Thursday, February 28, 2008

Things White People Like

***If you found this post through a Google search, consider reading the follow-up post here.***

Seriously. I can't handle it anymore. I'm about to burst without someone to share this with. I also just read about 10 posts and can't handle anymore. This is the funniest web site I have ever seen.

Check out this recent post:

Dave, don't even fantasie that you're going to get anything else done for the rest of the day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Look at my beautiful mom.
The perfect curl. The serious countenance creating a hauntingly, classically beautiful stare. Look at her eyes. She manages to make that goofy short veil with the gigantic bow look elegant.

Are you lucky enough to have a beautiful mother?

Here she is again in the same wedding with her future husband, Fred. I think she's 18 in this picture and that must mean that it is 1965 or so. I forget how much my brothers look like him.
What were they doing before this picture was taken that caused her shoe to fall off? :-)

They were stationed in the Florida Keys before he died. I assume that's where she caught this fish. I think I look like her in this picture. She doesn't smile in many pictures from her youth. How lucky am I to look most like my mother when she does smile?

A few years ago, she was struggling with something and not feeling very good about herself so I made her these business cards. You can click on them to look enlarge the picture to show just a few of the things that make me proud of her.
Mom was a college drop-out at 19.

Mom was an officer's wife during the Vietnam War.

Mom was a widow by the time she was 22.

Mom managed to see some value in my father, whose only good decision in his youth involved asking my mom to marry him, according to most sources that knew him.

Mom raised 4 children who know without a shadow of a doubt that they are loved.

Mom was a perfect executive's wife, hobnobbing with the best of them and throwing fabulous parties when necessary.

Mom read mystery novels and watched Masterpiece Theater where her children could see her and ultimately join her.

Mom held me when I cried and said, "I don't know why those kids at school don't see in you what I do."

Mom ate sophisticated and simple things and always bought enough so that she could share with her children when they wanted to investigate something new.

Mom used the word "we" when she spoke about every stage of my father's sentencing, incarceration and re-entry to our daily family life.

Mom got a college degree when she was when she was 48 years old.

Mom hugged all the people that her children have brought to her for her blessing to be married and cried with happiness and pride.

Mom turns 61 years old today.

I think she and my father love each other more now than they ever have. It turns out that he's a pretty good egg.

I will be an even luckier woman than I am now when I'm her age if I live through half as much, respond half as well and look as good as she has in the past and continues to look now.

You are beautiful, Mom. Happy birthday.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Who's that yonder, dressed in red?

A few days ago, I allowed Facebook access to my e-address book to find people that I might want to "friend."

Unexpectedly, my ex-husband popped up. I've had the same email address since I was 16 so maybe that shouldn't have surprised me. But one of my first thoughts was, "It would be a bad idea to look at his profile." Although I navigated away from that page, I ignored my own advice and searched for him by name this time and got another unpleasant surprise when a picture of his new wife (the woman he had an affair with) popped up. Moral of the story: listen to the voices in your head.

However, the second thought that came into my head was, "Wow, sometimes I totally forget that he continues to exist."

He is a piece of my past. Stuck in time as that guy who once caused me a lot of pain, taught me a lot of stuff, made me laugh and ultimately set me free from my unhappy life. The memories of him no longer elicit much emotion.

My unhappiness was not entirely of his creation, although it would be nice to be able to blame it on him. Out of my love for him, I compromised my life goals and created a suburban life for myself. I think this is very normal. My priorities put family above anything else so at 20 years old, this was easy to do. If I had been older, I would have realized that a man that couldn't get excited about my desire to live out my faith in Christ by living in the city was not the right man to marry. But I wasn't older.

So, in addition to the growing unhappiness I was feeling because of the cognitive dissonance I was experiencing - believing that my husband loved me and was being honest with me while at the same time discovering example after example of his lies - I was also growing unhappy with the meaninglessness of my life in the suburbs. I remember test-driving a tattoo by drawing it on my arm with marker because I thought that it would make me different from the other suburban moms at outdoor summer birthday parties. Despite the absolute lack of children, I was already dreading the sites ahead on the road I was traveling.

On Wednesday night, I ushered and got to see Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre with my new friend, Cole.

We discovered a mutual love of food courts (the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre is located at Navy Pier) and as I ate my gyros and she denied my attempts to share it with her when her panini was unsatisfactory, I began to tell a story about how my little brother had told me that I wasn't cool enough to go to a party at a bar called Hideout. In the story, I referenced the time period it took place as "when I was a suburban housewife."

