomplish.

H/T Tony Sheng.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Six Posts about the World of Firefighters

By the end of this month Telling Secrets will have been on the web for 10 years with more than 900 posts. Good reason for a trip back through the archives, I thought. Wanna come?

Half a dozen posts flagged "fire service" reflect my efforts to understand an unfamiliar world I entered when I married Chris.  

Read the descriptions below, or, to pull them all up, click here

Chris has also begun blogging about firefighting, chaplaincy, and more at

July 27, 2012: Cultural notes on the world of firefighters
Why motivates volunteer firefighters to do what they do? An exploration of the appeal of the uniform, the truck, the chance to serve, the fire service family, and more. (Read more).

August 6, 2012: Just a guy thing?
Those big red trucks down at the station seem fueled as much by testosterone as anything else. When talk of them comes up in mixed company, only the men's eyes light up at delight with the thought of tearing down the road in a fire truck, a high-powered toolbox on wheels. You might expect the fire station subculture to be utterly masculine. That was one of the questions I had about the fire district: Is this just a guy thing? (Read more).

August 8, 2012: What does the fire department really do?
From our very first date I could tell being part of the fire department was way more than a little hobby on the side for my husband and his buddies. Here are a few of the "aha!" discoveries that have helped me understand how this world really works, at least in Santa Clara. (Read more).

March 24, 2013: Motivating volunteers with meaningful work.
More than 70 percent of all firefighters serve as volunteers. When your workforce is made up of volunteers, it does change dynamics a bit. Your hands are somewhat tied. Both in terms of sticks and of carrots. (Read more).

June 14, 2013: After the MVA (motor vehicle accident)
Consider, for a moment, this nightmare scenario. You've been in a car accident. You're alive, but your car is mangled. You're pretty sure your body is too. Your leg is pinned under the dash, and you cannot move. Someone calls 911 and the police and fire department arrive. But what then? (Read more).

February 4, 2014: 2013 Santa Clara Volunteer of the Year
Serving with our local volunteer fire department costs those who serve, and their families, a lot. After making 244 calls in 2013, Chris was honored as Volunteer of the Year. Congratulations, Chris! (Read more).