Monday, December 31, 2007

Daniel in India

My brother Daniel and his fiance Meena are in India now, visiting her family and shopping for their wedding. He has recently sent an update letter and a couple of the things he has said really intrigue me. One is worth sharing with you.

"There will be poor always." I think somebody famous said that. In India (from my 48 hours of exposure) there appears to be a different mentality of the poor in juxtaposition to the U.S. They are a part of life, as are the wealthy, and they must play their part in this life. There is not the mentality that they should pull themselves up by the bootstraps and make something of themselves, or that god has punished them.


There is something appealing about this mindset. He has found the opposite of what is most objectionable about American attitudes towards poverty. Absolutely, I think it's awful that so many Americans both resourced and under-resourced would agree that poverty is a punishment. And certainly, Daniel is quoting the words of Jesus correctly. I feel a little itchy with this view, though, because it feels a little conflicting with my interpretation of Christ's commandment to love others as myself. I would want to be taught how to pull myself up by my bootstraps. I would not want my place in this life to be one that required charity for survival. It's a difficult tension that I'm not sure how to resolve.

Of course this is just funny:

I have enclosed a few photos (hopefully), the first is of me touching Divinder Mama and Indu auntie's feet. They are my host's as well as my new aunt and uncle. In India you touch the feet as a sign of respect and then you receive a blessing and in some cases money (notice my left hand). I'm in the black so far on this trip because I keep touching everybody's feet, but I think that well is gonna run dry soon.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Lonesome Heart Blues



That's right. Yesterday, we had a total of 20 long-haired friends of Jesus packing a grey-toned micro-bus. Then, when we got home from the field trip, my brother Paul and his new fiance, Kimberly joined us for dinner and BINGO. All 20 of us are sleeping at my mom and dad's house these last two nights. I'm a little exhausted emotionally but this opportunity really only comes around once a year, so it's worth a little crabbiness.


It's the unfortunate irony of life that rewards the people who are closest to me with my crabbiness because they are the only people I feel comfortable being fully myself with.

I have struggled with feeling lonely this break between quarters. I hope I used that word right. When I lived on the island, my friend Elaine, who insisted upon correct grammar, answered my question about how she was by saying she was "lonesome." This brought me up short because of her straight-forward honesty and because I don't normally hear the word "lonesome" outside of country and western songs. So, now I'm always self-conscious about how I use the words out of respect for her. For those of you that are wondering, "lonely" is an adverb and is used to describe verbs and other adjectives mostly. Since I was describing a verb - feeling - I think it's correct. "Lonesome" is an adjective and should only be used to describe nouns. In the sentence, "I am lonesome," where the verb is a verb of being (am, is, was, are, etc.) the word is a predicate nominative and is describing the subject of the sentence which is a noun, and so can't be in the adverb form. Do I have this right? Help me out here people.

Regardless of grammar, I'm feeling incomplete and a little sad looking into the future to think I might always feel this way. I can be content with my crafts, my community and my god and I absolutely believe in letting partners fall into my life naturally rather than hunting them down. But that means that there are periods in my life in which it's just me against the world with occasional help from my friends and family who all have partners of their own.

Now is one of those times. I'm not dating anyone and my single girlfriends live far away or have grown away from me. So, right now, there is no one for whom I am their #1 friend and he or she is my #1 friend. It makes me feel lonely even when surrounded by at least 18 people who absolutely love me. I've watched several movies lately (Stranger Than Fiction, Juno, etc.) that make me feel good but also put into words that there IS someone out there who thinks the "sun shines out my asshole" whether I'm cranky or jubilant and I know that person is worth waiting for. But in these times of feeling incomplete - when I have to push myself into participating with my family because family is the most important thing in a partner-less person's life plus I'm going to be distracted from my empty feelings for half an hour while we play Fox and Geese in the lopsided circle that my cousin Jake created in the snow - in these times, I can't wait to meet that person.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Stranger Than Fiction

I just finished watching Stranger Than Fiction and the world is a much better place. The music over the credits is still playing as I type this.

I have the same feeling that I had watching Amelie.

Clutching the blanket up to my chin with a grin of delight the entire time and laughing out loud even though I'm here by myself.

It feels a little bit like every event of my life up to this point was designed to contribute to my enjoyment of this movie.

I also had the experience that I've only ever had once before, in which I was entrapped by the opening scenes and stayed entranced throughout. The only other movie that I can remember doing that to me was Vatel with Gerard Dépardieu.
(I typed "french actor with big nose" in Google to remind myself of the title of that movie and his name came up as the first entry.)

Thank you to every person who ever told me that I would like this movie and who simultaneously refrained from telling me WHY I would like it. Their very deliberateness in NOT telling me was the convincing factor in my watching it. Your obvious delight at the eventual fulfillment I would experience has been validated.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Milestones

I've been to Jo Ann Fabrics three times today.

I've spent as much money making my Christmas as I would have buying them.

I'm exhausted.

But this shit looks good.

When the glue dries, I'll take some pictures and show you what I've been working on.

I'm sorry that I haven't really caught up with you all on my school break. Break up blues and the therapeutic practice of crafting have taken most of my energy.

I'm feeling good, though. On Thursday night, after 9 hours of creative work at my coffee table in the soft light of the Christmas tree listening to my ever-growing iTunes "Best of Rebecca" playlist, I spent 40 minutes following my yoga DVD before I went to bed.

picture credit
For the first time in my life, I got my heels down to the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward dog).

Pause for applause.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I had brain surgery; be patient with me

Seriously.

You have to check this out.

This woman had brain surgery and made a gorgeous piece of art out of the experience. It's totally worth taking the time to look at the piece and to read her story.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Apple for the teacher

Listening to the radio today, I heard the best suggestion that I've heard since someone told me that marshmallow fluff tasted good with peanut butter.

If you have a school-aged child, instead of giving his or her teacher some cheap-o spa kit from Walgreens or some stinky candle, write a letter of appreciation.

I would add, be specific. If you particularly like that your child's teacher does experiential learning instead of lots of worksheets, say so and cite a particular lesson that your child came home talking about.

My own experience as a teacher has some really ugly moments with parents. Several times I had to respond to parents who wanted to know why their child wasn't getting an A in an Honors class that the parent had waived the child into over her other teacher's objections. "But she works so hard!" I was called into my department chair's office to explain something that a parent had gone over my head to my boss about. 7 times out of 8, it was regarding something that never happened but the parent never thought to doubt their darling child's interpretation. Occasionally, parents would call the principal directly. Have these people never heard of a chain of command? They had to go directly to the big boss without letting me explain myself first? Every evaluation that has every been written about me describes my methods as exemplary and uses phrases like -I swear to God - "We are lucky to have a teacher like Rebecca."

My mother is currently embroiled in strife because the parents of 2 or 3 students have nothing better to do than call the superintendent of the district because they think that 4 movies in a semester of 7th grade social studies is too many. Really? My mom has a bachelors degree in Education, a masters degree in Teaching and Learning and over 30 hours of post-graduate classes in Education. She's raised 4 children and taught junior high for over 10 years. But these parents feel qualified to judge her pedagogical methods as bad? To the person who runs the entire district? Without ever asking her why she felt like those videos were appropriate in the first place?

I taught 150 kids a year. My mother has around 100 kids. That means that 95% or more of parents are at least indifferent to the way we teach. I bet a fair number more than 5% actually like us as teachers. How much better would we feel if that 5% made as much effort as the 5% that don't like us to tell both us and our bosses that their children's lives are better for spending 50 minutes a day in our class.

If you don't have school-aged children, mention this idea to those friends of yours who do. It will make Christmas a more beautiful time for a whole lot of people.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Worthy Profession

So, I'm done with finals. So far, I've gotten a 91% on my Microeconomics exam and a 89% on my Statistics exam. That's before the curve, people.

I'll pause for the cheering to die down.

Props go to my friends, who argue amongst themselves while I wander around the apartment like some kind of caged animal, listening to them and gaining understanding.

I'm an auditory learner.

So, anyway, while we were studying at Jennie's house, we all distracted ourselves playing with her new kitten by shining a laser pointer in front of it and then moving the laser pointer around so the kitten would stalk and pounce on it. Zissou never caught on that the little red pinpoint couldn't be caught (although he did refrain from the pounce when the light fell on the much larger adult cat, Sherman) and we never lost interest in the game, either.

