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Scenes from Cairo Diary: an Egyptian fable

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Hi…Last week I said that I would be including a few scenes that are often part of a book talk about Cairo Diary: an Egyptian fable.  In this scene, we meet Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus.  Linda

Chapter 2

there appeared an angel of the Lord to Joseph

in a dream, saying, ‘Rise, take the child and his

mother and flee to Egypt…

-Matthew 2:11

April 9, 2 CE

Sunlight skimmed across the water beneath a pale lavender mist as she watched the Great River come to life around her, warm sand rising between her toes. How long will these mornings be mine? Mary wondered. For nearly eight summers I’ve been free to come to this river alone, to listen to my own thoughts. At home in Palestine, my mother never felt the warm waters touch her skin, never traveled without a man at her side. Mary stepped into the river, embraced by the waters rising around her ankles.

As she watched, a white crane, startled by the approaching light, took flight.  Hundreds of birds ascended in harmony while a single pelican swooped into the water, found its target, and emerged with a mouthful of squirming catfish. Mary’s attention moved to the glassy water below, where blue and white lotuses with toothed leaves offered temporary homes to restless grasshoppers and water beetles.  Joseph moves slowly now and speaks of home. What will l say, what will I do, when the time comes to return to Palestine? Will my voice be heard?

The water nearby parted as two large protruding eyes joined by a gray leather mound surfaced into sunlight. An indifferent purple gallinule spread its wings and squatted between the hippo’s eyes. Colorful bursts of acacia, hyacinth, and oleander hugged the towering palms near Mary’s feet.  As she deeply inhaled the fragrant air, she felt a wave of exhilaration. Although melancholy was often companion to her thoughts, she was grateful to God for these moments alone.

She knelt to catch some of the warm, clear water in her pot, slipping her sandy feet into worn leather sandals. Wet sand clung to the fringe on her tunic. She shook it to loosen the sand’s tight hold. The cloth would dry quickly.

As she leaned forward, her thick blanket of hair—not yet tamed for the day—was divided by a peak at the center of her forehead and framed an oval face tanned by the Egyptian sun. Two dimples deepened when she smiled. Her black eyes were especially alive and curious this morning. As a woman of twenty-four summers, she had grown into a rare beauty, far more beautiful than her modesty would allow her to comprehend. She was a woman with neither mirror nor vanity.

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Scenes from Cairo Diary: an Egyptian fable

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

A couple of days ago, I mentioned a recent book talk in Salida, Colorado, and am planning for three more book talks this summer (Napa, Petaluma and San Jose).  I am going to post some of the scenes that I read during such a talk.  Here is the first.

Cairo Diary: an Egyptian fable

April 12, 2006                                       Chapter One

Justine couldn’t wait.  Nadia had offered to show her around Cairo, but she was too eager to set foot in the crypt under St. Sergius Church, a cave that had served as home to the Holy Family two thousand years ago.  Tension gripped her body as she descended the thirteen worn steps down onto the marble floor below. She took each step with deliberate slowness to allow her body to absorb the holy site where the family once lived.  Myth or fact…. or something in between? she mused.

Now inside the crypt, Justine continued to reflect upon the remarkable woman who had captured the imagination of the world. How did she raise her extraordinary sons? Where did Mary spend her nights? Where did Jesus sleep? She stood among the columns, her eyes sweeping over every nook and cranny looking for answers to the questions that drove her search.

The last time Justine was here, the crypt was closed because of groundwater that had seeped in after the ’92 earthquake.  She could now see that the crypt, just recently reopened, had at one time served as a three-aisled chapel with an altar in the front wall. Justine ran her fingers across the smooth plastered walls surrounding four marble-crowned columns and supported by a roughly hewed ceiling.  Primitive lights hung from each side of the room, the cords crawling back up the stairs. Shadows painted haunting images across the walls and ceiling. Perhaps ghosts or saints watch over this holy place, she thought. Not a religious person, nevertheless Justine could be swept up in the historical moment. In this moment.

