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


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."

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


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?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

My first meme

So, although I've been blogging at this site for just a few days more than 3 years and participating on the blogs of others, I've never been tagged by someone to continue a meme. There are many of you out there for whom my blog is the only blog you read. So, the word, "meme" probably seems weird to you. I wish I could define it but I can't. It's amorphous to me because the word has meaning to me outside of the blogosphere and I can't make that meaning connect to it's meaning to this sub-group of people: basically, it's a chain letter but with a topic that you write about on your blog.

So Julie tagged me for this meme which was begun by John Smulo.

The rules of the meme:

1. Apologize for three things that Christians have often got wrong. Your apologies should be directed towards those who don’t view themselves as part of the Christian community. Alternatively, apologize for things you personally have done wrong towards those outside of the church.
2. Post a comment at the originating post so others can keep track of the apologies.
3. Tag five people to participate in the meme.
4. If desired, send an email with the link to your blog post at the Christians Confess site, giving permission for your apologies to be added to the website.

So, I'm choosing the "alternatively" option of #1

Lorinda, I'm sorry for letting someone goad me into telling you that you were going to hell while we were hanging out on the girls' locker room, supposedly creating an aerobics routine to Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" and the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams."

To the number of people who kept parts of their life secret from me because they thought I would judge them and tell them it was wrong, I'm sorry. I probably would have.

To the kids in my Sunday School class whose asses I whupped in Bible trivia games, eat it. Actually, though, Christ knew his scripture and probably would have beat the whole class at Bible hangman, too. I think he might have been a little more gracious about it. Since most of you were dragged to church without getting a chance to discover a faith of your own, I think it's appropriate to apologize to you here, also.

And I tag -

and you, the Christian blurker

Thanks, Julie.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Go Gordon Brown!

Wow! Read the sentence below out loud. Gordon Brown is speaking to faith groups and NGOs at his visit to the UN.

Imagine what more you can accomplish if the energy to oppose and expose harnessed to the energy to propose and inspire is given more support by the rest of us—businesses, citizens, and governments.

You gotta love a man with good rhetoric. That he has good content makes me want to just kiss his ugly little mug.

Thanks to Jim Wallis for pointing the speech out to me.

I've been at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, which was truly intense. Also, finding a roommate (whew, if you don't think humans are xenophobic by their nature, try screening 42 emails of people wanting to share a bathroom with you) and wrapping up here at work. Please forgive me if I don't write more often.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Here's mud in your eye

In the DR Congo, Jim, Tedde, Chuck, Arloa and I went to visit a woman who was HIV positive. World Vision assists her by providing ARVs, nutritious food and other help. When we arrived, we were welcomed inside a mud-brick house that was about 8ft by 12 ft. There was no running water or electricity and so the door was left open for light. To accept her hospitality, all of us were given a seat and she stood by the door, which was the only space left. Bedding was located on the other side of a curtain hanging from a string at the end of the room. We were able to ask her questions about her condition and what life was like. It was terribly awkward because none of us wanted this woman to feel like she was on display for the visitors and, at the same time, most humans having trouble breaking the ice even when they speak the same language and the gap between their classes is not quite as glaring. But she was gracious and willing to answer our questions. Although quiet, she was not guarded, and we began to loosen up. Her 3-year-old daughter stood with her the whole time. The mother held the comb she had been using to tie the girl's hair in little tufts, a hairstyle that was unique to the DR Congo out of all the countries we visited. We asked if we could pray for her and she allowed us. Arloa, the pastor in the group, laid hands on her and we prayed. While we conversed through a translator, many of the local children gathered at the doorway to get a glimpse inside. When I went to take their pictures, they held up their own hands, as if taking my picture. Once I got outside afterwards, I saw that many of them had made little clay cameras. I asked the translator to have them show me their cameras again so I could take a picture.