The evening after our last final, Jennie had left Mike's apartment to take the bus up to her house to pick up her luggage, get on the train and fly out to Hawaii. She called me when she stopped in the middle leg of the journey to tell me the following story:

She was sitting on the bus watching two young teenagers who were sitting on benches facing one another. They were friends but one of them had some sort of hand-held game that he was focused on. The other one amused himself by shining a laser pointer all over the gamer without the gamer ever noticing. Apparently, this cracked his shit up. It also cracked Jennie's shit up. She could barely get her description of his obvious delight that his friend never noticed being painted with red light. I loved the story and in an attempt to elongate the joy of hearing the story and knowing a little bit about teenagers, I asked, "And did this go on for like 10 minutes?"

"Twenty! All the way home!"

Perfect.

Jennie knew I'd love this story because earlier that morning, I had told her my own public transportation story. While riding the train downtown to get to our study session, I stood facing a woman in her early twenties sitting on the bench facing the aisle. In the bench behind hers facing forward was a man in his early twenties. He seemed particularly perky for 7:30 in the morning. Pleased with himself, even. As the trip progressed, in was clear that they knew each other. She would lean into him and whisper something. His energetic response would elicit eye rolls yet she continued to lean into him. It became clear that staying over at her house and riding into the Loop on the El together was a new thing that pleased him to no end. Nothing else would explain his total lack of sullenness. As we neared my stop, he caught my eye. Keeping my headphones one, I smiled and looked. He was holding her hand and playing with her verylong nails that had a variety of designs painted all over them. He pointed to one of her nails and when I looked at it, the word, "Steve" was written on it in yellow paint. He then pointed at himself with a giant look of enthusiasm on his face, mouthing the words in an exaggerated way, "That's me!" He then pumped his fists in triumph.

I looked him in the eyes, laughed heartily and got off the train. He laughed more and she rolled her eyes in such a way that belied her own delight at getting to spend time with him.

As Jennie was getting off the bus, the kid accidentally hit her with the laser pointer and apologized profusely. She smiled and said, "Do you do this all day to your teachers?"

"Yeah."

I'm not sure why I left teaching in order to end up going back to school.

Regardless, my test seem to indicate that the effort has been worth it.

Friday, November 30, 2007

When I Grow Up

In 25 minutes I will take my first final exam as a Master's cadidate at the University of Chicago.

What!?! Why are you on Blogger? Shouldn't you be studying?

Possibly.

But I can't stuff any more in and it's an open book test about statistics so there is no possibility for blanking.

Plus, the atmosphere around here is a little caustic so looking busy avoids other people's nerves and the resultant lack of social grace, my own included.

Yesterday, I met with the Director of Career Services about my future. It was a helpful meeting and by far, the best news to come out of it was that I have now been in the working world long enough to merit a 2-page resume.

Thank the good Lord.

Bullet points, here I come. (Those of you who are regular readers might guess that with space constraints, it's possible that my resume is currently full of grammatical correct but slightly long sentences to take advantage of the white space on the right side of the page.)

Woohoo!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Postsecret

Frank has done a nice job of creating a fad amongst Postsecret participants. In conjunction with the release of the new book, A Lifetime of Secrets, he has told several stories about people leaving their secrets in books at the store or finding secrets in the books they buy. I have been very taken with the idea and have been meaning to buy a copy because I am somewhat smitten with the humanity involved in reading the secrets of others.

For those of you not yet in the know, Postsecret was created by Frank as an art project in which people send postcards of their own design, telling a secret that they can't tell anyone else. Every week he posts about 20 of them. This is my favorite from this last week.Check out a new set every Sunday at www.postsecret.blogspot.com

Although I have toyed with creating postcards for a couple of my secrets, yesterday I felt the internal need to create one for an entirely new secret that I didn't even know I had. My execution was fairly artless and definitely phrased in a chunky clunky way. I think my utter lack of an attempt to make it attractive for publication and it's urgency are definitely correlated. I considered sending it in to Frank but instead realized that I had an hour to get to the bookstore before church started in addition to having a gift certificate that my co-workers had given me when I left my job to start grad school.

So, I checked all the books that were in the store for hidden secrets and was disappointed to find none. However, I placed mine in one of the books and took another downstairs to buy it. I am intrigued by the nervous feeling that I had leaving my secret behind for a stranger to find. It really is a secret. I'm embarrassed by it so I don't tell people. And I had the physical feeling of nervous adrenaline pouring into my chest as I left the store.

I wish I could tell you that it is liberating. I wish I could tell you that I've done something so that I'm no longer ashamed of myself, especially because the shame is only just minor enough to keep it a secret. It's only slightly worse than when I used to tell people that I had donated the long hair I cut off when really I had dropped the ponytail while holding it up for the self-timer on the camera, this rendering the donation tangled and unusable.

But I can't. The secret still sits in my chest. I'm glad I put it out there and I'm interested to look at my own reaction to doing so. But that's all it is right now. I'll keep you updated if there's any change, though.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Trying Not To Be Boneheads

I'm not sure if I have mentioned this before, but I have been fortunate enough to be offered the facilitator's position to begin and run gatherings of a city branch of the up/rooted cohort, which is basically a monthly meeting of any folks that need to bounce themselves off of other folks who are trying to figure out how to follow Jesus (or just what they think about him) when they don't feel comfortable in traditional churches.

This month's meeting of up/rooted.city was definitely a balm for my soul. I had spent the day cranky and living inside my head, replaying angry thoughts and worrying about the future. However, once I arrived at Wicker Park Grace, I was pulled out of my head because the other folks that were there invited me into their hearts as they told their stories.

Twelve of us shared apples, celery, caramel sauce, peanut butter and apple juice for a little over two hours as we talked. Four of us had attended the first meeting but eight of us were brand new to the gathering and the new dynamic was interesting and good. I liked hearing that all of the attendees were brought to the meeting through the internet somehow and that many folks were meeting with each other independently for lunch.

The long-distance award goes to Bill, Helen's dad, who came all the way from Oxford, England to meet with us. Bill said many interesting things, but I was most intrigued by the logic of one of his statements. He pointed out that since church attendance is so much higher in the US than in the UK, it's reasonable to assume that Christians have a fair amount of influence on the policy that the US makes. He then talked a little bit about our continued use of capital punishment, which he believes is barbaric. He pointed out that capital punishment must have the support of Christians in the US since we are such a large majority and he questioned how that could be when God commands us to have mercy as we have been shown mercy. His voice was an intriguing addition to the group.

The group included an atheist, an almost atheist, an agnostic, a former neo-gnostic, a couple of pastors, former and current evangelicals, former and current mainline protestants, and folks who are still looking for a way to describe their faiths. Beautifully, all of us are actively examining ourselves and the world for God. Over the course of the evening, we built trust with each other, telling stories and asking questions. I particularly appreciated Helen's good questions. We talked about literalism in biblical interpretation, the use of Christian music in schools as an art form, manipulation as evangelism, the teaching of some churches that "doubt is bad" and the funding of church plants, in addition to other topics.

The best question asked, in my mind, came from Steve, the self-proclaimed "atheist husband" of Lainie, who asked, "Wouldn't it be a more enjoyable world to live in if the Christian message that was heard came from Christians who weren't boneheads?"

Amen, brother. I think that's probably something everyone can get behind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Hogwarts

I took this picture with my phone from the bench I sat on this afternoon.


I'm not feeling well. I haven't been for a little over a week. It's this low-grade something. I have a sore throat that moved into my chest today. It's more annoying than anything else and what's most annoying is that I'm so tired all the time. All my free time gets spent on the couch or longing for the couch.

So, I spent some free time while I had to be on campus on a 60 degree day in November sitting on a bench by the botany pond. I'm sharing it with you because I'm so tickled to be attending a university that looks like what a university should look like.

All collegiate and shit.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Compromise, compromise, compromise

Two Tuesdays ago it was a bumpity morning. From the moment I stepped out of the front door, I was stepping on feet, knocking my backpack into people, and hitting a girl in the face with the backswing of my arm as I walked up the steps to the El platform. So, when I topped the steps and saw the accumulation of travelers that indicated that a train hadn’t come in awhile and would be really full when it got there, my eyes glazed over and I crept inside myself in defeat. As the train approached, I queued up to board using the second door of the penultimate car, like always. It’s always a gamble to guess exactly where the roulette ball that is a train door will stop but on the days that I win and those double doors slide open with me centered exactly in front of them, the internal payoff of feeling victorious is fantastic. Tuesday was not one of those days. So, other people got the first chance to board the crowded train and as it got to be my turn, I realized that I would have to push to get in. Unlike the Japanese, we have no uniformed white-gloved attendants to pack us in like sardines. After the havoc I had already inflicted on my fellow commuters, I decided I’d wait for the next train. Just as I had resigned myself to this scenario and had begun congratulating myself for my moral high-ground self-sacrifice to assuage the internal payoff of feeling defeated, a man about my age rushed up, angled in front of me and made to mount the train. I had my headphones in, so I think my dismissive inside thought was accidentally audible: "cute." Whether he heard me or not, he swept me up in his embarkation, placing a hand firmly on my backpack, his momentum forcing space on the train for both of us. My whole countenance changed and I thanked him. I loved the world again and my clunky place in it. I loved the smell of everyone's shampoo and the metaphor suggested by the fact that with so many people on the train, I didn't actually need to hold on to keep from falling.