It turns out that I couldn't finish the story because she was laughing too hard. As she regained her capacity for speech, she communicated that she was delighted at the incongruity of the person she has gotten to know recently and a person who could be described as a suburban housewife. She said she never would have expected it. If I had told her I traveled the world, that would make sense.

Because I am a total ham, I played up the joke, describing the outfit I had worn to that party: a light blue merino, wool sweater with gingerbread men broaches that my students had given, worn over the 40 pounds that I lost after the divorce.

We kept going back to the subject and her laughter created such a joy in me. I fed her more details about that life: how I was a recreational shopper with not a day going by that I didn't stop and accumulate some other thing for the house or our wardrobes.

I built the picket fence for my house.

I wore denim jumpers.

I scrapbooked.

She was dying. In fact, when we went to Hideout last night, she made me re-tell the story to her friend, who responded similarly.

This makes me realize that a lot of people look at me in disbelief when I talk about my early twenties.

I am a different person now than the person I was then. Like my ex-husband, she is a piece of my past. Stuck in time as that girl who once loved naively and fiercely. Who believed that someone really did complete her. Who used to get so frustrated and tense about minor violations to her sense that she was entitled to a life that was "fair." (I'm a still a little embarrassed by how little and material the "unfair" things were compared to my reactions.) The memories of this girl no longer elicit much identification or empathy.

And this is deliberate. Once I was set loose from my marriage with the force and pain of a cork popping from a bottle of champagne, I said to myself, "I don't want to be the type of woman who calls her husband The Asshole the rest of her life." We all know that woman and no one is ever really comfortable around her. So, I acted like I WAS kind and forgiving and balanced even when I very definitely wasn't. I've worked hard with my counselor for the last 5 years to look at myself in the unflattering fluorescent light of therapy to root out other vestiges of self-defensive insecurities and selfishnesses. I've done scary social things to build community and love others who haven't had the luck to be free enough to do this soul work.

I'm not perfect but being able to acknowledge that imperfection on a daily basis is the best sign I can see that I have become someone new.

I am proud of myself for looking at my life and changing what I did not like. Elizabeth Gilbert compares personal growth to an acorn and an oak tree. Half of the work of growing is done by the acorn but the other half is done by the oak tree it is going to become, who pulls it forward so that it attains the growth necessary for the oak tree to actually exist. Sweet Honey in the Rock says before they sing, "Wade in the water children; God's gonna trouble the water," that "if you want change in your life and there's a storm, walk in to it. When you get to the other side, you will be changed." I am glad that something in my hurting heart looked at that storm of my divorce and walked straight into the heart of it rather than trying to skirt the edge and get around it. I may only be able to see that courage from the vantage point of a totally different person; certainly it didn't seem like courage to me then, only like the only option I had for making sure the pain didn't last forever. But I look back with awe and bewilderment at that little girl-wife who grew up to be me.

And I laugh and laugh and laugh in delight with my friend Nicole about the woman that I have become.

The brightness of God

It's no secret that I'm in a little bit of a lonely funk. However, it is not a consistent darkness. I am somewhat amazed how much joy I feel in the majority of moments. And I getting closer and closer to feeling contentment in the rest that the moments, rather than fighting within them to feel something else, creating more discord. When God sends bitterness, we should feel it, right?

Yesterday, my best friend from high school, who I grow closer to every week, sent me some wonderful pictures.

This is why I craft. It is the gift that keeps giving back to me.

I have been seeking refuge at her house to sit in her stillness and grounded-ness and to hold her babies and read them books.

Are there even words for the feeling you feel when a baby falls asleep on your chest?

Carl Sandburg said that that a baby is God's opinion that life should go on.

While I'm certainly not anywhere near thinking that life shouldn't go on, still, it's comforting that God thinks otherwise.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living.

I want to know what you ache for

and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are.

I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool

for love

for your dream

for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon...

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow

if you have been opened by life's betrayals

or have become shriveled and closed

from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain

mine or your own

without moving to hide it

or fade it

or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy

mine or your own

if you can dance with wildness

and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes

without cautioning us to

be careful

be realistic

remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me

is true.

I want to know if you can

disappoint another

to be true to yourself.

If you can bear the accusation of betrayal

and not betray your own soul.

If you can be faithless

and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty

even when it is not pretty

every day.

And if you can source your own life

from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure

yours and mine

and still stand at the edge of the lake

and shout to the silver of the full moon,


It doesn't interest me

to know where you live or how much money you have.

