Friday, January 26, 2007

Seriously. Apparently, the gods heard by complaining about only getting the bully virus and decided to send in the psycho assassin guy. I've been awake for seven hours and I'm going back to bed now. It's moved from a weird, low-key flu thing into a full-blown head cold that took me down like a guy pulled out of the crowd into the Battle Royale with the professional wrestlers. Ha, that'll show him to talk so big to friend about how "anyone can that, it's all fake!"

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Sorry. Calculus and some two-bit bully of a virus have teamed up to kick my ass.

It's not even a bad virus. I have never been debilitated by symptoms; I just require something like 31 hours of sleep a day and have a mild sore throat and cough. I feel like someone that the mob thought wasn't important enough to send a real hit man.

I'll be back, soon, with many life metaphors gleaned from math class.

I promise.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The School by the Side of the Road

I am listening to a sermon by Rob Bell that I downloaded from his church’s website. After I read his book and started listening to his music again, I wanted to hear his oratory. It turns out that the sermon I chose somewhat at random, entitled “The School by the Side of the Road” was actually an interview with one of his parishioners named Rachel Pater. She caught my attention when she started her story by saying that she had been thinking about a question he asked almost a year earlier. “Do you hear the cry of the oppressed? If you don’t, could it be that you are a part of a system that is oppressing someone else?” She said that she was a little offended by this question. I’ve come to a point in my journey that I look at the innocence and ignorance of that response with nostalgia. The bliss of being 21 years old. But then, she made me laugh. She said, “I considered myself a very just person and had always thought that I had a sense of justice and that I would never be part of a system that oppressed someone.” Here’s the good part. “I grew up with 2 older brothers. I felt from a very young age that I knew what justice was and I was pretty sure I wasn’t getting it most of the time.”

Rachel made me sit up and listen further when she quoted Shane Claiborne, my current nemesis, when he said, “The great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, it is that they do not know the poor.” She talked about how she worked as a copywriter for a non-profit, humanizing the statistics of refugees, but never really felt shocked or personally offended by what those statistics meant, by what she was writing. She didn’t know any poor people.

She was telling my story.

She went on to talk about her choice to teach at an alternative high school and told stories about how hard it was but how joyful it was, too. Those are my stories. I have told them. I still tell them. I loved my urban kids. They had a vibrancy that I have not experienced anywhere else, except when I get to hang around the edges of community here on the west side of Chicago.

Rachel is not the only experience that I’ve had lately that tells me I need to go back and teach those kids again.

I wonder how this will play out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Math 204

FFor today, at least, I like my calculus class. Without it, I wouldn't have remembered how much satisfaction I got in my childhood from the precision of writing out the homework assignment.

pg. 17 #1-11 odd, 65, 67, 69, 71, 81 and 82
pg. 32 #1-35 odd, 43-49 odd, 61, 62

There are definite rules and that appeals to me. Math teachers never write:

PGE 32 - 1-35 and 43-49, the odd ones, plus 61 and 62.

It's always the same.

Like Holden Caulfield, I like things that are always the same.

But other than that bright spot of reminiscence, though, I was woefully unprepared for school to start. I had no notebook, no ID, no textbook, no calculator. Why didn't it occur to me sometime before I entered the doors of the school tonight at 5:02 that I might need any of those four things at some point during the first session of my two-hour class? Actually, I did know that I needed the ID because by the time I finished the 2 and a half hour wait to register last week, the ID station was closed.

When did I alluvasudden turn into one of those students. I know it's been almost 8 years since I've been on the other side of the desk but did I really lose all track of the student mindset? I even look like one of those students in my black hoodie, jeans, converse-style shoes and backpack.

I was a good and prepared student once.

Of course, I was also once a bad and often ill-prepared student who got by on innate intelligence but had absolutely no discipline.

Here's hoping I'll be the latter kind of successful again, because I've not started off well if I want to be the former.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Velvet Elvis

When I was in junior high, my church sponsored concerts called Kool-Aids. This was the early nineties and Live-Aid, Farm-Aid and Band-Aid were still fairly current so it was a good name for the concerts.

It’s possible that when you read that my church sponsored these concerts, you pictured local Christian rock band playing for youth group kids and the few friends they managed to talk into coming along. Maybe you pictured an updated campfire-type scene, with nice kids sitting on benches and risers in a well-lit room, swaying back and forth a little as the Spirit of the Lord moved them.

Please stop picturing that.