Now, I know a lot of people who don't like the old gender expectations of gallantry for men and subsequent helplessness for women. I agree with them wholeheartedly. When either gender does not have the choice to live the most fulfilling life possible - either because options aren't available or because available options never occur to them because society keeps their thoughts in the box - then our societal experience is sub-optimal. But often I'm comforted when a man's actions communicate with confidence, "Relax. I've got this one." My feminist brain and heart have learned to accommodate this visceral response by assuring themselves, "That doesn't mean he has to get it every time. I'll get it next time."

I don't think that's an unreasonable compromise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Gods Aren't Angry Tour

My brothers don't go to church.

Interestingly, though, when they do go to church, they have very specific expectations for what happens when we get there. There are specific rituals and songs that they want to sing. Since it is usually Christmas or Easter when they plunk their skinny little asses into the pews, their desires are often met. That's right, my brothers are Creasters. Creasters are folks who only come to church on Christmas and Easter, usually tagging along with family members (parents) who go more regularly but often independently out of some vague sense like my brothers' that there are certain rituals that need to be attended to on a somewhat yearly basis. I think there are other people that show up out of curiosity or yearning and the fact that the country recognizes the holidays gives them a push to explore. Actually, I shouldn't speculate. There is probably a rich complexity of reasons why people can be classified as Creasters. I'm a little intrigued by it.

So, anyway, my brother Daniel believes that the pastor who preaches on both Easter and Christmas should only preach on one topic: the Good News. When Daniel wants the pastor to preach the Good News, he means the good news that "No matter what you've done, God loves you. See, he sent his son to die for you." He gets very upset if a pastor tries to get fancy and preach on some other topic, like the history of Easter celebrations or the four women in Jesus' lineage. He thinks it's a waste of a church full of people for whom that message is not run-of-the-mill and familiar to the point that they require something more innovative in order not to be bored by hearing the same thing again and again. It is a waste of an opportunity to tell people who don't know that God loves them that God loves them.

This is a man who doesn't go to church.

He wants people to know that God loves them.

Adamantly.

Trust me, it's adamantly.

He wants people to know that God loves them.

So, a search of my blog will indicate that I've been pretty attentive to Rob Bell over the last year or so. OnMonday, I went to hear him speak when he came to town on his The Gods Aren't Angry Tour. The tagline for this talk is "Part anthropology, part history, part deconstruction - this is new material that Rob hasn't taught before, exploring how humans invented religion to make themselves feel better." From that, I expected a somewhat academic lecture (that's the report about how his last tour went) aimed at a mixed audience of Christians and any non-Christian co-workers they could arm-twist into coming. Certainly, I tried to get some of my secular friends to come with because I felt like I could assure them that it wouldn't be a bait-and-switch. I trust Rob to give them the freedom to think about what he said without trying to scare them into conversion. Unfortunately, we have a mid-term tomorrow so none of my school friends could come and another friend is two centimeters dilated and could give birth today or two weeks from now.

I suppose this is a reasonable place to talk about how I feel about evangelism.

Generally, I'm against it.

The Christian community has made such disgusting historical display of evangelism and the almost inevitable prostelytization that I would prefer to sacrifice it altogether than risk the harm it can cause to even a few people. Now, this is easier for me to say because I don't think the afterlife is the payoff for spiritual people. But, I know that there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with my priorities because eternity seems like such a long time and I really respect a lot of those people. Bob Lupton responds to this better than I ever could in his book, And You Call Yourself a Christian: Toward Responsible Charity:
"Do you believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell?" one sharp young theology student retorted. I knew the rationale behind his question. If you believe that either eternal bliss or eternal damnation await every person after death, then the most loving act is to present the truth of the Gospel to as many people as possible and thus save them from everylasting destruction.

It's a compelling argument. The problem, of course, is that it leads to viewing others as souls instead of people. And when we opt for rescuing souls over loving neighbors, compassionate acts can soon degenerate into evagelism techniques. Pressing human needs depreciate in importance, and the spirit becomes the only thing worth caring about. Thus, the powerful leaven of unconditional, sacrificial love is diminished in society and the wounded are left lying beside the road."

My church interacts a lot with people who have been wounded by sometimes well-meaning Christians who saw them as a soul rather than a person or who were just looking to add to the notches on their batismal fonts or who counted how many people showed up on Sunday morning rather than whether the people that showed up were getting closer to Jesus. (Yay to Bill Hybels, by the way, for addressing that last particularly difficult problem in his own church.) Spencer Burke talks about those folks as being innoculated against Jesus by being exposed to only a token amount of Christianity injected by an often cold and sharp needle. Often, what they hear from the evangelism message is that Jesus will only love them if they change to be more like the Christians in that particular church. That is not the Good News. So, if the evangelists' goal is to save souls, their work is counter-productive in a huge percentage of cases.

However, there are a lot of people out there who are lonely. Who believe they are worthless. Who want to talk to God but flinch because of the previous times the Church has slapped them. They are leading the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau talked about.

I want them to know that God loves them.

I don't care if they go to my church.

I don't care if they call themselves Christian.

I don't care if they say the magic words and get baptized.

I care that they have a community.

I care that they believe that they are valuable.

I care that they be able to talk to God when they need to.

I want for them life in all its fullness and I don't care how they find that.

So, although I don't evangelize, I do talk about God a lot and I talk about going to church and I tell people that they are always welcome to come with me and I invite them to go see Rob Bell. Because I think I have found ones of the ways to have life in all its fullness and if my machete-hacking through the jungle of experience that has been my life makes someone else's life a little easier, I shall not have lived in vain, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson. I also usually tell them that I believe they're going to Heaven no matter what, so they should feel free to refuse or accept my offers without worrying about how it will affect our friendship. I hope I'm treating them like people and not like souls to be bartered and traded by doing this.

So, enough with the aside about evangelism. I was talking about Rob Bell. And my brother's expectations as a Creaster. And my desire for all people to know that they are valuable enough to be loved.

I wish that more lonely, anxious people had been there because it was a slam-dunk Easter sermon.

Now, I could be wrong. But the Vic certainly looked like it was full of young, hip Christians, many of whom I knew and myself included. The theater seemed to hold the proverbial choir that was being preached to.

It's a weird feeling. I don't want Rob or this emerging church movement to become a Billy Graham tent revival, but he speaks so eloquently, and with such respect for the humanity and intelligence of his audience that it's like I feel the reverse of my brother's Easter morning disappointment. Instead of the pastor missing an opportunity to look people in need in the eyes and to tell them without doubt that God loves them, I feel like people in need missed an opportunity to have their eyes looked into because all the seats were taken by folks who didn't know their seat would be better sacrificed to someone else.

Although I didn't realize it until now, I guess my response to that has been to talk about it a lot. You know, "I went to see this cool speaker last night." It's created some interesting conversations with folks, especially over the drinks we needed after our last mid-term. I suppose hearing the Good News from a friend while putting back a Long Island Iced Tea (yuck) is probably better than hearing from stranger who just seems like any other televangelist on the surface except for the funky glasses and allusion to Gordon Gano (which absolutely flopped, pretty much proving my hip young Christian theory). "I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record." Perfect rhythm and and inflection.

I can only hope to be so cool.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I like. . .