I want to know if you can get up

after the night of grief and despair

weary and bruised to the bone

and do what needs to be done

to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know

or how you came to be here.

I want to know if you will stand

in the centre of the fire

with me

and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom

you have studied.

I want to know what sustains you

from the inside

when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone

with yourself

and if you truly like the company you keep

in the empty moments.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A little social honesty

I seriously just sent this email:
Hi --------,

I'm sorry that I didn't make it to your party on Saturday, especially since you made such a specific effort to speak to me about it. That made me feel good that you wanted me there. I hear it was a pretty good time. I want to be honest with you so you know I wasn't just blowing you off. I'm stretched a little emotionally thin right now, so I used the fact that I didn't get a follow-up email from you as an excuse to stay home and take care of myself. I watched three episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer while working on a quilt that I'm making and then went to bed.

I hope you'll invite me again. A big part of me was excited about making my mom's spinach casserole dip thing and sharing it with people. It just wasn't as big as the part of me that just couldn't leave the house. :-)

Just trying a little social honesty,

I had realized that I was making up all sorts of ways to explain to her that made me look good and possibly made her look a little bad for not figuring out how to send emails to groups of people (which was what happened). I realized that wasn't very loving nor would my gaze be unveiled in doing that. So, this was the solution. Ideally, I would have just said it to her instead of hiding behind email, but we're taking baby steps here.

I hope this doesn't bite me in the ass by being misunderstood. What would you think if you got this email from someone?


Score one for forthrightness!

Here's her response:
don't fret, my pet- there will always be a next time and you
will certainly be invited.

I feel you on the 'emotional trainwreck' action- i'm right
there as well... I even missed speed-dating on friday
because i'm literally going crazy. thank GOD for zanex!

I hope that you're better now that f'ing midterms are over-
talk about being raked over the coals!
I think I might get along very well with this woman.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An unveiled gaze reveals and reflects the brightness of God.

While cleaning my apartment, I found this sonnet by John Donne in the program from the opera, Dr. Atomic. I'm sharing it with you with my interpretation interspersed. This is how I teach poetry, reading it phrase by phrase according to the punctuation rather than by line breaks, translating and discussing meaning as I go along. As I read the poem to myself, it stopped me up short and I was actually compelled to sit down and explicate it. I share it with you as an exercise in keeping my gaze unveiled.
Batter my heart, three-person'd God

Imperative tense, otherwise known as command form: beat me up, God. Such impertinence, to order God around. And to order a loving God to do violence? Cheeky. Why would someone risk getting fresh with God? When they have nothing else to lose: desperation.

For you as yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend

The God he interacts with is gentle, respectful.

That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me and bend your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.

Treat this like Yoda talk. The first phrase would normally end the sentence as explanation for the first part, which begins, "o'erthrow me." More demands for God to act aggressively, but this time with a twist. Re-creation is included in the list of violations Donne wants brought upon himself. Could that really be in the same category as destruction? The brutality is requested so that he may rise and stand, which confirms our earlier speculation that this is a man who has been knocked down. Sounds like cracking some eggs to make omelets.

I, like an usurpt town, to another due, labour to admit you, but oh, to no end, reason your viceroy in me, me should defend, but is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.

I am like a town that has been invaded and has been scared into paying my tribute to my conqueror so even though I want to allow you entrance and even though you have sent a representative that lives inside of my city, she has been bound and can't defend me from the invaders.

Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain

Despite my failure, I love you and desire to be loved by you.

But am betroth'd unto your enemy

But I am engaged to be a life-partner to evil.

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again

Defy societal conventions. Or use society's rules to get me out of this mess. If that doesn't work, just ignore the rules and do something drastic.

Take me to you, imprison me, for I except you enthrall me, never shall be free, nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

I will never be free or be able to act rightly until you bring me under your spell, incapable of making decisions for myself. Do not give me any choice in the matter, not matter how much I fight. Do this.
And that's where the poem ends: with a grammatical command that sounds to our emotional ears like a plea.

This whole poem is about paradox. Paradox is a single statement that holds within its whole parts that contradict each other.

Donne ends the poem with a contradiction, using sexual language, arguably the most powerful of languages that our animal bodies can communicate with. He cannot be a virgin unless he is raped. However, almost as long as the word "ravish" has been in existence and meant "to take by force" it has been had the dual meaning of "to cause ecstasy." Images of romance novel covers come to mind with a woman protesting and fainting into some stud's advances. He wants God to bring him the joy that can only come once all control has been relinquished.