Nearly four hundred kilometers to the east of Cairo, the morning sun danced a crystalline ballet across the Gulf of Aqaba. Deep below the shimmering waters, the Arabian plate snuggled up against the African plate as it had for millennia. This morning, the earthen plates quivered—only slightly. But enough. Suppressed energy, like flexing muscles, reached the tipping point. The quiver snaked itself west across the African plate, under the Sinai landmass, beneath the Gulf of Suez, and into the eastern Sahara creating a long ribbon of rupture. The quake hit Old Cairo some 90 seconds later.

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A New Feminism? Not quite.

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Without the reciprocity inherent in fraternity, ascendancy

into a full intellectual and activist life could not occur.

-Simone de Beauvoir

Once conform, once do what other people do because they

do it, and lethargy steals over all the fine nerves and faculties

of the soul.

-Virginia Woolf

In Women’s Ways of Leading, Mary Gardner and I refer to these realizations as the “awakening.” Both reciprocity and independence are the essence of life, of leadership, of entry into full civic and moral responsibility. The recent ascendence of conservative women has been dubbed by some as “a new feminism.” Religious and formerly quiet women are rising to the call of Sarah Palin, the new Elmer Gantry. Tea Party advocates of “no government” are pulling up women from the radical right who would trample the civil liberties of anyone who doesn’t agree with them.  Even independent, strong and successful women such as Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman are riding the wave with strange bedfellows.

Why not call it a new feminism? I would offer a few reasons:

  1. Feminism is about equal access to opportunity and engagement in civic life.
  2. Feminism is about compassion for the less fortunate, with the full intent of raising all ships into a good quality life.
  3. Feminists want their daughters and granddaughters to think, not follow.
  4. Feminism is about control over one’s own body and choices. Determination of the “right” to hand over control of a woman’s body or relationship such as marriage to outside authorities such as the government or church is in direct contradiction to the “no government in our lives” mantra. Yes, Virginia (Woolf), these women are advocating just that.
  5. Feminism is about influencing the world through positive means, modeling responsible action without destroying those who would work with us.
  6. Feminism is about independent thought, not following dogma.

Yet, is it possible that, once women begin to become involved, even in questionable ways, that a real awakening could be in the offing? This morning my friend, Jeanne, reminded me that the majority of students in colleges today are women, so this may be the major path to awakening.  Could this be a transition to unveiling the mind?  I don’t know, but I’m sure thinking about it.

The education system should be founded on “unveiling the mind.” Unveiling means to remove the mask of ignorance and unquestioning compliance to reveal the inner power and knowledge….Women throughout the world, wisely awakening to this call for unveiling, find strength in their values and in themselves.

-Nawal El Saadawi, Egyptian feminist and author

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Women are excited about…

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

The workshop in Genting was an eye-opening affair

for me. I discovered that I do have leadership quali-

ties. It is alarming as well as exhilarating. Alarming

because I fear the responsibility that comes with it…

Exhilarating because I now realize that I can make a


Sharifah Hadjarah Aziz, Malaysia as

Quoted in Women’s Ways of Leading

We have found that when leadership is viewed as the capacity to engage in reciprocal, purposeful learning in community, the notion of leadership is moved into the network of learning relationships in an organization (see The Constructivist Leader, 1995, 2002). This notion of leadership relies on equitable relationships, the exercise of collaboration, moral purpose and engaged learning communities. Women have a natural inclination for this way of being in the world.

As we’ve given book talks about Women’s Ways of Leading, we’ve found that women are especially enthralled with our definition of leadership…and have come to realize that the sum total of the book is greater than its parts. In other words, epiphanies are longitudinal. That said, these are a few of the most compelling additional features:

• Brain research suggesting that women are uniquely wired to lead.