From my journal:

I like the pattern of my days. I like coming to campus, seeing my new friends, making plans with them after class for study groups or coffee now or later. I like that I do almost no homework but reading by myself. I like going to class and fighting sleep in the hard ones or taking rapt notes in the interesting ones and the ones that go along at exactly a pace that I can stroll alongside. I like sitting with my friends in class or the library and fending off their hijinks so I can concentrate. (I have begun writing on Mike’s skin to keep him from writing in my notebook.) I like sitting next to Jake in the gothic library (which he called a cathedral for books when we first saw it), wanting to cuddle up against him while I read but not being able to. I like being girly girls with Tabitha. I like that our circle is getting wider naturally, pulling in Snapper and Jennie. I like being outside in the unseasonably warm fall. Right at this moment, the light is gorgeous. It’s mid-morning and there were storms earlier and there are storms to come. The trees are green and yellow. The sky is blue and grey with that certain storm filter over the lens that makes everything look a little surreal. From the bench where I sit, all I can see is lovely landscaping and sidewalks with classic lightposts. The ask leaves gets blown off the trees and stay suspended in the air like yellow glitter in a lush snowglobe. Off about 50 feet is a perfect cinematic moment: framed with trees in the upper right corner and shrubbery in the lower left, a giant green copper statue of some guy I don’t know stands very high on a pedestle. Linne. I love statues of people I don’t know. I’m fascinated that with all of the people that I think might be worth a statue, that guy is someone who was never mentioned in a history book. He evokes not even a glimmer of recognition. He doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Yet, someone revered him or learned from him or was grateful enough to him to spend what had to be a lot of money hiring an artist to create a unique, gigantic likeness of him. It certainly drives home the lesson that our impact on this world as individuals will be forgotten eventually. But it gives me hope that my ripple effect will continue on much longer, as is most likely true for Mr. Green Anonymous up there. He affected someone else with his actions or thoughts or kindness or nobility or sacrifice or study to the point that a statue of him was commissioned. That’s got to be a pretty big rock in the pool and means that his life wasn’t in vain, even if only his name and likeness is remembered only on this one statue. Elsewhere on campus is a little plaque set into the ground that reads something like, “On this spot in the spring of 1938, Muriel Fantus Fulton and Maurice F. Fulton met as students of the college.” I like that. I showed it to my friend Mike and because he’s a guy he said, “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that our ripple effect can cause ponds to overflow their banks and join with other ponds. The architect who laid out that sidewalk never knew that two people would meet for the first time and eventually spend the rest of their lives together on it. I picture them: Muriel and Maurice Fulton. I can see them simultaneously as the cute old married couple and the young under-grads at the end of the Depression. My picture is all wrong in any number of ways. But it is important because it is like the statue of the unknown 16th-century-looking-guy. I don’t know Mark and Mabel but I’ve got a good idea what their story is. It’s the same story as thousands of people around the world every day: they fell in love and then tried to stay that way. Just like I want to affect other people through my actions or thoughts or kindness or nobility or sacrifice or study, I want to fall in love and try to stay there. Those are goals worth monuments and I’m glad they exist as part of the pattern of life right now.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

She'll make her way.



I used this image for my Evite and I'm a little frightened at how well their graphic design department has my style aesthetic pegged. I guess I'm a little whimsical and different just like everybody else.

Anyway, I turned 30 on Thursday. It was there on my to-do list right between "coordinate the next up/rooted meeting" and "laundry."

I have to say it feels pretty good. I felt sparkly all day on Thursday and still feel pretty good today.

I woke up naturally around 5:30 and spent about an hour luxuriating in bed, which is my favorite thing to do of all time. I can never remember what time I was born but when I talked to my mom, she reminded me by pointing out that she didn't call at 5:30. I got out of bed, put on my red, maroon, black and lime green striped tights with my sexy black pencil skirt and a demure black 3/4 length cardigan. I know I'm in big dork school because I answered a question about the outfit by saying that bright colors were a function of my birthday. And it's true. I've always wanted to wear rainbows on my birthday as a teenager and an adult. My father called a little before 8:00 and told me that about that time 30 years earlier, he had pulled off the expressway at the Dempster exit to call my grandmother and tell her that she had a beautiful granddaughter. He did not cry. However, when I called my mother at work and left a voice mail for her thanking her for going through the trouble and inconvenience of my birth, I got to the end of telling her that the effort was worth it because it's been a pretty good 30 years overall, I cried. I guess I am definitely my father's daughter.

I bopped through the rest of the morning and as the bus pulled up to school, Natalie Merchant's "Wonder" rotated into my iPod. I love this song. Especially on my birthday morning, I felt like she was singing with my mouth. Her description of the miracle of birth for every child gives me a deep feeling of joy and I recognize the feeling of being special just like everyone else as absolute truth.


Doctors have come from distant cities just to see me. Stand over my bed, disbelieving what they're seeing.

They say I must be one of the wonders of god's own creation. And as far as they can see they can offer no explanation.

O, I believe Fate smiled and Destiny laughed as she came to my cradle, "Know this child will be able." Laughed as she came to my mother, "Know this child will not suffer." Laughed as my body she lifted, "Know this child will be gifted with love, with patience and with faith. She'll make her way."


With love, with patience and with faith.

Now, goodness knows that I have not always been the most patient of people. But people have been patient with me. And that is a gift greater than almost any of the others because it gave me room to grow without having too much of my growth clipped off by overzealous gardeners.

Anyway, class was good. My friends didn't show up until 5 minutes before class so there was no one to shout "Happy Birthday!" as I sat there but they more than made up for it once they got there. In the TA session for econ later in the afternoon, I turned a corner and it no longer sounded like a foreign language. Maybe it was because this was the 4th or 5th time I've seen the material or maybe it was cute and nerdy Yuri the TA who carries his own colored chalk in his backpack to illustrate the optimal consumer bundle on the budget constraint. Regardless, right now, econ no longer scares and does not leave me in a puddle of despair. I will still have to work my ass off to pass my mid-term, but it's no longer impossible to do so. After that, I had a great meeting with my mentor with some really hopeful implications for my professional future.

Then, on to my friend Jake's condo for aforementioned Evited party. About 15 of my friends from all different aspects of my life showed up for Lou Malnati's pizza and Coca-Cola. Because it was my party, there was no diet Coke and no mushrooms. I loved it. My friends don't tend to know many of the others. There were a couple from junior high, one from college, one from my first teaching job, several from my last church, one guy that I went on three dates with off Match.com but decided we'd be better friends, my brother Daniel, and my friends from school. I love it that they're all willing to just put themselves out there and ask each other how they know me, then let the conversation go from there. It was delightful to be able to just bop around conversations.

Erika brought me a rediculous crown that said, "Birthday Princess" that I wore all night. It had pink tinsel and was totally awesome. Shiny pink zebra stripes was certainly a reflection of how good I feel being thirty. As I said in the invitation: "My 20s were slightly tumultuous but also full of joy and learning. I'll be happy to leave them behind and see what my 30s bring me. Join me in saying hello to them,will you?"

I extend the same invitation to you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Please pray for Pastor Daniel

This morning I got a phone call from my dad. He told me that he had received an email telling him that the pastor of my old church, Daniel Hill, had been in a car accident last night and is currently struggling with short term memory loss.

Please pray for Pastor Daniel. He is one of God's childrens like we all are. Also, he's a good man with a good vision and an amazing talent for preaching. I like him quite a bit and I hate to imagine how he and his wife must be feeling right now.

My main sense of identity involves my intelligence. The thought of losing any part of my brain function scares the hell out of me. I worry that I won't be myself any longer. I am praying that Pastor Daniel won't be as scared as I would be. He once said that a major step toward racial reconciliation is taking your identity out of your race and putting it into Jesus. I think his words also apply to anything else we identify with: if I think of myself as a child of God first and a smart girl second, I have nothing to fear. Still, I'm human and so is he. So, I pray for him that he will not fear.

Please consider doing so, as well.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mary Lena Gets Married!

So, my cousin Mary Lena got married last weekend in Danville, where my family line originates. My immediate family drove down there and my extended family also came out. It was a gorgeous fall weekend and I had a really nice time just being with them and being put to work wherever I could be helpful.
Here's Mary with her new husband Ed and our Great Aunt Emma.

My brother Daniel turned out in his hot pink ruffled tuxedo shirt with his natty pin-striped suit and white belt. Notice my mother's rhinestone glasses. I believe that the appropriate cliche involved apples and trees.

My brothers Paul (on the left) and David (in the center) also made the drive down. Kimberly, Paul's girlfriend, was lovely and gracious in sitting with the two knuckleheads.

My father has a history of callng my cousins at important milestones in their lives to congratulate them and dissolving into tears by the end of the voice mail. They promptly call each other and share the messages, much to his chagrin. So, I thought that I'd document the visual for Mary of what he looks like while doing this.

Of course, the reason that they subject him to such ridicule is that he will do things like insert himself and my Uncle Kim in the front of the church during pictures because he's certain that the photographer wants one of them, too.

Two of these cousins are that my father dotes on are Megan and Eva. They had the difficult task of lighting the candles before the ceremony started. I'm afraid I disturbed some of the guests with my uninhibited laughter caused by Eva blowing out her lighter and being unable to get it lit again. Seriously, what's a family wedding without laughter?

Here is the talented and beautiful duo as they return from their daunting journey.

Finally, I wanted to share with you the picture that my purse took of me. I'm very glad that I had no boogers and pleased that the slight curve of cleavage showing looks pretty damn good.