Kool-Aids were dirty dens of iniquity. I loved them. We held them in our youth lounge, which was in the basement of the chapel. We turned out the lights and hired good local bands, regardless of their beliefs. If you sat anywhere, you got stomped on. Mosh pits abounded and to pogo through the entire night was not unheard of. The kids that came to Kool-Aids were kids that listening to Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails and Violent Femmes. A guy named Mike Rosner organized the whole thing and did a smash-up job, month after month. He required demo tapes. Auditions! This had to be good. He said that you couldn’t smoke inside the building but put out lots of coffee cans with sand on the rest of the property. He was a short barrel of a guy with long, stringy hair and he kept the money that he collected at the door in a Guatemalan fanny pack nestled into his large torso. When I got into high school and got the honor of standing at the door myself, collecting money and fastening wrist-bands, he come by regularly to take the money from me and tuck it in the fanny pack. We wore those wrist-bands until they fell off. Because we were coming of age at the same moment these concerts were starting out, wrist-bands of a certain color were cooler because they indicated that you had known about this phenomena earlier than the rest of the 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

Kool-Aids were a place to hang out with the bad boys they never seemed to be in my honors classes. I assume that most of the kids there were stoned or drunk but because we were outside, they did it where I couldn’t see so I wasn’t uncomfortable like I was at house parties. There were only a few junior high kids there; most of the clientele were high school kids with later curfews. We got to see each other’s older brothers in action, not just hanging around the house stealing their kid sisters’ snacks. We got to soak in just how cute they were, with their skateboards and long bangs. Unlike the boys we went to school with, these guys had chests that didn’t cave in and shoulders broad enough to make their hips look good. Our boys looked like girls with dirty hair and bad fashion.

As I got into high school and became part of the groups that helped to make Kool-Aids happen, I began to realize that it was odd that our church would let a bunch of dirty, high teenagers that they didn’t know hang around the church property, swearing as they postured for one another, making out with each other in dark corners and leaving their cigarette butts stubbed out anywhere there wasn’t a coffee can nearby. And that made me love Kool-Aids even more. No one explicitly explained this to me, but I hoped we did this because kids in my generation were only going to come to God when they needed him, when something bad happened. And when that happened, they would already feel welcome on my church’s property and possibly turn our direction for help. Direct proselytizing wasn’t necessary. In fact, when they tried it, the kids just left. So, they didn’t bring in motivational speakers again. They relied upon the quality of the music and the concert experience to be outreach enough. I was saddened when I learned that after I graduated from high school and Kool-Aids had fizzled out, the Board of Elders ruled that local skateboarders wouldn’t be allowed to use our steps and railings and would be chased away by staff and signs. Is property value ever so important that it causes us to chase people away from church? My brother gained respect for one of the only people in that church that he ever respected when John Huffman, an Associate Pastor in his 80s, argued for the rights of skateboarders. The church that I have grown up in has become a bit of a mega-church, not necessarily in numbers but in its outlook. They built a beautiful gym and spruced every inch of the existing square footage. They’d never let those kids in their Doc Martens and Skechers in now.

One of the bands that we loved was called _ton bundle. They were the best. They cut three cassette tapes, some were EPs, some were full albums. I still have those somewhere and several years ago, my brother transferred them to CD, although the last song was cut off because the CD could only hold 74 minutes of music at that point. I think I could still sing along to every song and I can definitely come up with lots of the words off the top of my head, no google search involved. No going back and listening to the songs again.
There used to be a wall and it used to be so tall that I could barely see over it. And I looked where you had eyes and all I see is skies and I wonder just who’s in there. ‘Cause there’s things that bother you and things that frustrate me and I can’t see clearly.

Harmony and dissonance: the princess and the prince. Harmony and dissonance; thought about you since. What else can I call you? What else can I call you? What else can I call you but princess? You’re my princess.

Sideburns. And slicked back hair. Just shaking a leg. Ah. Ah. Yeah. And now you hang on a beechwood frame and silver-plated beads, spell out your name: Velvet Elvis.

There’s a long-haired boy, skipping stones, over there. And there’s a younger boy imitating him, but who cares. And stands up with all his strength and he falls. And he reaches out to understand but no one calls.

You came in and filled it all, with decorations of you.

Actually, I don’t remember as much as I thought I did. I can hear the songs in my head and the lead singer’s voice and I know what the themes of the songs were. The words are eluding me, though. I’m sure the ones I did get have a few examples of misheard lyrics along the lines of “Blinded by the light. Rolled up like a douche in the middle of the night.”