• A Framework of Women’s Leadership Development (chart of themes and perspectives)

• Themes that govern women’s leadership (Values, Evolving Self, Passion and Courage, Imagination, Community, and Mentoring)

• Stories of women at difference stages of development

• Skills and Understanding for Women’s Ways of Leading (chart)

• Women to Watch

• Historical Timeline of Women’s Rights in America

Next Monday we’ll say more about Women to Watch. Linda and Mary

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Women Who Lead Commit to Values

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Values, as I suggested yesterday in the post on Steinbeck, are the genesis of leadership. We believe that values form each person’s identity. Today, Mary Gardner and I are sitting in my living room examining the role that values play in the lives of women leaders.  We thought we’d start by reviewing our thoughts from Chapter 2 of Women’s Ways of Leading:

Values can be as nebulous and as mystical as leadership itself. Yet it is values that describe who women are and what women stand for in the world. By defining Leadership as “reciprocal, purposeful learning in community,” purpose or values form the heart of leading, as they are the heart of learning. The notion of universal values—principles or strongly held beliefs—turns attention toward human rights ideals such as peace, caring, equality, universal literacy, women’s and children’s rights, democratic citizenship and environmental care.

Linda: Mary, isn’t this as true for men?

Mary: Certainly, men such as Steinbeck, lead lives shaped by values; however, our research—you will recall—on the neurobiology of women indicate that women are uniquely suited to claim values such as empathy, caring, equity…

Linda: In other words, women negotiate the value journey somewhat differently?

Mary: Exactly. Nel Noddings suggested that the value of caring is a significant lens through which women, particularly, attribute meaning to experiences, build relationships and frame action.

Linda: Yes, for instance, she encouraged teachers to give themselves permission to care about their students and other teachers, and to develop strategies for building reciprocal caring among students.

Mary: And, Carol Gilligan pointed out that caring is the key value in the moral development of women.

Linda: So, the trick is to figure out how those fires get lit for women to translate caring into the leadership actions.

Mary: And in Women’s Ways of Leading stories exemplify how these fires get lit…

Linda: And our reflective questions engage women in the exploration of their own lives and how values give them strength, direction and focus.

‘Til tomorrow.

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A Community Leadership Series

Monday, June 7th, 2010

To live is so startling it leaves very little time for anything else.

-Emily Dickinson

Beginning last September, my colleague and friend, Dr. Marghi Hagen, and I began a weekly leadership series here on the coast.  Representing the Democrats United for Progress and the Redwood Coast Alliance of Non-Profits, we set about to engage community members in an exploration of leadership, including the generous contributions of well-respected community leaders.  “Our community” consists of the coast of southern Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County and the little towns of Point Arena, Gualala, and The Sea Ranch.  We were surprised and delighted when 36 people showed up, ages 15 to 83.  Our intention was to enhance the leadership capacity of the community…a thrilling goal.

When the fall series ended, we met again in January and scheduled monthly leadership meetings, this time joined by Gail Taylor an internationally known consultant and founder of Tomorrowmakers.

During this year, we taught, demonstrated, and conversed about some of the following topics: reframing the meaning of leadership; communication; conflict resolution; organizational effectiveness, design and sustainability; leading volunteers with informal authority;  facilitation of meetings; consensus building; among other topics. In the spring, we added projects designed too strengthen our community.

Last Tuesday was our last class in the series, although we will meet at Marghi’s home for a potluck and conversation on August 3.  If the group decides to continue into the next year, it will be with rotating facilitation among members.

What would it mean to our democracy to strengthen community leadership capacity??

Next week:  John Steinbeck, Literary Leader

Have a great week!

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Revisiting Steinbeck’s The Pearl

Monday, May 31st, 2010

For decades I’ve had this visceral memory of The Pearl, sensing that it was that little book that held secrets of my deepest values about class, race, gender, and religion, as well as many early vicarious experiences of the darkest of human emotions: fear, shame, rage, humiliation.  It was during high school in this small Kansas town, and prompted by a recommendation by one of my most valued mentors that I read the book. So when our long-time book club decided to take a special trip to the Monterey area this spring, evolving into a study of Steinbeck, it provided an opportunity to visit that transformative high school experience.  I would read it again.