Thanks for getting married, Mary. It was all sorts of fun.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Birthdays!

So, my birthday is coming up and since I know that I have abandoned you recently, I thought I would share a birthday-themed photo.

This is my younger brother Daniel's third birthday party. I know my bad grandma took the picture because it's a polaroid and she always had a polaroid. It's a good thing she did and that she disowned us several years ago and signalled aforementioned disowning by sending us all the pictures in her archive that she didn't want any more. Otherwise, I wouldn't have pictures like this that look like they belong in the pages on Gourmet magazine.

I'd like you to notice Daniel's adorable little overalls and my pixie hair cut. I used to think I looked like a boy but I think my mom made a pretty good choice for this particular five-year-old.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

SMRT, I mean S-M-A-R-T

So, I've been ignoring you and I'm sorry.

It's not you.

It's me,

If it makes you feel any better, the fruits of your neglect are that I can now tell you what the following means:


I can also talk about game theory and externalities and indifference curves and and null hypotheses and what feels like a zillion other new things.

In this post I feel pretty smart but in general, I feel pretty dumb. I'm so out of my league. I believe that I will grow to full-sized so that at some point I won't feel like a t-ball player in a little league game, panicking because a ball is actually barreling toward my face. However, until that time, most of Intermediate Microeconomics (see homework assignment above) will feel like a foreign language the first time I encounter any of it.

Right now I'm at the Christian Community Development Association conference with my mom and dad. With free wireless between good speakers, I'll try to catch you up with what's going on here in this grad student's life.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Eat your heart out


0%-10% chance of precipitation + a high of 69 degrees = new boots!



Thanks, Paolo Nutini, for giving us the words to express this feeling in song.

Woke up cold one Tuesday,
I'm looking tired and feeling quite sick,
I felt like there was something missing in my day to day life,
So I quickly opened the wardrobe,
Pulled out some jeans and a T-Shirt that seemed clean,
Topped it off with a pair of old shoes,
That were ripped around the seams,
And I thought these shoes just don't suit me.

[CHORUS:]
Hey, I put some new shoes on,
And suddenly everything is right,
I said, hey, I put some new shoes on and everybody's smiling,
It's so inviting,
Oh, short on money,
But long on time,
Slowly strolling in the sweet sunshine,
And I'm running late,
And I don't need an excuse,
'cause I'm wearing my brand new shoes.

Woke up late one Thursday,
And I'm seeing stars as I'm rubbing my eyes,
And I felt like there were two days missing,
As I focused on the time,
And I made my way to the kitchen,
But I had to stop from the shock of what I found,
A room full of all off my friends dancing round and round,
And I thought hello new shoes,
Bye bye them blues.

[CHORUS]

Take me wandering through these streets,
Where bright lights and angels meet,
Stone to stone they take me on,
I'm walking to the break of dawn. [x2]

[CHORUS (x2)]

Take me wandering through these streets


*****UPDATE*****
I put on my iPod Shuffle (thanks, Paul) while making breakfast after posting about my boots to see if Mr. Nutini's song might come up. It didn't but the Shuffle seemed to know what a good morning I was having because it played for me:
"Sly" by Cat Empire
"Band of Gold" by Freda Payne
"Box of Rain" by the Grateful Dead
"Slip, Sliding Away" by Paul Simon
"I Ain't Never Heard You Play No Blues" by Steve Goodman
"Loves Me Like A Rock" by Paul Simon
and
"Birdhouse in Your Soul" by They Might Be Giants.

Seriously.

Seriously.

I've got nothing against Ellen DeGenerous but I'm a little bummed that she now has to dominate any conversation about the desire to dance through your day. I mean, what else is there to say once Ellen's enthusiasm and ridiculousness have become household images?

That breakfast was the most fun (funnest sounds better) eggs on mayonnaise toast that I think I've ever prepared and eaten.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Politically correct

The activities during my week of orientation were mostly dull, as expected. The ubiquitous seminar on sexual harassment complete with skit, the lecture on academic honesty, the mandatory team building exercises with towers made of spaghetti and marshmallows. However, unlike orientations for my teaching jobs, this week did not involve a video of blood-borne pathogens and the correct use of a body fluid clean-up kit.

However, my orientation also included a keynote address, called "The Aims of Public Policy," from Kerwin Charles, a member of the faculty at the Harris School. He reminded us that amidst all of the tedium of statistics, correct citations and unwanted sexual advances, we had chosen the Harris School because we wanted to change the world. He was able to communicate earnestness and acknowledge the rediculousness of the idealism all at the same time. It was the type of address that made me want to sign up for every single one of his classes, and it's lucky for me that his specialty is educational policy and the policy of poverty and inequality: the two "areas of focus" I intend to explore.

Towards the beginning of the address, he stumbled a little in describing the hypothetical policy student as a he, she, he and she or a s/he. He'd start one way, re-think and go another way. What I like is that he settled on simply referring to the grad student we were all supposed to relate to in his examples as "she."

I have been reading David Foster Wallace's Consider the Lobster, a collection of essays that was loaned to me by my new friend Mike after we talked about the intricacies of teaching African American students traditional English. Regarding the great feminine/masculine pronoun debate, he writes in his essay entitled "Authority and American Usage":
For another thing, the very language in which today's socialist, feminist, minority, gay, and environmental movements frame their sides of political debates is informed by the . . . belief that traditional English is conceived and perpetuated by Priveliged WASP Males* and is thus inherently capitalist, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, elitist: unfair. Think Ebonics. Think Proposition 227. Think of the involved contortions people undergo to avoid using he as a generic pronoun, or of the tense, deliberate way white males now adjust their vocabularies around non-w.m.'s.

The footnote indicated by the asterisk reads, "(which is in fact true)."

I've always been a little blase about the whole thing. Usually, I think people are making a little too much of a fuss but I'll go along with inclusive language because it's probably better for the world. I usually sing old hymns with old male pronouns because that's how I learned them. In my writing, I'll usually use the feminine for the first hypothetical and the masculine for the second hypothetical.

But Professor Charles settled on a consistent feminine. Then he said, "She is resolute and brave and indomitable," when describing the characteristics necessary in good public policy students.

She is resolute and brave and indomitable.

That's me! Or, at least, that's who I am when I'm imagining myself as one of my storybook heroes. Only instead of casting spells or deciphering ancient riddles or learning to fight by pretending I'm a boy, I can be resolute and brave and indomitable while researching surveys and writing policy memos. Pretty cool, huh?

It's interesting because that sentence wouldn't have been worth writing down in my journal is he had said, "He is resolute and brave and indomitable." That's not me.

I guess that's the point the feminists have been trying to make all along.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Back of the Knees

Some strange things have been happening to me on the public transportation lately. As background, now that I'm commuting to Hyde Park, on the far south side of Chicago, I'm now in transit for 15 to 30 minutes longer than I was going to work on the west side. I don't mind it. But I get a lot of weird looks from folks when I tell them that I don't drive to school. It gives me a chance to read and to knit. Wow, man, what a bummer.

So, anyway, this morning the train stopped with such sudden force that the woman standing next to me (whose bangs I always covet) completely lost her balance and fell into the laps of two men seated on the inward facing bench. She was my age and hale, so no one felt any guilt that she was standing in the first place but her apparently physical strength made her utter vulnerability to physics seem all that more surreal.

Then, as my bus was pulling away on State St., I looked out the window to see 7 or 8 kilted bagpipers, standing at the crosswalk with their coffees and sunglasses, waiting for the light to change. As we moved forward, I saw that they were accompanied by 3 Chicago policemen that were also carrying bagpipes and from the waist up, wore the standard police uniform. However, from the waist down, they wore special police kilts. That's right, I said police kilts. They were navy blue and pleated just like regular kilts. They were worn with special police knee-high socks with the little ribbons and feathers stuck in the top hem pointing down to their feet, just like the regular bagpipers always have. Seeing the back of a classic Chicago cop's knees was even more surreal than watching my neighbor suddenly decide that those two men were so attractive, she couldn't stay away any longer.

Last night, a compact but obviously powerful man boarded the train wearing military-style black pants and boots, black gloves that buttoned at the wrist, a red beret and a white t-shirt with red lettering that said, "Guardian Angel." As the train moved, he stood by the doors, but held on with both hands gripping different poles of straps so as to take up as much space as possible. He had a well-trimmed goatee and the rest of his face was pale, smooth and slightly foreign-looking. It was an all-around attractive image in a man-in-uniform kind of way. The first time he met my eyes, I had not seen his t-shirt and so I looked away in a way that probably didn't disguise that I had been looking at him, but probably wasn't offensive either. Then, I got a look at his t-shirt and felt bad that he might feel rejected in his role as protector. The next time his head swiveled in my direction, I smiled. At the stop after the stop where he got on, he went through the adjoining doors into the next car. Once more in my commute, he got on my car again, but I was at a good part in my book, so lost my desire to engage him. I've never seena "Guardian Angel" on the El before but I felt a little warm feeling that someone was out there looking out for me. It made me feel a little special.