The poem does not resolve itself into a happy ending. He does not conclude that God will do these things. He simply puts his requests out there. Have you ever begged a lover not to do something? Or to do something? It is a helpless feeling. To know that you might have to continue to live in whatever unresolved state you've gotten yourself into because you cannot control anyone but yourself and must rely on their love for you to motivate their actions. Do they love you enough to do it? The dual pain of the unsolved problem AND the new sense of unimportance to someone who is important to you seems unbearable.

Yet, usually we bear it. Somehow.

And it isn't usually about how much they love us. A million mitigating factors could keep them from doing what we want them to do, not the least of which is that what we want may not be best thing for the relationship.

Like Donne, sometimes I wish God would deliver me from this Hell of a gift we call Free Will. I feel so fragile sometimes when it seems like my choices have been wrong. Attempts to defend myself from further uncertainty and consequent dread lead me to make more bad choices: yelling at people who love me and keeping to myself in my heartache instead of seeking out comfort.

Batter my heart, God, so that I do not continue breaking it all by myself.

Friday, February 15, 2008

I am the Lorax; I speak for the trees

I was selected as one of ten first-year students in my program to take a non-credit class that studies Chicago leadership. A few weeks ago, in the course of discussion of what would make Chicago a Great City, I listened to people talk about railroads and the Olympics and the maintenance of financial markets.

When there was a lull, I raised my hand and said that I want Chicago to be considered a Great City because of the way it treats its poor and that it would be a model to other cities for how to help its under-resourced citizens pull themselves out of poverty rather than simply ejecting them in the name of gentrification.

One of the discussion leaders pressed me a little bit and together we came up with the statement that diversity in the city is entwined with poverty. And socio-economic diversity is important for making a Great City. I explained that I don't live in Lincoln Park because it's boring. It's full of wealthy, educated white people who spend much of their time shopping. I live in Logan Square near Humboldt Park because it's a Puerto Rican neighborhood with a mix of bohemian artsy types. My friend Jeffrey told me when he was visiting that all the interesting people got off the El at my stop.

Interestingly, one of the other students (who specializes in urban planning) raised her hand and argued that economic development is necesary before social development can take place.

I didn't argue the point because I didn't want to dominate, nor do I want the label of seditionist. Also, it's possible that this response didn't occur to me until later when I was falling asleep. The thing is, that if you don't develop community and the economy of a place at the same time, you will necessarily push out folks who can't afford to live in your shiny, new city. And you can't bring them back in later without people thinking that you're ruining a good thing and feeling threatened.

We have always looked to new technologies to advance Chicago. We used to dig out the river mouth until we just changed the direction of the flow. We convinced the whole country that we were a better hub than St. Louis for trains. We jacked the whole city up a couple of feet to get it out of the mud. We convince the whole country that we're a better hub for planes despite the freezing rain that delays flights for a good portion of the year. But what about social technologies? Surely, it can't be that hard for a city of innovators to develop our human capital the way that we have our physical capital.

At the turn of the last century, the words, "explosive, reckless growth" described Chciago after the fire and it made much of the city unlivable with crime, slums and graft. How do we avoid becoming unlivable at the turn of this century as we work to grow our financial prosperity again?

Jane Addams' solution at the turn of the century was to move bring her privilege with her and live in the slums alongside the poor. In Christian community development circles, we call that incarnational ministry. Repeatedly, people of privilege learn that what they thought was best for the poor was not actually helpful once they actually become neighbors. I got to sit in on a meeting about 10 years ago in which the most prominent community developers in the city explained to Millard Fuller, the founder of Habitat for Humanity, that the reason Habitat was not successful in the top ten cities in the country was because Habitat commuted into the neighborhoods they were trying to serve. To this day, Habitat has not changed this policy and still do not make much difference in the city.

What is really interesting about this discussion is that my friend Don, who was the other discussion leader, said that in the whole discussion of trains and Olympics, only about 8 people out of 40 actually talk. He told me that when I spoke up, all sorts of new people had something to add to the conversation in response.

Although I don't want to become a bore, because I think that will limit my effectiveness, I do what to be a catalyst, getting people to think of who is paying for the reforms they are proposing. I can't think of it all myself and the more people I can get in on the conversation, the better our solutions will be.