Before we had left her house, though, I asked her why she thought the staff members of World Vision helped her.
World Vision is very clear in its policy statements about the fact that they do not proselytize and that they serve all people in need, without discrimination and without requiring that do anything religious to receive that aid. They believe that when they serve simply because they are commanded to by Jesus, that is enough. Often, receivers of aid get curious about why someone would help them and ask. Only then do they talk about Christ. I like that about World Vision and I wanted to see how the reality of this played out in the field. She responded, "World Vision is caring, loving and compassionate."

John 9:1-7 says:

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world's Light."

He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man's eyes, and said, "Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam" (Siloam means "Sent"). The man went and washed—and saw.

I love the disciples because they are just like me: totally clueless most of the time. They just don't get it.

But they think they do.

They're so sure that they know what's going on that they don't ask open-ended questions. No simple, "Why is this man blind?" They are so shaped by their culture that they believe that the question is multiple-choice. Ha. Like God ever fit inside the boxes we create for him, even the ones that can be filled in with a number 2 pencil.

Christ ignores the two possibilities that the disciples hand him and presents a third option that has nothing to do with what they offered: This man is blind so that he may be healed and show the world the Glory of God.

I love the theories of community development. I read book after book about them, attend CCDA conferences, participate on community development blogs, and will talk at length with anyone that's willing about why the poor stay poor and what can be done to achieve equal opportunity for God's people. I'm starting grad school at the University of Chicago in the fall so that I can effect systemic change in this world, rather than simply applying band-aids. Plus, thinking about the cause-and-effect relationships of our world just feels good to me. Like scratching an itch or watching baseball or holding small babies. It's entertainment and joy, wrapped up into something (my head) that I carry around with me all the time anyway.

This makes me, at times, ask questions like the disciples: framed in such a way that Jesus will give me an answer that I expect, or at least, one that I can process. Throughout my trip in Africa, I was thinking about how the resources of the world got distributed so inequitibly and how I could be involved in the remedy. Basically, I was asking God whose sin was being punished by Africa's blindness, what societal sin caused the situation to arise that this woman, her husband and their 5 children should be suffering from AIDS.

I was also desperately trying to dispell my own bias that secretly believes that I am entitled to my wealth and privelige, that I somehow earned them and that this makes me better than people who have little.

In three of the four Gospels, Jesus asks the disciples, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who 'have it all' to enter God's kingdom?" He goes on to say that it is easier for a camel to fit through an eye of a needle than for people of privelige and wealth to enter God's kingdom.

This is a troubling verse. I know several good men that have spent the last 20 years trying to figure out how it applies to them. But I have recently begun reading several biblical scholars who believe that "God's kingdom" or "the Kingdom of Heaven" refers to our mortal life here on earth in addition to the afterlife. They believe that it describes the parts of this world and our lives that align with God's original plan for us. This means that the Kingdom of Heaven is anywhere people are in real community with one another, loving and taking care of each other, even in the midst of conflict that inevitably arises. People who have wealth and privelege usually don't have true community. I certainly fit that description, having spent the last several years of my life looking for it after not finding it in the drive-through suburban life I had been living. But time and time again, when I engage with "poor" people, they have what I lack. For their survival, they must know and cooperate with all of the people that live in their neighborhood, even those they don't particularly like. It is Christ's commandment to love our neighbors lived out of necessity.

So, when she said, "World Vision is caring, loving and compassionate," I realized that I was asking the wrong questions. Although it is important to figure out what causes poverty in order work towards systemic change, what is more important is being caring, loving and compassionate. Africa is blind so that when it is healed, the glory of God will be known. I am a child of wealth and privelige not because I am better than those who aren't but because when I am healed of my isolation and finally release myself into true community, the Kingdom of Heaven will grow larger, having brought one more person into its sphere of influence.

I thanked her for giving me the opportunity to be caring, loving and compassionate. Without her suffering and the suffering of her beautiful children, I would simply be dry dirt on the side of the road. Instead, through my association with World Vision, she offered me the chance to be mixed with the spit of Jesus and become mud in her eye.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Wie Gehts?