The final surreality of my recent public transportation career is a little creepier and Mom, you can stop reading now if you want to. On the train the other afternoon, the man next to me pretended to fall asleep and proceeded to lightly, very lightly run his finger along the underside of my thigh that was exposed from the edge of the seat to my knee. Because I thought he was asleep, because I was reading, because he had strategically placed his bag to disguise the fact that his hand was even down there and because who ever really expects the guy next to her to be feeling her up?, it took me a minute or two to identify what was going on. Even then, I wasn't sure and didn't want to make a fuss unnecessarily, thinking maybe it was the foot of the person behind me accidentally coming up from under the seat. It moved so that I no part of my body was touching his for the last stretch of time before my stop, I thought I felt it again, but still wasn't sure when the train pulled up to my stop. I said "Excuse me," to wake him (which happens all the time) but had to say it twice (which doesn't) and he woke up with this incredibly feigned startlement: "Oh, oh, I'm sorry." At that point, my suspicions were confirmed and I was very glad to get off the train.

School is going extremely well and I seem to be at the core a "group" of friends, which has never in my life happened. I've got a couple of other things that I want to share with you, but for now, the image of Chicago's finest in kilts moved itself to the forefront of stories that I wanted to tell you.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Marquita on the train

Her mother was gigantic and glared at me after she kicked my foot while boarding the bus. Waiting for the train, Marquita sat next to me on the bench. She was about 8 years old and as I sat there knitting, I realized that she smelled bad. Not horrible to the point of repelling but she definitely hadn't showered in a couple of days. She asked me about my knitting. I did not realize at that point who her mother was since her mother was standing all the way on the other side of the platform; I thought she was traveling alone. I answered her question about what I was making and when she asked about the 5 sticks I was using, I explained about knitting in a circle, also pointing out how a rectangle (like most people knit) can easily be made into a circle. She asked me who had taught me to knit and I told her that my grandmother had when I was her age but then I forgot how until recently and then I learned from a book and the internet.

When the train pulled up, I gathered up my stuff and got on. She and her mother got on the same car and even though it was totally empty except for us, her mother moved to the opposite side of the car and Marquita sat right next to me. I was vibrantly aware of the fact that it was possible that the adults in her life don't engage her questions with satsfying answers, if her mother's behavior was any indicator. We've all seen and been adults who answer questions with, "Why do you need to know that?" "I'll tell you when you're older." "Stop bothering me." "Pay attention to your food." At best, this is because the adults don't know the answer and don't realize that out-loud speculation of what the answer could be is just as valuable for the development of kids. At worst, the kids are unwanted annoyances in the adults' life.

Engaging didn't feel like a burden, but it certainly felt like a responsibility. Nothing in my life at that moment was more important than making this little neglected girl feel valued. Even the fact that I'm not usually very good at interacting with kids this age. Even the fact that I would always rather put my nose in my book on the train to make the time go by faster.

So, I began asking her questions. How was the start of school? Did she like her teacher? I didn't ask what her name was at first because I didn't want her mother to feel like I was being inappropriate. However, her mother never looked at us for the entire 45 minute trip.

We talked about all sorts of things. She asked me what stop I was getting off at and figured out the implications of who was going to get off the train first. Since she was getting off at Pulaski, we talked a little about Casmir Pulaski and how kids in Chicago are the only kids in the country who get a day off from school to honor him since we have so many people that live here that used to live in Poland. She was going to the public aid office with her mother. It was 1:00 in the afternoon and she told me that her mother had pulled her out of school early in order to go to the public aid office. My heart sank when she told me this. When I told her that I was going to pick up my car, she told me her mother was about to buy a car because she finally took lessons, so the car was free. I didn't want to ask a follow-up question for fear of what the answer would be. Full of responsiblity, I told her that even though I have a car, I ride the train because it's better for the environment. She asked if she could try knitting. I let her practice and she did passably well for a kid with a kid's fine motor skills. I used the cadence my grandma used. Over, under, around and through. When we passed by a construction site, I asked ehr what she thought was beng built there. She asnwered with confidence, "an office building with papers and stuff." So, I asked her what other kinds of things went in an office building. Between the two of us, we came up with papers, chairs, file cabinets, deskes [sic], computers, pencils, and pens. Then, she asked me if I could speak Spanish. I expressed regret that I hadn't learned when I was her age because it was easier to learn other languages when you're younger. Always feeling the responsibility to be the turning point in this kid's life, right? Fortunately, I snapped out of it enough to ask her if she knew Spanish. Her face lit up and turned shy in the smae moment, so I prompted her to ola me and to count. I learned that she and I are both the only girls in our families. She has 4 brothers; I have 3. I learned my first year teaching African American kids that they were always amazed to look at my family pictures and notice that my older brothers don't look like me, my younger brother or my dad. They had never considered that white families might have half-siblings in them. (Although technically, my brothers are a quarter Philipino, so they're not all white. I used to get street cred from my students for that, too.) So, feeling the responsiblity for showing this girl that our races were not all that different, I confided in her about my brothers. It took her a minute to process, but she responded in the same way my students had. She asked to try my knitting again and I let her. She wanted my phone number so that I could keep teaching her. I explained that I didn't live in her neighborhood but I bet that one of the old ladies that live by her would know how. I asked if she went to church to see if there would be old ladies there to direct her to and her facial expression of disappointment that she had to tell me she didn't, with her eyes flicking toward her mother broke my heart a little more.

Then, she asked me for change.

In the moment, I played it off as funny, asking in mock indignation, "Now, why would I give you change?" She smiled, thought about and said, "I don't know. So, I can get something for myself?" Later, when I told this story to my mother, I began sobbing as soon as I described the way she smelled. As my mother came over to where I was sitting and held me, the climax of episode came when I told her about the change.

I grieve powerfully that this little girl has grown up in a world - my world - that taught her to beg simply out of habit. How will she ever regain dignity that she never had?

Because dignity is where it all starts. Without believing that we are worth something better, we will never attempt to obtain something better for ourselves. For all her inquisitiveness and imagination, the only thing Marquita is being taught is dependence. That is a poverty that no amount of stuff can redeem.

Now, I have had a tough couple of weeks. I quit my job, started school, picked up my car from the shop 4 times only to take it back again 4 times, helped my best friend move away from our neighborhood, got a new roommate, and the man I've been seeing and I broke up our relationship. I am heartbroken and liminal and very, very tender. Maybe if I met Marquita in another week of my life, she wouldn't affect me like this. Maybe if I were still working in non-profit administration, I would simply see her as another recipient of the work I was doing and so I would see her need as necessary to my ability to fulfill Christ's commandment to clothe the naked and visit the prisoner. But this week, all I can do is grieve for her and do my best to give her 45 minutes of sunshine.

At church tonight, we sang Taize vespers and in the repetition of one of the prayers, I found resonance in this poetry:
By night we hasten in darkness to seek for the living water.
Only our thirst lights us onwards.
Only our thirst lights us onwards.

Notice that I said that I found resonance in the poetry, not inspiration. It is the middle of the night for me right now. The only thing that keeps me moving forward is my thirst for something better. Otherwise, I would take muchmuch easier paths or sleep through the darkness by being emotionally lazy. So, I suppose I thank God for my thirst. I am happier every time I come across a stream and I can only find new streams by continuing to hasten onward.

My prayer is that Marquita keeps feeling the thirst that caused her to be bold by sitting down next to a stranger and asking for love. I pray that she does not sleep through the night, sinking into apathy, drugs, despair, unhealthy sex, bitterness, or dysfunctional relationships to mask her thirst. Like the woman at the well, I hope Jesus shows up at sometime in her life, in some guise, and tells her the truth about herself so that she feels valuable for more than just 45 minutes. I hope she continues to seek for living water. She will find it even in the darkness if she lets her thirst guide her. At least, I hope that's true, for both hers and my sake.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

An Emerging Manifesto of Hope

I have just finished reading An Emerging Manifesto of Hope, which is a compilation of essays by a variety of people engaged in trying to create a new kind of church. For instance, my pastor wrote the third chapter. One of the beautiful things about the emerging church is that one truth that ties most of us together is that following God in the context of the current culture is less about everyone agreeing about what is "right" and more about having room to ask questions and to hear God's voice for ourselves. God is so big that s/he doesn't fit into anyone's box, right? So, all of these different essays create an overview of how people are thinking about church, rather than a core set of doctrines. Because of that, I found that some authors resonated with me more than others. Some topics seemed more important than others. I think it's the kind of book that everyone who reads it will come away remembering different ideas. With that in mind, I typed out the passages in the book that I underlined as particularly true. You know, those passages that - when you read them - make you think, "Damn, there is no way that I could ever say it better than that." Also, they make you think sit back in your chair with a little bit more peace in your chest because you realize that you're not the only one who has had that same experience. That, by the way, is my definition of art. Objects of creation that make us feel less alone because we know through them that some parts of human nature are universal.