Last weekend, I attended a meeting hosted by Arloa to discuss a housing development in North Lawndale that would be both a co-housing intentional community and a La'Bri style place of hospitality for folks to come and study theology. Since Arloa lives in the ghetto as an incarnational minister and runs a holistic homeless shelter, I had just taken it for granted that this development would have aspects of neighborhood development. I mean, why wouldn't we take advantage of the fact that our neighbors would now be the very people that Christ commands us to love? But as I listened to the developer talk about an enclosed parking garage with indoor passage to the condo complex and as I looked around at the white group of people that were interested in buying in, I realized that I wanted to do what I had done at school. So, I did. And the resulting conversation was fantastic. I wasn't the only one who wanted service to others to be part of the theological study. I wasn't the only one who wanted to make sure that we involved the existing community in our plans. I wasn't the only one who wanted to diversify the participants in the co-housing.

I could get used to this!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Holy Content

When the inevitability of my divorce had only been confirmed for about a month, I went to a friend's wedding. At a moment when a group of women I knew from my church were crowded around her asking to see her ring and making that joyful conversation that makes brides feel so special and that makes wives remember their youth, I stumbled in and stuck my hand out saying, "Look, I have a new ring, too." I showed them the silver geometric ring with a blue stone that I had bought so that the indentation on my left-hand ring finger did not remind me all the time that it was naked.

I can't tell you when I became ashamed of myself for stealing that moment from my friend. I don't know if it was immediate or if I realized it later. I was in such a fog of grief that I couldn't control my behevior nor could I reflect on it very well.

When I told this story to my mother eventually, she said in a tone that communicated sadness, compassion, experience and wisdom: "You'll never be able to take those moments back."

I didn't ask her to tell her own stories. I walked away from that conversation and held onto the words. It was enough to know that someone else knew the mortification I felt and believed me that it was big enough to ache for a lifetime.

Tonight at my book group that is discussing Eat, Pray, Love, we talked about the search for contentment, which the author says is the goal of yogic practice. Tim didn't like this; pointed out that Jesus would not have said this. I agree with him, if we define "content" as almost synonymous with happy. But I talked a little bit about The Spirituality of Imperfection and its advice that we must learn to live in the moment of our emotions. Beating ourselves up for feeling sad when we have so many nice things or for feeling jealous when we don't really want him anyway doesn't make us stop feeling that way. It simply adds another layer of emotion on top, which increases our chances of satisfying our own needs before the needs of others since they seem so voluminous. By being content with our emotional responses, we acknowledge them and they lose control. We can not think about them without thinking, "I'm not thinking about that," which is otherwise entirely futile as anyone can attest who has raced to get to their destination when they had to pee.

Also, when we are content with the chemical/animal responses we have to stimuli, we are experiencing the life God intended for us, instead of trying to experience the life we think we should have. As the rabbi of Porissover said, "When God sends bitterness, we should feel it."

Interestingly, when I got home I found that Baraka had posted on this same topic.
Deepening the obsession with Iceland is Eric Weiner. After spending a year traveling to nine countries in search of the good life (including Bhutan, Thailand, and Qatar), Eric Weiner, the author of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World has this to say about Iceland:

If you had to choose one of those happiest places to live in that you visited, which would you choose, and why?

I’m tempted to say Bhutan, but I’m going to go with Iceland, actually. It’s just a remarkably cozy, creative, crazy place. And it’s a place that embraces failure — you can just do whatever you want, and if you fail, they might like you all the more because of it.

The capital, Reykjavik, is just sort of the perfect-sized city of about 120,000 people, so you can get anywhere you need to go by walking for 15 minutes. And they are happy, but they are also in touch with their sadness. One local musician told me: “I’m happy, but I cherish my melancholia,” which struck me as kind of profound, this notion that you can be happy, and yet, especially if you are an artist or a creative type, have this part of you that’s melancholy at the same time.

Living in Prozac Nation, that is pretty profound. The search for continuous happiness, for a life wholly without reflection, melancholy, or pain strikes me as unrealistic and, well, sad.

A French friend of mine pointed out that melancholy has a negative connotation here in the US, whereas in France “mélancolie” is considered a necessary and natural cycle of reflectiveness between life’s ups and downs, essential to experiencing it fully.

Plus, I rather like the longing in my heart for a permanence which is impossible in this life and only possible in the next. I wouldn’t want any pill to blot that yearning out.
I am trying to be content with one of those moments that you can't take back right now.

On my way home, driving on the expressway, I was so caught up in my thoughts that although I registered that a mother was walking through the snow on the shoulder away from her hazrd-light-blinking car, getting her three-year-old daughter through by holding her up by one arm, I did not think to help them until I had passed the exit they were headed toward. On this cold night, surely they would have accepted a ride to the gas station and possibly one back to their car. I said, "I'm sorry, God," when I realized my lack of servant opportunism, which is a posture commanded by Christ. Although I took the next exit and backtracked, I was unable to help them.