We almost idolized _ton bundle. I wonder if I have a t-shirt packed away somewhere still. They were minor celebrities because they were so good. I remember I saw the lead singer, Rob, at Marshall’s once and couldn’t wait to get home to tell my brother. It turns out that they went to Wheaton College. Once you found that out and when you thought about the lyrics, you realized that, yeah, maybe some of the songs might be about God. But for the most part, it was just good poetry set to catchy music you could dance to. How did that come out of Wheaton College? When they played shows on campus, did people just stand there? Or was the fish an exception to the no-dancing pledge since you didn’t actually have a partner?

Because if it had been Christian rock, along the lines of Petra and One Bad Pig, the kids would have responded in the same way they did when the Christian motivational speakers were brought in. I remember talking with my youth director, Malcolm, about his band, Kid Proco. He compared it to _ton bundle because both of them believed that they didn’t have to preach the word of God explicitly in their music. If they made good music that spoke to people in some way, it was enough because all good things come from God.

A couple of years ago, my dad liked the book Blue Like Jazz so much that he gave a copy to each of my three brothers and myself. This year, he found another book that he liked that much: Velvet Elvis by a guy named Rob Bell. This is a book that I have been aware of and an author that people talk about. In fact, Matt’s parents talked about him a lot when I went to a concert at Moody Bible Church with them. People mention Mars Hill, the church he started, with an impressed tone in their voice. So, since my dad wasn’t wrong about the last book, I figured I’d give this a shot but I hadn’t gotten around to it yet. Too busy flagellating myself over other books. But last night, as my brother Daniel and I were talking, Daniel said, “Hey, you know that book Dad got us? It’s written by the lead singer of _ton bundle!” So, I started it last night and read it on the El on the way to work and back.

It’s fantastic. I have never read someone who articulated my views about doctrine and how to read and - more importantly – use scripture in my life. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, like when I loved the first chapters of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity for their logic and intellectualism and then found myself disgusted as he veered off into dogged doctrine that couldn’t be supported by his earlier arguments. One of my co-workers, who goes to my church, said that maybe I won’t be disappointed. He says that he’s heard that some big dog Christian pastors have been coming down pretty hard on the book for “bad theology.” He said, “Probably, that means you’ll like it.” Ha ha. Very funny. But isn’t it interesting that I feel in agreement with someone’s beliefs who had a formative effect on my own 10-15 years ago? I couldn’t have absorbed as much of his poetry as I did without shifting my perspective to match his just a little. This is fun!

Sunday, January 07, 2007


AAaaahhhh ha ha ha ha ha!

I'm wasting my time on this site that Scooter recommended and I just can't stop hitting "next" to see just what a jerk Superman is going to be next. I've taken a moment to share this one with you because it is my absolute favorite so far, and I've already looked at 40 of them. Unfortunately, it might be making me laugh out laugh even as I type this because the simple visual is so stark against the rest of the comic book covers that show Superman being a jerk through the things that he says. Either way, enjoy.

Shine A Light On Me

I love infomercials, especially infomercials about music collections. I love the old music pop star, accompanied by the attractive younger woman who looks up to him with admiration for who he’s been, giving the TV audience a sense that maybe who they were during that era is also worth admiration. I love the tables artfully arranged with the CD collection and a few simple props to set the mood: candles, a smiley-face candle, a magic 8-ball, a mini jukebox. I love the phrase, “You could spend hours of time and hundreds of dollars trying to get all these songs together in one place.” I love the clips of the original artists performing, with their fancy suits and crazy facial hair.

I think I have always had a penchant for these things, but I came to really appreciate them when I spent the summer on the couch after my husband left me, grieving, letting my newly developing muscles burn fat after my daily workouts and begging the puppy not to shit on the floor again. I didn’t have cable and I do have some standards, so after I eliminated courtroom shows, soap operas and Oprah, sometimes all that was left for me was infomercials. Ron Popeil and I became good friends. A few months ago, I was traveling on business and arrived at my hotel room jittery with the stress that comes with airports and shuttles. I flipped through the TV and laughed at myself when my muscles let go with an almost audible sigh when I hit on the mellow sounds of Time Life Music.