So, here are the parts of the book that I consider art. I'm sure that if I read it again years from now, there would be different parts that spoke particularly to me. I'm also sure that the recurring themes in these quotes will be revealing regarding who I am and what I think is important. I'd love to get some thoughts in the comments about how these ideas affected you. Choose one quote and write a couple of sentences regarding your response. Agree? Disagree? Laugh? Cry? Why?

Mark Scandrette, "Growing Pains: The Messy and Fertile Process of Becoming"

I give you this unsolicited advice. Make your own life. Host your own emergence. Stop reading so many books and blogs. Start your own conversations, and be a caring friend. The most important conversations happen between people who have the potential to live out their story together.


Heather Kirk-Davidoff, "Meeting Jesus at the Bar: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Evangelism"

Relational evangelism is not just a change in tactic. It is a change in the reson we engage in evangelism, shifting the focus from recruitment to the cultivation of relationships that are an end in themselves, indispecsable to our spiritual journeys.

If we took these experiences seriously, we would soon realize that developing and tending to relationships are perhaps the key spiritual disciplines of many adults in their twenties and thirties (and often beyond). While we may also pray and read Scripture regularly, while we may chant with monks or do yoga or go on a silent retreat, our relationships with others give us the most insight into who God is and where God is leading us. . . And it is often through learning to love each other that we find ourselves opening to God in new and deeper ways.


Nanette Sawyer, "What Would Huckleberry Do? A Relational Ethic as the Jesus Way"

Thinking back on that pivotal interaction with my childhood minister, I believe the whole conversation missed the mark in a big way. He was defining Christian identity as assent to a list of certain beliefs, and he was defining Christian community as those people who concur with those beliefs. This didn't leave any room for questions, doubts, or growth in faith. It made community acceptance of each other completely conditional on having already arrived at a particular intellectual destination. In asking me if I was a Christian, and accepting my preteen answer, he essentially told me that I wasn't part of the community. I wasn't in; I was out. And so I found myself spiritually homeless.

I like to call it paradoxology - the glory of paradox, paradox-doxology - which takes us somewhere we wouldn't be capable of going if we thought we had everything all wrapped up, if we thought we had attained full comprehension. The commitment to embracing the paradox and resisting the impulse to categorize people (ourselves included) is one of the ways we follow Jesus into that larger mysterious reality of light and love.

If we can come together and eat and live and serve together, then we will be changed.


Carla Barnhill, "The Postmodern Parent: Shifting Paradigms for the Ultimate Act of Re-Creation"

Indeed, parenting is about more than raising children. It is about investing in our hopes for the world. It is about joining in with our Creator in the ultimate act of re-creation. It is about pointing our children toward the work God has for them and giving them the resources to do it. It is about celebrating the goodness of life with God, a life that looks more like the kingdom with every generation.


Sherry and Geoff Maddock, "An Ever-Renewed Adventured of Faith: Notes From a Community"

Paul reminds the church at Philippi that they must work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12 NIV). The language he uses here is plural. In the South we might use the word "Y'all" to get the same effect - "work out y'all's salvation." It is our contention that salvation is more than personal renewal; it is at best a collective experience.

We believe that when we live in missional ways, we discover God most intimately where we encounter other kinds of intimacy.

Many of us had to weed out the desire to wear exhaustion and busyness as badges of honor; somehow we imagined that these proved our commitment.


Thomas Malcolm Olson, "Jailhouse Faith: A Community of Jesus in an Unlikely Place"

Each time I attend, I'm struck by the posture of humility and vulnerability people willingly adopt with one another. It's contagious. There's an attitude of "I don't have it all figured out and I need your help," which seems like good theology to me. Recovery groups are the easiest, most natural way people can "bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2 NASB). The dynamic of the group becomes the catalyst for living faithful lives.

Every person needs one safe place where he or she is able to stop pretending, a place of ruthless honesty and unconditional love where no one is allowed to fly underneath the radar.


Adam Walker Cleveland, "Presbymergent: The Story of One Mainliner's Quest to Be a Loyal Radical"

One of the things I appreciate most about these friendships is the unspoken understanding that it is acceptable to question, critique and deconstruct much of what we think and believe.


Brian D. McLaren, "Church Emerging: Or Why I Still Use the Word Postmodern but with Mixed Feelings"

We are rich in resources gained at the expense of the colonized (money, technology, time, freedom) that can be used to serve them and to foster a more equitable and collaborative future.


Will Samson, "The End of Reinvention: Mission Beyond Market Adoption Cycles"

Even when explaining a very real event, such as a car crash, each person interprets the phenomenon through his or her own lens. How much more do we interpret God, a deeply metaphysical entity, through our own lenses?

It is helpful to have a common understanding of belief to which all who claim to be Christians can subscribe. But it also may be true that councils like that of Nicea set a precendent for the notion that people can be a part of the story of God through their belief in Jesus, regardless of how they act.

Individual conversion is vital and small-group involvement and church attendance are good things, but perhaps these metrics tend to be emphasized as measurements of the health of the church because they are easier to evaluate than the hard work of asking if the people who are following God in the way of Jesus are, in fact, becoming more and more conformed to the way of Jesus.


Barry Taylor, "Converting Christianity: The End and Beginning of Faith"

One thing that it does signify, almost universally, is the rejection of traditional faiths as a primary source of connection to the divine. I would argue that traditional faiths are no longer the first resource that people go to for developing and nurturing their spiritual lives. Instead, traditional faiths function more as secondary archives from which new spiritual permutations are created.

The future of faith does not lie in the declaration of certainties, but in the living out of uncertainty.

This is not a slide into relativism but a commitment to nondogmatic specificity. We can tell the gospel story without resorting to competition, exclusivism or elitism.

The concerns of religion are different from those of faith. Religion is concerned with right belief, faith with believing in the right way. This was somethng that Jesus confronted continually in his encounters with the Pharisees.

For too long we have gone out into the world to tell people what we think they ought to know rather than seeking to discover what they are interested in and where they are looking for answers.


Sally Morgenthaler, "Leadership in a Flattened World: Grassroots Culture and the Demise of the CEO Model"

. . . There is no irony here. Machine parts don't have minds or muscles to flex. They don't contribute to the process or innovate improvements. Machine parts simply do their job, which is, of course, to keep the machine functioning.
The mechanical paradigm or organization largely explains why modern church leaders are trained as CEOs, not shepherds. Sheep have their own ideas of what, where, and when they want to eat. They may not want to lie down by quiet water and go to sleep at eight. They just might want to check out the watercress down by the streambed. Or they might want to head out over the next ridge and see if there are any other flocks out there. Conveniently, machine parts don't get ideas. The just get to work, and they work according to specification.
Church members who don't comprehend this three-decade shift in leadership paradigms are frustrated that their CEO pastor is so self-absorbed. They were loking for a shepherd - albeit one with a big name and a big flock. Instead, they ended up with a "my-way-or-the-highway" autocrat - a top-down aficionado whose ecclesiastical machine whirs only to the sound of his own voice and functions tightly tightly within the parameters of his own limited vision.


Samir Selmanovic, "The Sweet Problem of Inclusiveness: Finding Our God in the Other"

This choice between accepting the name of Christ and being Christlike has been placed before millions of people in human history and today.

It is worth being reminded that Christ never proclaimed, "Christianity is here. Join it." But Christ did insist, "The kingdom of God is here. Enter it."

In the Old Testament, God repeatedly rebuked his followers for treating him as a manageable idol, someone they could actually avoid through the means of religion. Christians can conceive of things like money, sex, and power being idols. But the Christian religion itself being an idol? Certainly, if we proclaim that Chritianity itself is immune from idolatry, then we have come to believe that, finally, God has become "contained" by Christianity.

The question begs to be asked: would God who gives enough revelation for people to be judged but not enough revelation to be saved be a God worth worshipping? Never!