You see, six of us, three couples of advancing years, decided a few years ago to have a two-day book club.  Since we are scattered from Sea Ranch to San Rafael, going back and forth in an evening was not feasible.  We pepper our time together with good conversations and food, book talks, movies with the same themes as the book, etc.  From Monterey, we will visit Salinas and the Steinbeck museum and home, then his old stomps in Cannery Row.  Each of us decided to read a different Steinbeck book and discuss prevailing themes.

In spite of my youth and inexperience when I first read The Pearl—therefore, being more easily impressed and moved—I was surprised to find myself, once again, profoundly affected by the same little book.  For the many of you who may have read the book years ago (or have not read it), I will remind you: Steinbeck’s writing moves with a deliberate ominous pace, unfolding a great drama around the finding of the largest pearl ever seen.  Yet the pearl is but a simple vehicle for describing the tragedy sure to fall on a simple man who seeks to leave his station. Kino, a poor Mexican man from the coast of the Sea of Cortez, dared to dream that his son would learn to read and in so doing would challenge his fate.  When a scorpion bit his son and the child was sure to die, the doctor yelled out that he was a doctor, not a veterinarian!

Kino knew that, “…the gods do not love man’s plans, and the gods do not love success unless it comes by accident. He knew that the gods take revenge if a man be successful through his own efforts….let one man step out of the regular thought or the known and regular pattern, and the nerves of the townspeople ring with nervousness and communication travels over the nerve lines of the whole town.” Was it not that every year the priest gave the same sermon? Leaving one’s assigned place in life was against God’s plan:

…it was against religion, and the Father made that very clear. The loss of the pearl was a punishment visited on those who tried to leave their station. And the Father made it clear that each man and women is a soldier sent by God to guard some part of the castle of the Universe. And some are in the ramparts and some far deep in the darkness of the walls. But each one must remain faithful to his post and must not go running about, else the castle is in danger from the assaults of Hell.”

Literature provokes our imaginations, hones our values and shapes our lives.

Until next week…

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Where art thou, Tenure?

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

I attended a small Kansas town high school: West Mineral, Kansas, population around 300. A coal mining town at the start of the 1900’s, by the 1950’s it had shrunk to a few homes, a church on either side of town, and a K-8/9-12 school combination.  The high school was the center of “cultural” life in the area and, occasionally, state football championship.  Into this traditional warren of 50’s thinking stepped Mr. Black, a talented musician and producer of remarkable performances. He considered himself just a short distance off-Broadway—and we almost believed him.  A full production of the Mikado with grand costumes and all convinced many of us that there was more to life than main street West Mineral.

One evening Mr. Black appeared in downtown West Mineral (less than a block in length) in Bermuda shorts. That night, the school board convened and fired him.

This experience with capricious power over people’s lives is not an isolated one. Kansas had long been among the most creative states in colonizing teachers into feudal systems.  Such immoral acts by teachers as getting married stayed on the books for years; teachers unions fought for all of us to overcome political favoritism, sexual discrimination, and tyrannical administrators.

Yet, in the intervening years, since the enactment of teacher tenure in the late 50s and 60’s, unfortunately …tenure has become the coat of armour providing protection for both terrific and poor teachers. Many argue that apathy has accompanied predictability and that commitment wanes by knowing that no matter how good you are it will not improve your standard of living or your capacity to send your children to a good college. Bill Perkins at the famed and highly successful Harlem Success Academy says that success happens “when you remove three ingredients from public education: the union, big-system bureaucracy, and low expectations for disadvantaged children (NY Times, May 23, 2010).”