I especially love 70’s music infomercials. They are so goofy-looking. Overalls, mutton chops, and mumus betray the era vividly. However, what is even more telling are their actual facial features. It’s like all standards of classic beauty were thrown out the window after the summer of love. And you can’t blame it on a world that was still new to mass media because the artists of the 50s and 60s are mostly good-looking. No close-set eyes, horse faces, wide cheekbones or noses that look like they were folded out of paper. And all that hair! The worst you get in the 50s and 60s was people who looked 40-years-old when they were 25. Only once have I ever been in a place that had such a high concentration of ugly people as the pop music scene of the 70s did. Ween can really pull in the uglies. And these are not Bennetton ad exotic people. Some of them have incisors like shoulder blades! David Bowie is just the beginning. Do you remember what Billy Joel looked like before he grew into his looks with those big fish eyes? No one made fun of Stevie Tyler’s frog mouth until he kept singing into the 80s and 90s and left every other gaper in his dust to run neck and neck with Rolling Stones.

I love it. I am morbid with fascination for the aesthetics of the 70s. I will sit and watch an entire infomercial from start to finish if it is for 70s music. (However, I also really like the one hosted by Peabo Bryson for soul love songs.) So, when I saw the commercial for Guthy-Renkers’s Burt Sugarman’s The Midnight Special, I nearly went running around the block with joy. Then, a peace came over me that I haven’t known since junior high church camp at sunset and I sat very still.

Luckily, after I sat still for a little while, I told my younger brother that if he or any of the other boys were trying to figure out what I wanted for Christmas, they could get me The Midnight Special. I finally broke down and decided that I actually wanted what my shows were hawking because The Midnight Special was DVDs. I’d have more than just the clips to gawk at the weird aesthetics of the 70s. I would have extended time to imagine what it would have been like to live in a time when my long, straight hair was the height of fashion and capes were almost de riguer.

So, I’m watching my first DVD of the 9-DVD set and I could not be happier. For those of you who don’t know, the special edition companion booklet explains that The Midnight Special was a show that ran weekly from 1972 to 1981 in the time slot after Johnny Carson that previously had been dead air. A few years ago, I remember watching an episode of it that was hosted by Tom Jones. As far as I could tell, he then invited whoever he wanted to come and play, either with him or alone. The special edition companion booklet points out that The Midnight Special is unique because not only were the performances live and not lip-synched but also because it high-lighted rock and R&B acts and not just pop acts. So, all I remember about the Tom Jones episode was being fascinated by how narrow his hips were and that he sang this crazy song whose lyrics were, “Third-rate romance, low-rent rondevoux.” It wasn’t until later that I learned that was a country standard and that my parents liked it. Gross. But I loved the idea. Alas, I didn’t hear about it again until the infomercial for this set came out and this set is cut up into individual songs and performances, rather than entire shows.

Still, I’m currently watching Marc Bolan of T-Rex whip his guitar with a leather bull whip and trade off soul screams with the two black ladies and their terrifying tambourines. Oh, oh! Now Loggins and Messina are singing “Your Mama Don’t Dance and Your Daddy Don’t Rock and Roll.”

The other part that’s cool about these performances is that they are live and so not the same old versions that I’m used to from the radio. It’s like these are actual songs instead of icons. I was nearly brought to tears a little while ago by John Denver’s version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” that he sang in a duet with Mama Cass. I’ve gotten so used to the standard version as background noise that I’ve never really listened to the words or realized that it was about a soldier going to war. Of course it doesn’t help that my first introduction to the tune was a parody sung at a youth group retreat: “I’ve heaving on a jet plane.” Vomit. It’s always funny. But as John Denver sang it, my heart got caught up for just a moment. It was so simple and gorgeous. This also increased my respect for John Denver. My prior experience with him is the John Denver and the Muppet Christmas, which I love, but which creates an image of him as a somewhat corny, 70s version of the polished pop singer without any real soul or individuality. But I would go see this John Denver in a club somewhere. He could really perform the story behind the song, in a way that must be very difficult to do in a studio since that nuance almost never comes through on anyone’s studio albums.

Think of all the crafts I can do with this on in the background. Can you imagine the hats this will inspire?

Thanks, David. This might just be the best present ever.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Recently, my friend Mark told me that he had been reading about vertigo. It turns out that vertigo is not just simple dizziness induced by looking down from high places. It turns out that many of us have an instinct left in us from when we were primates in the tree-tops, swinging and jumping tree-branch to tree-branch.

It turns out that many of us still want to jump when faced with an open space in front of us.