My pit stains are huge!

I just gave a tour to a group of about 30 pastors who are in town from Germany and Switzerland and even though I gave tours all the time, I was extremely nervous. I think part of it was my nervousness speaking for a translator and interrupting my normal flow plus trying to phrase things concisely and intelligently for easy translation, rather than my usual speaking patter that says the same things three different ways to make sure my bases are covered.

But I want the mocking to cease from the peanut gallery that includes my father and my brother Daniel. They fall over laughing every time we get to talking about the trip we took to Germany at the end of my junior year in high school. I was finishing up my second year studying the German language at a high school level and they expected me to just be throwing off phrases left and right. We didn’t know about my little culture shock problem AND we started the adventure by my dad telling the giant German landlady that she could just tell me how to get to Rothenburg aub de Tauber, which she proceeded to do in rapid German. Can you blame me for shrinking behind my mother for the rest of the trip? I did manage a decent “schones wolkenende” once at a conditerei that I was proud of because it was actually Friday and the beginning of a “good weekend.”

So, I started the tour wishing them, “Gut morgen.” Then I told them that, “Ich heisse Rebecca” which feels weird because my German name in class was Silke. I switched to English and assured them that was all I knew from two years of high school language class 15 years ago. I explained that we watched a lot of movies, though, so I could instruct them to, “Macht die forhinger zu” and “Macht die forhinger auf.” Also, “Macht the lichter zu.” And “Macht die lichter auf.”

Close and open the curtains. Turn the light on and off.

They laughed, which is always a good start to a tour.

Yay, Rebecca, for successful international communication! No more guff from you, Dad. I’ve made good on my education now.

But I was still nervous. I realize that for the first time, I had to explain domestic poverty to people from another country. I had to explain that many of our children live with their grandparents because of drugs. I had to explain that even with government help, working families can’t afford to buy their kids soap and clothing. I had to explain that teachers aren’t paid very well here and that they have to spend $1,000 to $2,000 of their own money every year to make sure that kids have pencils to do math with.

I was ashamed to air out America’s dirty laundry to people from another “developed” country. I recognized this shame in the middle of my talk and made sure that it didn’t make me try to gloss over our problems. These were other Christians. Our identity must be as followers of Christ first and members of the man-made states after. But the shame remained.

We don’t take care of our own.

If we did, the poor would still be with us, but they wouldn’t be trapped in poverty because of their birth, geography and skin color. They would have fallen into hard times recently and could be helped up simply with a little love and charity, rather than needing economic stimulus plans, betterment programs, legislation and affirmative action. We wouldn’t have systemic problems, only individual ones.
I have been surrounded by people that don’t speak English these last couple of months: Africa, the quincineara, shopping with Meena on Devon and this group this morning. These experiences are starting to allow me to see my world as other people might see it: a valuable perspective.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Clothing makes the (wo)man

As we all know by now, I lost my luggage on the way in to Zambia. Maybe it was my fault for being late to the plane. Maybe they pulled the luggage off the plane as a security precaution and then the waves and eddies of the general African perspective on efficiency took care of the rest. What I found most interesting is that whenever we called to check on it, we would be assured that it would be meet us at whatever small airport we were headed to next. “Oh yes, it will be on the charter flight that meets you in Kipushi.” My favorite was when Larry got off the phone, looked at me and said, “We are getting more confident that the luggage is somewhere.” I am fairly certain that the people who made these assurances knew that they were untrue when they said them. I don’t know how to analyse that. Is it a cultural priority to avoid upsetting people? Do other Africans receive such assurances as these in the spirit they were given: generous conciliation but not to be relied upon? If this is the case, then it is hard to fault a culture for placing good will between people over cold facts. Americans like their facts above all else. But, is it a leftover from colonialism to tell the White Man only what he wants to hear? That’s a little more worrisome.