Just as you can't take gaffes back, neither can you go back and pick up missed opportunities. You just have a loose end hanging off you that can't be tucked in. I am trying to be content with this fact and learn from it.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Do you like candy?

Baraka posted the words to a graduation speech that I've known for awhile but properly identified its source as a Chicago Tribune columnist and NOT Kurt Vonnegut.

I was struck the instruction that we should do something that scares us every day.

I think that's a good idea but I don't do it. Sometimes people tell me that I'm being courageous when I do things, but usually those things seemed like my only option if I didn't want to be disappointed with myself in the long-run. That's right. It's all about avoiding guilt, people. :-)

Yesterday, though, I did something that scared me a little.

While walking into the Dunkin Donuts to buy a bagel and orange juice for breakfast at 7:00 in the morning, the man standing outside asked me for change on my way back out. Good tactic, that one. Give people a chance to mull over the possibility while waiting in line. Saturday and Sunday were two of those days that were so cold you would slap your grandma if that would make God give us just 5 degrees. It's been awful. With the memory of that on Monday morning, I actually considered what I could do for this guy even thought normally I choose not to purchase their services (feeling good about myself for helping someone out). So, I bought an extra bagel for him.

However, on my way out the door, he was standing in line behind me. I was so flustered by this unexpected turn of events that I just kept walking.

Damn! Now what do I do with this bagel? Leaving it in the atrium at school with a note is kind but doesn't quite count as "good" in the same way. And I know that if I waste this opportunity, I'll regret it later. So, I remember that men sleep on the steam grates by my school. It's still early enough that they'll still be asleep.

But what if the hypothetic homeless man wakes up while I'm trying to leave it anonymously? What if he talks all crazy at me? What if he wants to talk normal with me? What if he's insulted by my charity? What if it's even too cold for the guys that sleep on the grate to have avoided the shelters and there is no one there?

So, I parked the car, walked over to the grate and confirmed that there was a leg poking out of the dirty sleeping bag mound. I laid the bag with the bagel on the concrete next to him and hurried back to the car.

My heart was pounding.

When I was an annoying teenage Christian, I always balked at the idea of approaching strangers on the street to see if they wanted to talk about Jesus. I didn't have any theological problem with it. It just scared the hell out of me. What if they talk all crazy at me? What if they wants to talk normal with me? What if they're insulted by my evangelism?

Tonight, a sweet young woman asked me nicely, "Have you gotten one of these yet?" She had a cartoon-y religious tract in her hand. She continued somewhat feebly, "It's just a story with some fun cartoons." I smiled at her and told her I wasn't interested.

I'm really not. I'm horrified that God's desire for us to live in relationships with one another has been perverted to handing out tracts blindly to trick people into saying that they prefer Jesus to Hell. The ones aimed at children are particularly horrendous. I'm not good at relationships and will avoid them altogether often but at least I don't pretend I'm in them by handing out tracts.

The girl walked away and I pulled out my quilt that I'm working on. I experienced a slight tug on my heart that might have been God telling me that I should engage this woman in conversation to help her down the path toward emerging Christianity but the only things I could think to say to her were snarky, so I ignored the tugging. Now that I think about, those are ignoble goals since it presumes that I have some truth that those silly evangelicals don't, which is not at all where I want to end up on this spiritual journey. What God probably meant was that this woman needed to be loved and possibly I could show that love by being willing to listen to her and that in listening, God's light might shine through me. But I didn't realize that until now.

She came back to ask me what I was knitting. Ugh. Still, she was sweet, so I explained that it wasn't knitting but quilting and I explained the concept of a charm quilt.

And then I got into a conversation with her.

She said she was a grad student, too. At Moody Bible Institute. There's a big surprise. I told her I was studying Education policy and the policy of Poverty and Inequality. She's getting a degree in Discipleship. She wants to use that to help churches teach people what to do once they've converted. I don't actually remember how she phrased the idea of "converted" but it was totally non-confrontational so people (myself included) wouldn't notice it. She wanted to help them learn how to read the Bible and how to love God more.

(On a side note, although I can think of a lot of ways "how to love God more" is valid theological and practically, when she said it I was totally creeped out because I'm sure that to her it means following a bunch of rules.)