Something inside of us thinks that the next thing on the to-do list is to leap out into free-fall because there is bound to be another branch to grab on the way down. For primates, that not a problem because there always is another branch. And who knows what might be on that other branch. More food? A mate? Fewer snakes? Vertigo, then, is the dissonance created when the primal urge to jump fights with our modern understanding of our new physical limitations. It is indecision manifested in our Eustachian tubes.

Interestingly, vertigo isn’t a problem when we aren’t looking out over a ledge. We don’t get that lurch of the stomach coupled with a flare of exhilaration behind our eyes while mowing the lawn, making dinner or riding the train. Only when presented with an immediate alternative to life on solid ground does our instinct flare up and try to take over our bodies.

I haven’t had a consistent history with heights. I vividly remember climbing to the top of the high dive when I was 7 or 8, then standing completely paralyzed, knowing the kids were lining up on the ladder behind me but being completely unable to make myself jump. Ultimately, I made them all – peers and older kids alike - climb down from their positions so that I could return to solid ground in a controlled manner. However, I also remember walking right up to the edge of a canyon and letting my toes curl over on a family vacation only a couple of years later and scaring the begeezus out of my mother. I couldn’t understand why she was so freaked out.

But for most of my adult life, though, I have claimed that I was afraid of heights. That claim comes in particularly handy when I’m trying to get someone to like me and I feel like I’ve come across as too fierce and independent. A dash of vulnerability humanizes my image. However, saying that I was afraid of heights never felt entirely true, but I did not have any other words to explain why I preferred to stay away from any situation where I could lean out over an abyss. Glass elevators don’t bother me, nor do observation towers. But when my room is on a top floor of an o-shaped hotel where the interior hallways can look down onto the lobby, I experience what I now know to be vertigo. I call it fear of heights but it is really fear of following my primal instinct to jump. So, the more accurate claim is that heights make me uncomfortable.

I have been reading some books that are the equivalent of a deep crevasse just beyond the railing. A very primal urge within me wants to climb over and jump right in because these books put forth a solution that resonates like truth in my stomach. These books tell me that I have to sell everything that I own and give it to the poor. These books tell me that until I am an actual physical and social neighbor of the marginalized, I cannot change the world. These books tell me that it doesn’t matter how many people I reach or how well I reach them; what’s important is how I reached them. These books repeat Gandhi when he said that the world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed. These books remind me that my middle-class lifestyle is part of the problem and in direct opposition to Christ’s commands to his disciples.

And I believe these books.

Curse you, Shane Claiborne, and your book, The Irresistible Revolution! Curse you, Bryant Myers, and your book, Walking with the Poor! Curse you, John Perkins, and your book, Let Justice Roll Down!

Actually, I haven’t started reading Let Justice Roll Down, yet. I only just received it as a Christmas present but, frankly, I’m a little afraid to start it because I know what it will tell me. It will tell me to sell everything and give it to the poor. It will tell me to go to the broken people and live among them. It will tell me to ignore the fact that I’m awkward in interacting with people because I fear that they will hurt my feelings by rejecting me and to just do it. It will tell me that benefiting from the privileges that society gives me simply because of the situation that I was born into is the same as actively taking those privileges away from someone who wasn’t lucky enough to be born into my life.

And it will be right.

Because the other thing that these books tell me is that when I do these things, the loneliness will be eased. When I do these things, the sense of aimlessness will go away. When I do these things, the layers of hurt that are the result of taking risks will not seem so overwhelming. I will not feel guilty anymore for not trying to fix all the problems of the world because I will be actually fixing one of the problems: me. And I will really believe that it is enough if I try to fix myself by giving my life to others. I will still get hurt and frustrated but by plunging into a life dedicated to building community and easing the suffering of others, that hurt and frustration will be balanced by a sense of purpose, a sense that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing. Finally.

These books give me vertigo.

In Bryant Myers' book, he quotes a man named Kwame Bediako, who says, "Part of every genuinely pure motivation in Christian service is also the Christian workers' own sense of need for the same gospel he or she seeks to incarnate and impart to others." That gospel, that good news, is that God loves us. God loves all of us so much that made his son suffer terrible things in order to teach us how to be happier in this life while we're here on earth. We long to tell other people about that love and way of life because we want to believe it ourselves. We want to rest in the knowledge that we are known and loved despite of ourselves.