Anyway, I had three tops, only one of which I could wear out in the more modest rural areas we would be visiting and a pair of pants, which would also be inappropriate. So, Debi loaned me a skirt and we went out on our first adventure in Musele. The first act of the people in Musele who greeted our bus was to give us gifts. They literally surrounded the women with chitenge: two meters of cloth, hemmed at both ends, worn as a skirt by tucking in the ends around our waists. Their sure fingers, strong with a lifetime of practice, wrapped us securely. Most of us struggled to re-wrap our skirts as they inevitably loosened with our movement. If we were lucky, a local woman would take pity on our plight and tuck it for us again. I got reasonable at it over the course of the week. I think maybe all that crafting has made my fingers dexterous.

But think of that metaphor. Not only were we surrounded into the landscape and culture of Africa, our bodies were literally encircled by African clothing. Like the art of Christo and Jean-Claude, our familiar identities were rendered new by being wrapped, like the Reichstag.

Women in Africa use the chitenge as skirts, aprons, head-wraps and as baby-carriers. I noticed that on Sundays and formal events, they were in evidence more frequently and that on particularly festive occasions, groups of women wore matching chitenge. When we met with a government official in DR Congo, he had 8 or 9 hay bale sized bundles of cloth in his office for the women to wear in the upcoming Independence Day events. I love what this says about the culture. First, it says that when there are things to celebrate (church, the digging of a new well, the arrival of a beloved statesman, welcoming visitors from Chicago) it is important to emphasize our African heritage, rather than the western influence of jeans and plain skirts with waistbands. It also says that there is strength in belonging to a group. The entire staff of DR Congo wore matching clothing and provided clothing made to our measurements in the same fabric as a gift for us to take home. It is stunning to be included in a group by that group simply because we traveled all that way to see them. They were honored and I was honored. I did not have to prove myself to be allowed into the group, either in Zambia or in DR Congo. I was loved unconditionally and clothed as a reflection of that love.

Almost every woman in the parts of Africa that I visited wore two skirts. Frequently, I saw women hand babies to each other or pick up children from the ground and casually tie the children to their backs to carry them around. This vivid display of the concept of taking a village to raise a child was impressive. Women are always prepared to care for one another's children. And children are prepared to accept direction from any adult. We saw this frequently. Arloa and I saw a little boy, about 3-years-old, step on something and hurt his foot. He cradled the foot and cried a little. His situation drew a crowd and another little girl, not much bigger than he was, assessed the situation and then calmly reached down and pulled him onto her back.

In wrapping us in chitenge, the women of Musele were taking us up onto their backs, like children. And we were children in Africa. At least, I felt like a child. Everything was new and hard to process. I have very little context for what was going on, so things didn't make sense. Certain World Vision staff took me up on their backs and helped me, particularly Jenny, who works out of the Lusaka headquarters. She would explain things that I was looking at but didn't understand far beyond simple translation. She had a sense of humor similar to mine (just a little bit wicked) and a delightful sense of joy. I loved to watch her join into the singing and dancing of the women whenever we would arrive in a new place. She extended hospitality to us everywhere we went by becoming part of the group of women who greeted us. I became particularly indebted to her when she pulled me into the procession of women dancing toward the site where the well would be dug and showed me her footwork so that I could dance, too. She told me that the words of the song were thanking God for the well that comes from Chicago. That's her all the way to right in the picture.