Of course, the irony is that although she wants to do all of these things, she's spending her time in the train station handing out tracts, which is all about the conversion moment and not at all about spiritual growth. I asked her what denomination she came out of. "Moody or me?" In my head I thought, "You, sweetheart. I know all about Moody." She explained her family's journey from Catholicism to Baptists to non-denominational. Then, she finally asked me if I went to church. I felt like saying, "I already told you that I'm studying how to eliminate poverty and inequality on a systemic level! Isn't that church?" Instead, I told her that I was part of the emerging Christianity movement. Figured I'd blow her mind a little if she went home and googled it. I told her she could look up my church at, Before I finished, she clapped her hands a little and repeated, "Wicker Park!" She was excited about the hipster neighborhood that is quickly becoming another land of the bohemian yuppies. I didn't know that she could lose any more cool points. Then, she realized that wasn't what I meant and asked me to repeat the website.

My train pulled up at that moment. I'm glad I was nice to her. Not heaping on additional abuse to that she is likely to receive if she keeps up what she's doing can only make the world a better place. At least, it keeps my soul cleaner. Lately, I've been admonishing myself, "If you don't feel gracious on the inside, act gracious on the outside. You're more likely to be right." It respects the fact that she might very well be doing something that scares her while I'm heading home to watch another episode of Buffy.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Bread and wine

It’s astounding how much we fumble when left to our own devices to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist to each other rather than being allowed to simply take it passively from the deputized lay-people of the church or the pastor.

When I was at my conference, we took communion Iona style, which meant that there was a long table in the middle of the room with 20 or so settings of wine glasses and plates of communion wafers. We walked up in a polite mob and served whomever stepped up to the table across from us. So I joined the mob, a little concerned that I wouldn’t get served in time to get leave the service early to get back to the hotel and check out, then catch the airport shuttle by noon. This was not the best state of mind in which to become one with the body and blood, but I was full of Father Richard’s admonition that we are never truly ready for that.

But in this state of anxiety, I zoned out and kept the woman across the table waiting for me to snap out of it and step forward in an open space. I hadn’t been able to see the table before this point and in my embarrassment, I didn’t get a chance to assess the logistical situation. I must have been looking a little lost because the woman kindly offered me a plate and told me it was the body of Christ something something something. I popped the wafer in my mouth, said, “Amen,” then realized that now I was expected to offer bread to her with a statement of welcome. I should have waited until she was served and we would partake together. Now, I would have to talk with my mouth full of Christ’s flesh, since this was a Catholic service and they go for that whole transubstantiation thing. So, I did a basic mastication, shoved the lamb of God in my cheek with my tongue and hesitated again when I couldn’t figure out whether I should take the plate from her or pick up the one that was on the table in front of me. I ended up taking it from her and offering her the body of Christ, broken for her, Score! I had thought briefly while waiting my turn that it would be good if I used one of my liturgical traditions in offering the sacraments, which are different from the Catholic ones, as far as I knew. I thought it would make a good metaphor for all of our traditions coming together. Of course, when I offered her the wine next, I screwed it all up and didn’t use the parallel, “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.” I mixed it up with, “This is the blood of Christ, cup of salvation,” which goes with “This is the body of Christ, bread of life.” This eliminated any poetry since that was what my partner was prepared to say, also.

She touched my arm consolingly, which distracted me from drinking with the proper dignity, eyes cast down into the glass and instead I watched her while I drank then felt weird about it since that’s what I do at parties ever since I heard when I was in college that Bill Clinton did it. Then, she walked away before I had finished my sip and wiped down my glass, so I had to return her gesture awkwardly to her retreating form.

I left the conference with a dissatisfaction in my soul, a dry mouth from the communion wafer and a slight warmth in my stomach from the wine.

Now that I’m over my initial mortification, I realized that she must have fumbled, too, or she would have waited until after I had finished partaking to make a gesture of friendship and we would have left the table simultaneously. Also, at the very beginning, she held onto her plate even when I had one in front of me. Later, she looked uncertain as she wiped the wine glass, rubbing down only the outside and not folding the napkin over the top like the professionals do it.

This is, of course, the great metaphor of human relationships.

We try to say namaste to each other and mean it. The god in me acknowledges and honors the god in you. We try to feed each other and hope that we will be fed in return.

And we fuck it all up. Yeah, food ends up in our mouths, but usually there is no style or proper ceremony or romance. It's just clumsy and anti-climatic.

This week has been an awful one in this sense. One on my friends was a total asshole to everyone over the weekend and now I'm just getting to the point where I can pick up my pieces that were shattered by his explosion, although I've had to dodge and catch the debris that others lost all week. Also, I had to negotiate a trial separation with one of my best friends because we can't stop hurting each other: I make her feel unworthy and she makes me feel unimportant.