So why won't I use the knowledge that Jesus shared with us? Why can't I be confident that my needs are already met and so I should devote my time to meeting the needs of others? And it's not just Jesus who says this. All sorts of divine and mortal folk have the same message. Love others, even to the point of sacrificing your own comfort. Why won't I believe that a life lived completely for others is the only life that will provide any real contentment? Why won't I believe it enough to actually do it? I don't want to be the type of person whose habits cause the exploitation of people I can't see. But, for some reason, even though I know the effects of my middle-class lifestyle, I still cling to it.

I want so desperately the peace, the sense of rightness that the people that write these books offer. They feel it and tell me that I can feel it, too. They admit that their lives haven’t become beds of roses overnight but they believe that the journey rather than the destination is what’s so important to get right. They mix candor and hope in equal doses. Their faith in this vision has transformed them and I, too, want to be transformed. I want to know what is on that branch over there. But in between the branch I am standing on and the branch they tell me exists just outside of my peripheral vision is a free-fall. So, I hold myself back. And the vertiginous battle ensues. I suppose that my state of mind right now is often called an existential crisis. Why am I here? What is my purpose? and all that rot. I guess it’s time. I didn’t really do it in college, when you’re supposed to. I had a purpose then. I was going to be a teacher. Once I met Dennis, I knew I was going to be a teacher and have a family. There was no agonizing. Since I knew the destination, taking the steps forward was easy. But now, I don’t have that certainty. Without a destination in mind, I can only guess which direction to travel.

So, I have resorted to incrementalism. The unknown destination produces timidity and I take baby steps. I do community development work but I do it only 40 hours a week for a giant corporation with a salary and benefits. Then, I go home to my safe block of bohemian apartments in an only somewhat marginalized neighborhood to craft, watch DVDs and worry about my social relationships with people that are almost identical to me demographically. I attend a church that is traditional in its trappings, progressive in its vision and so young that it can’t actually find its ass with both hands yet, thus saving me from actually having to commit to any of its three pillars of Reconciliation, Worship or Community Development. Each year, I increase my offerings by 1%. As of January 1st, I’ll be at 6%. Only 4 more years to go until I’m in alignment with Biblical teachings! Woo. Hoo.

But is incrementalism really that bad? You can't run a marathon your first time off the couch. Should I see this time in my life as training so that I can maintain a radical lifestyle in the face of a world that tells me that creature comforts aren't really so bad? Kids in sweatshops actually have a better life than they would have if I didn't buy that beautiful decorative item for my shelf, right? Don't I need to maintain this lifestyle at least for the next two years so that I can effectively study public policy in order to really make a difference? Or is that just rationalization?

What is muddying the waters here actually seems to be two different philosophies about how to follow God's recommendation for a good life. One says that actually helping the poor is what is most important. The other says that my own spiritual health is what is most important.

I am preparing to start school at the University of Chicago's Harris School for Public Policy. I was born white, in an upper-middle class family to parents who created a stable love-filled childhood, which resulted in relatively healthy self-esteem and world-view. I have almost no demons to get in the way of being successful. By sheer luck, I'm not burdened by children to care for. I'm pretty smart and find the theories of community development to be extremely interesting. My father is fairly well-known and even more well-liked in a variety of prominent circles and since I am currently following his path, I am a little bit of a darling to those folks, which grants me access to them that I would not normally have gotten. My mother is an excellent hostess and has instilled in me a good instinct for complex social dynamics. Aside from being a woman, I am perfectly poised to be influential in Western society. If actually helping the largest amount of marginalized people improve their lives so that they can reach the potential they were born with is the goal, then systemic change is required and I am going to be good at shaping systemic change in a few years. But I think that for me to be good at changing the world by changing its structures, I will need some creature comforts. I will need to come home from a day of work and not work. People who relocate to under-resourced communities never get a break from that relational work. I will need to maintain a professional image so I can make good first impressions with people I want to win over. Professional images require a fair amount of upkeep, both financial and with the amount of attention necessary. I will need to stay up-to-date on the worldly interests of people that I want to persuade because good persuasion starts where the opposite side stands. To be influential, I must appear relevant and I can only accomplish this by staying in the world.