Dwight J. Friesen, "Orthoparadoxy: Emerging Hope for Embracing Difference"

Jesus did not announce ideas or call people to certain beliefs as much as he invited people to follow him into a way of being in the world.

The hope is not to defeat, debate, condemn, or even convert the other; rather the hope is to live reconciled with the other, not avoiding differences but seeing them as an expression of the largeness and diverse beauty of God.

Anyone with access to the internet, television, radio, and newspapers encounters more information than has been availalbe at any other time in human history, but we risk ignorance because we tend to receive information passively, relying more on experts than on our own experiences to make sense of what we take in. Talking with others is a way out of this bind.

Conversations matter because the people with whom we converse matter; thus, conversations offer a human face - created in the image of God - to what otherwise might be reduced to a abstract idea. This kind of engagement is less about knowledge and more about wisdom.

Orthoparadox theologians seek not to defend their claims as much as present the fullness of their convictions and beliefs as an act of service.

Developing a life of orthoparadoxy, which fosters relationships by allowing strong conviction to remain in dialogue and surrenders the will to exclude on the basis of those same convictions, may sound impossible. Let there beno doubt, seeing connections where we once saw difference will require nothing less than divine intervention; may it be so.


Dan Kimball, "Humble Theology: Re-exploring Doctrine While Holding On to Truth"

Yes, we have the Spirit to guide us, but even so, there are many godly, wonderful, Spirit-filled people who sincerely study and pray and ask the Spirit to guide them, yet they come to different conclusions.


Chris Erdman, "Digging up the Past: Karl Barth (the Reformed Giant) as Friend to the Emerging Church"

I wonder if that's not what many of us sense and hope for - the freedom of God and the church from the ideological captivities that make God a commodity to be bought and sold, and the church an institution that gobbles up resources, panders to cultural whims, and resists the renewing, emerging winds that feel like life to us.


Rodolpho Carrasco, "A Pund of Social Justice: Beyond Fightig for a Just Cause"

Perhaps justice, in the end, is giving a person everything that God wants for him or her to have, not just material or social goods but the quiet assurance that, "Before you were born, I knew you - and loved you. I still do."


Deborah and Ken Loyd, "Our Report Card in the Year 2057: A Reflection on Women's Rights, Poverty and Oppression"

We would like to suggest that homogeneity is the curse, rather than the poverty.


Randy Woodley, "Restoring Honor in the Land: Why the Emerging Church Can't Dodge the Issue"

An understanding of shalom has been one of the most neglected concepts in the modern church. The rendering of this word as "peace" in most translations of the Scriptures is anemic and inadequate. One should not underestimate the importance of shalom, for without this base of understanding, it is impossible to understand God or humanity.


Doug Pagitt, "This is Just the Beginning: Living Our Great-Grandchildren's History"

If our grandchildren speak of our time as characterized by a cultural niche expression of faith specially formulated for Gen-whatever, we will have left them very little. No one is 2140 will need examples of trendy cultural tricks masquerading as missional innovation.

If our grandchildren are forced to speak of our day as a time filled with those who saw faith as the prized possession of the insider with member benefits, we will have failed. If we leave a version of the gospel that is ultimately for the benefit of the faithful and not the whole world, we have missed something. Our grandchildren must be able to say about us: "They did not see themselves as end users of the gospel. Faith was not value-added living, but life-giving to all the earth."


Well, there you have it. If you made it this far, I'd definitely love to hear what your response to my abridged version of the book is. What do these writers communicate about the emerging movement that I haven't written about yet? What was new to you or reinforced to you? Or like I said above, choose one quote, copy/paste it into the comment section and write a couple of sentences summarizing your response. Agree? Disagree? Laugh? Cry? Why?

Let's build a little community, shall we?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lessons from Math Camp

I am in Math Camp right now and I really like the professor. He's a big math nerd who has found his niche. I love being in the presence of people who have found their niche. He's fastidious in his personal appearance and has my favorite kind of humor in a teacher. He also explains the basics in a very clear progression and responds well to the interaction and responses of the class.

Watching him teach, I formulated the following thoughts. Of course, because I was supposed to be simultaneously learning from him, I needed the folks in my small group to re-explain inequalities to me 20 minutes later.

The teacher of math has to be sensitive to the emotion of the room. So many people struggle with the math that a lesson can be stalled purely through frustration. Mentally, the class has put on the brakes to learning. The teacher believes that the solution will be found and this allows her to charge on ahead. The students' unbelief in his own abilities to solve the problem is actually the cause of the problem remaining unsolved. This is not the same as an actual lack of ability or a lack of a solution. The teach has both. The student has potential both. Only unbelief gets in the way.
The kicker is that brain research tells us that sometimes we need that still time for the brain to process new ideas and to let them connect to the foundation of knowledge that has already been accumulated. The ah-ha moment is only possible after the brain lies fallow for a little while. The best teachers recognize this paralyzed state in their students, and acknowledge its necessity by sitting down and giving them some time to process. Professor Boller did this.

So, if belief in math can be equivalent to the belief in God (and all of the different things that "God" can mean to people), the we need periods of unbelief in order for belief to occur. Unbelief, or even doubt don't negate God or our ability to discover God. It is simply a natural stage in the process of ultimately reaching spiritual enlightenment, which I sometimes call reconciliation with God.

Therefore, the "unbeliever" should not be seen as pitiable, like so many Christians do. These folks are actually growing closer to understanding. Rather, the people that should be pitied and "evangelized" are those people who know the solution and how to get there, but shirk the tasks involved in being teachers.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Cake, meet floor. Floor, meet cake.


On Friday, my co-workers threw me a party and said many nice things about me. According to the party, I am valued for my quirkiness, my passion for grammar, my enjoyment of wrestling, my idealism (in that I have ideals and stick to them) and my all-around good-nature. Pretty cool, huh.

They also got me a cake with my name on it. Although I'm sure I have, I don't remember a cake with my name on it before. When I looked at it closely, it became obvious that they had spelled my name, Rebecka, then gone back and carved out the K and replaced it with the proper redundant C. We're not certain what is in the lower right-hand corner, but it was posited that it might be a graduation scroll.

After the party, I was taking the cake to the front to share with the customers and it was like a slapstick movie, with my hands reaching out in futility to catch the confection that is traveling in slow motion and in a perfect arc. I could practically see the "Oooohhhh noooooooo!" coming out of my own rounded mouth.

It was awesome! I immediately fell to the floor in laughter.

If you have to go out, go out in style.

You never get a second chance

The best T-shirt to make a good first impression at grad school?

Meat is Murder
Tasty, Tasty Murder

Monday, August 20, 2007

Damn the Indians!

Ugh. No one told me that building community was going to require sacrifice of my good digestion.

The bathroom and I have been very intimate since about 3:00 this morning when I woke with a bubbling pain in my stomach.

We had potluck last night at my church and to be polite, I took a tablespoonful of what looked like curried potato salad.

Big mistake. Being polite is not worth this.

This is my second experience being unable to process Indian food. I'm sticking to naan from here on out when I don't have the option of good, old, boring, bland, American food.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Roommate?

So, my great roommate fell through at the very last minute, so I'm back to interviewing the randoms that respond to my craigslist ad. It's definitely an odd process. Plus, everyone wants to know right now if I'll take them. One guy showed up this morning from Alabama with his parents and the Uhaul. I felt bad for him because his previous arrangement fell through and I'm not sure that I'm doing what Jesus would do by turning him down but, you know, I wasn't ready to make a decision that fast and I think that a 24-year-old guy with no arm hair and stripey head hair takes more than 8 hours to get used to the idea of.

So, I have to share this response with you. I'm not sure what their selling but I hate to meet the sucker that falls for it. The email address registers as "John Micheal."

Hello,
Well am JANET am from United State,I am 25yrs of age and I want to know if we can be a roommate.I am a very humble and easy going lady. I do modelling and humanitarian work for a living, I love my work because it make me travelled alot, I was born in USA , but presently I moving in from Belgium, so all the payment arrangement is being take care of by my boss, I love swimming, and going to cinema house, I love to make people laugh, I bet it you will enjoy having me as your roommate, I am not married, no kids I love to enjoy the best of life. Am ok with the room and the deposit for the room and also, I will like to have the full name , address, city,state, zipcode, home phone,cell phone. so that i can get this across to my boss for quick payment for the deposit, becos is a busy man, he will be speaking on my behalf

looking forwards to read from you

Thanks

She does modeling AND humanitarian work? Really? Also, the image name was called Jenny2.jpeg.

Maybe this is my latent xenophobia flaring but something about this doesn't seem quite right. Are you with me, people?