Jenny also facilitated the creation of my Zambian dress. In most hero stories, there is usually a moment in which the hero is stripped of the clothes she wore from home and she is given fine, new raiment's that are symbols of her new status. Consider Luke Skywalker's all-black outfit in the beginning of Return of the Jedi to signify his status as a new Jedi or Neo's ragged sweater and pants after literal nudity when he was awoken in The Matrix. A woman from Zambia named Princess Kasune Zulu used to pastor at River City and she wore the most beautiful dresses. The were cut to fit her curves perfectly and she designed them to look like high fashion. I have always harbored a secret wish to look like Princess. Losing my luggage afforded me this chance to strip away my old identity and become African, even the slightest bit. I was so pleased that the tailor took the care to line up the elements of the pattern of the fabric with the pattern of the dress: putting a wedge at the neckline and centering the fish and crustaceans at opportune spots. I think that the shape of my body is very similar to the ideal African woman's shape. Ivan, our translator in DR Congo, described the ideal as "bottle-shaped." I feel like this dress emphasizes the bottle-ness of my body in a way that American styles of jeans and t-shirts can't always do. I remember reading an article once by an Indian immigrant and the significant change of self-identity she felt when she began dressing like an American. The forgiving and lovely silk of her saris and salwar kameez(es?) that had made her feel like a woman were replaced by unflattering pants and tops that made her look chunky rather than curvaceous. What a glorious gift from a culture that values women for what their bodies actually are rather than a media-swamped culture that tries to push all women into being something other than themselves. I understand why the tradition of the American work ethic makes jeans a staple in our fashion. But the necessity of having a second suit of clothes became an unexpected re-introduction to myself as a more authentic woman. And I am grateful for that.

Amonth later, my luggage has not yet been returned to me.

Compared to the insight I was given that accompanied the gifts of clothing, I do not miss it.

Friday, August 03, 2007

What's this Farm Bill I keep hearing about?

I've been reading a lot about the Farm Bill on other Community Development blogs lately. I am in a state in my life where I'm kind of ignoring politics. Some of that has to do with the fact that I stopped listening to NPR so much when Bush entered office because I was always cringing at the way he pronounced, "Amayricah," like someone has stepped on the middle syllable. The other reason is good old-fashioned, staring-into-the-void apathy. I'm assuming this particular stage will end once I start studying Public Policy. You know, the study of how laws are constructed and written?

So, I skimmed the first couple of posts, accumulating small facts until I reached a point of crystalization and alluva sudden I had enough information that connected to one another to form a net in which to catch a passion for the issue. Thanks, Mike, for a post written well for laymen.

So, I was actually moved to write my congressmen, Dick Durbin and Barack Obama. This is what I wrote:

I am disturbed that the Farm Bill passed through the House of Representatives without the Kind/Flake amendment.

I work in domestic non-profit community development on the west side of Chicago and recently took my first trip to Africa to observe the community development work World Vision does internationally. What I know from these experiences is that we have to allow people living in poverty to work their way out of poverty by their own power. It is the only sustainable option.

Renewing the Farm Bill without anything resembling the Kind/Flake amendment to put a cap on corporate subsidies subverts market forces and keeps the poor in poverty. This should be a no-brainer for the Republicans, who have dropped the ball entirely. Please pick it up again and run with it for the sake of both our farmers and international farmers, both of whom have unacceptable standards of living. We all have to eat and farmers are the ones that make it possible. Shouldn't we allow them the dignity of earning a better life for themselves and to be paid what their work is worth? Subsidies to corporate farms drive down prices unnaturally and de-value the work of human beings.

Please don't let this bill get past your office unaltered. Please reduce subsidies to corporate farmers.


If you would like to write your senators, you can find easy contact forms at Feel free to use my letter or to write your own.

Hooray for being moved to actually do something. It's like getting up off your butt and finally going to yoga. Everything feels better afterwards.

Thursday, August 02, 2007


I am gruuumpyyy today! Don't talk to me. There are very few generous or love-your-neighbor impulses in me. I find myself thinking, "What do they think I'm here for? To serve them?" when organizations from the community call to ask for stuff. Of course, that cranky rhetorical question has an actual answer: "Yes, it is literally written in your job description to serve the people."


But I don't have to like it.

Actually, I'm trying to spend as much time as possible doing mundane tasks that have to be done before I leave so that I have as little interaction with people as possible. I'll do those tasks tomorrow when I'm friendly again.

Lead us not into temptation, right?