But if embodying Christ's humility and following his example of surrounding himself with the marginalized folks of society is the goal, then I need to drop out of the world. This viewpoint says that it doesn't matter how many people I help out of poverty or that I help them out at all. The poor will be with you always. What matters is that I treated the poor like they were my equals. Their transformation isn't the point. Mine is. And I won't be transformed unless I stop relying on my own strengths and begin relying upon God's. It is harder for a rich man to get into heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. This is because the camel relies on God utterly and the rich man hardly at all. I believe heaven is a state of being during this mortal life that is completely content because it is completely in line with what God wants for us. And God is very clear that he wants for us to treat others as if they have just as much right to my stuff as I do. If he takes your shirt, give him your coat also. It is very clear about who is blessed: the poor, the meek, those who mourn.

I keep trying to find a way to end this post that will end my equivacation and come to a logical conclusion that will make it absolutely clear to me whether I should jump into a life like Shane's, which is not unlike my life on the island incidentally, or whether I should keep on the path that I'm on. However, I don't think I'm going to find it today. Probably, if this kind of thing could be wrapped up in one blog post, I wouldn't feel so much vertigo right now. My fear is that if I'm supposed to jump off my present tree limb, I don't want to replace it with another limb that offers no improvement. Without a sense of calling or rightness from an actual destination, I don't think I would actually experience much of a change spiritually. The journey is more important than the destination, but leaping from empty branch to empty branch, no matter how well you do it, is bound to get discouraging.

Does this mean I just have to wait? I suppose that, in itself, is relying on God. I can't manufacture my own right time. Like Esther, it will come for me whether I'm ready or not. I just wish this roaring in my ears would quiet down so I could get my balance again.

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Year's Day

Gosh. These were quite the holidays. I'm home by myself and have been for the last several hours. That generally means that I'm getting a little misanthropic, so I thought I would follow the advice of the dippy experimental jazz flautist from the club last night and think about what I'm thankful for.

I'm thankful for the emotional complexity of my life and the space to savor it.

Once, I told Harreld that I had a love/hate relationship with my food poisoning. He laughed at me with that wonderful expression on his face he displayed when he thought I was being totally adorable because I was simply being myself and myself was completely different to who he would be in that situation. It's a very indulgent and slightly paternalistic look and I love it. But, back to the love/hate relationship with my food poisoning.

When I get food poisoning, which is probably only once or twice a year, I wake up in the middle of the night with an uncomfortable feeling in my gut. In my sleepy state, I gradually realize why I'm awake and then spend several minutes trying to recognize that uncomfortable feeling. Is it gas? Cramps? An undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato? Over the course of this sleepy consideration, an urgency in my gut grows and I realize that I need to run as fast as Cheetara, the fastest of the Thundercats, to sit on a toilet. Diarrhea ensues and I sit there limply for a little while. Just when I think I should be feeling a little better, I start to feel cold and almost immediately this switches to a hot so hot that all I can do is take off whatever underwear I have on and stretch out on the cold, cold tiles to sweat, stretching out to create as much surface area as possible touching the floor. It is a sharp-smelling sweat and sometimes I have to sit up quickly to dry heave once or twice but I always end up back on the tile, felling like death is sure to come for me soon. All of my animal instincts know that death is coming for me soon. But my mind knows that this is just a little food poisoning. I've been through this before and soon everything will be OK. Soon, I'll fall asleep on the tile, exhausted from the effort of expelling toxins but still having a little fever and pain that my mind wants to escape through sleep. I'll wake up cold, with grout marks on my cheek, but feeling a little better. After calling into work to tell them I'll be late, I fall asleep again in my bed and wake up around 10:00 feeling as if nothing had ever been wrong. In fact, because I've gotten to wake up naturally, without an alarm, it feels like birds are singing and the sun is shining bright. I'm not dead! But at that moment of lying on the tiles (it's not as much fun on linoleum), everything but my brain, which is still a little sleepy, believes that I'm going to die soon.

Hence the love/hate relationship with my food poisoning. I hate to sound like a real-men-don't-eat-quiche cliche but, it lets me know I'm alive! I feel similarly about my emotional upheaval from day-to-day. The days when I feel hurt and lonely make the days when everything feels exactly in the right place that much better. The hurt and lonely days are a little bit like salt or chili peppers or bitters. A little bit makes the dish or drink taste balanced and adds depth to the palette. All by themselves, they need to be spit out. So, at this stage of my life, I am thankful that my bad days are small enough that they only add complexity to my experience and do not overwhelm me. I'm sure that at some point in time, that will change and I will have to work actively to decrease the amount of pain in my life. But for now, I can handle it, and so I savor the experience.

Happy New Year!