Times are a changing.  Tenure as we know is will soon be a thing of the past. While Florida Governor Charlie Crist recently vetoed a Florida bill to eliminate tenure; Washington, D. C. Superintendent Michelle Rhee has managed to encourage a majority of teachers to relinquish tenure for higher salaries.  Last week, Colorado Governor Ritter signed legislation modifying tenure in ways that may become a national model. This legislation calls for 50% of evaluations to depend on test scores and that tenure can we earned—then lost—after two years of low student performance.

Colorado, like other states, is running faster in the President’s “Race to the Top.” Educators can help define and shape it, or be run over by new legislation designed to remove tenure as an obstacle to student success.

I recommend that you read the New York Times magazine article today entitled “The Teachers’ Unions’ Last Stand” by Steven Brill.

Also, post your questions for me and I’ll respond to one to three each week.

More later, Linda

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Travels in Spain, II

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Bundles of bambinos, black tights, red hair, the intense drama of flamenco and tango, festivals and bullfighting, a modern country with superb highways and trains, but little English and shaky economy—all a contemporary patina embracing an extraordinary history.  Morgan and I were enthralled by the history, architecture and geography of Spain.  And, we found what we were looking for.  The origin of the vision of world evangelism and colonization, yet a time when Judaism, Islam and Christianity lived comfortably together. Perhaps the grand mosque at Cordoba is the finest example:  the greatest of mosques framing a cathedral in its bosom.  Moorish arches embracing, cuddling if you will, Christian paintings and altars.  (Intriguingly, Cordoba is once again seeking to become the cultural capitol of Europe by 2016.) While we expected to find destruction of the “pagan” or “infidel” monuments by the soldiers of the Spanish Inquisition, that is not what we found, but rather a mutual respect for the accomplishments of each culture.

Queen Isabella the first met with the young upstart Christopher Columbus in the small enclave of Santa Fe outside of Granada in 1492, where their contract was affirmed.  He was a brazen upstart, she a brilliant strategist of deep faith and clever diplomacy.  While most learned persons by that time believed that the earth was a sphere, no one had dared sail beyond the Pillars of Hercules, the western edge of Morocco. Ah, the opening of the third book in the Cairo Trilogy, currently named Taos Sunrise.

Next Monday:  the new tenure legislation in Colorado…and more on Spain.

Keep well, Linda

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Monday, April 5th, 2010

Yesterday was Easter Sunday and Christian and non-Christians alike realize that “resurrection” is a form of transformation, a topic that I discussed last week in regard to my grandson, Dylan’s, Athenian Wilderness Experience.

The question at hand was: What would an Athenian Wilderness Experience look like for teachers? Teachers who would be transformed, empowered by a system that is designed to achieve the opposite.

A few years ago, former teachers, staff and the principal, gathered for the 40th anniversary of the opening of the highly innovative Canyon high school in Castro Valley, CA.  The principal was my husband, Morgan Lambert, and it also happened to be his 75th birthday.  As teachers told their stories of the glorious moments at Canyon, several recounted a program that I, along with others, had organized: Joy of Learning.

During “Joy of Learning” week, regular classes were suspended in exchange for experiences designed around the grand passions of teachers and students.  Northern trips to the tidepools, Chinese cooking, sailing, French poetry, tennis camp, gardening, Roman history…whatever struck their fancies. Students rescheduled themselves into the experiences that attracted them the most. No grades were given; none needed.  Teachers and students learned together like peers.

Such programs could never occur in today’s rigid climate.  If it did, it might well attend to the following thoughts about the nature of transformation and adult development:

• Our work—in this case, teaching—needs to be about learning and curiosity and passion.

• Discretion and choice are prime elements in feeling alive, creative, productive.

• Teamness creates synergy.

• Learning is reciprocal; students and teachers and formal leaders are in on this adventure together.  Hierarchy dampens the soul.

• Variety in schedules and timeframe wards against tedium.

• There is no need to ignore an essential curriculum; integration is essential to learning.

Can these ideas materialize in today’s schools?  Of course they can. See Who Will Save Our Schools? (1997).  Next week…more about the writing of Cairo Diary: an Egyptian fable.

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