I come out of all this feeling like I'm not very good at this thing called community. That I never will be. That's there's something fatally flawed within me that prevents me from being able to close to people. That I will be lonely forever.

The wisdom of the metaphor provided by my faith is that regardless of how it gets there, food and wine ends up in our mouths. God is within us and sometimes we can see her in each other. That I'm not supposed to be anything other than broken. That I am loved anyway.

It is enough.

I wish there were more.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The least of these

My friend Mike recently did an interview for a conservative Christian magazine that turned out really well about formerly conservative evangelical Christians who have left the Republican party . I was reading it this morning and got sucked into the online comments. Luckily, I pulled myself free without losing too much of my morning.

I was really struck and disheartened by one exchange, though, that is worth mentioning.

This is a paragraph from the article:
“I couldn’t square the ‘pull-yourself-by-your-own-bootstraps’ ideology of the [Religious] Right with Jesus’s words that whatever we did for the least of these we did for him,” Clawson told WoW.
In the fourth comment, someone said:
Third, perhaps it should be explained to Mr. Clawson that the passage having to do with ‘the least of these’ belongs in the context of individual accountability on the Final Day of Judgment.


The comment ended with that sentence and I think it's pretty clear that the writer meant, "and therefore has nothing to do with how we live on this earth."

I spend my days interacting with Christians whose lives have been transformed by the found knowledge that since God loves them just the way they are, then they must be worth loving. For the most part, they want to help other people feel that same love.

Although most of them think issues of heaven and hell are important and lots of them work towards the conversion of the unchurched as one method of sharing God's love, more of them believe that we are human vectors for God's love and that the best way we can let it shine through us is to love our "neighbors," using the verse that Mike cited as one of the main ones that command this.
The Sheep and the Goats

31-33"When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'

37-40"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'

41-43"Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'

44"Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'

45"He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.'

46"Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."
Matthew 25 (Thanks Biblegateway!)
I don't think that Mike or I or any other Christian would disagree that this passage is about individual accountability on the Final Day of Judgement, although we might quibble about what exactly the Final Day of Judgement may or may not entail. However, I also think it is very clear that this passage says that to be viewed favorably on that day, one must not have expected people to "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" but to have given them a hand up as they tried to stand or even a hand out when they couldn't even begin contemplating yet rising from where they had fallen.

It seems like the commenter has segmented passages that have to do with the afterlife into a category of not-to-worry-about-since-I'm-saved and that makes me very sad because I believe that we are capable of living in the Kingdom of Heaven right now by doing the things that we're commanded to do (namely, love). We don't have to wait to receive it as a reward. He's missing out now and by choosing to submit himself to God's authority but misunderstanding the commandment, he might never experience the joy of knowing that he is worth loving, which is the ultimate reward.

Monday, February 04, 2008

I was made to love magic.

I went to see The Golden Compass a couple of weeks ago. In it, the little girl, Lyra, wear a gorgeous hat when she's up at the North Pole (Bolvangar). It was all I could look at. I was pretty sure I could make one so I went to the yarn store, found the hugest yarn they had and made it a few weekends ago. Since I had just lost my other hat that I've been wearing, the timing of inspiration was perfect.

This picture gives you a better idea of the glorious colors that I got to play with.

There is not enough magic in my life. Tears kept welling up in my eyes as I watched The Golden Compass and my finely-honed psycho-analysis monitor couldn't figure out why those particular scenes would affect me except that they were particularly magical.

There is not enough enough magic in my life.

But there is more magic in the world than there has ever been in modern times.
Golden Compass, Narnia, The Lord of The Rings, Harry Potter, the Matrix, Star Wars, the Science Fiction channel, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, X-Men, Spiderman, Batman, Shrek, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Pirates of the Caribbean, pretty much anything with Johnny Depp in it actually, Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle, M. Night Shyamalan's movies, Pan's Labyrinth

Movies look like my imagination now. Everything I pictured while reading the books initially is in front of my eyes. Or, if the movie is original, it looks like it could actually happen. No more clashes of the Titans, neverending stories or weird Errol Flynn Robin Hoods or pirates that require massive suspension of disbelief. So, the images in my brain are slowly becoming more exogenous and less endogenous. By this I mean that I didn't create them (or augment them); they are now given to me. Still, though, I'm old enough that my formative years were spent exercising my imagination.

I used to have to look so hard for magic. Standing in the children's library, I scanned the spines for those little science fiction stickers. I also listened to Mrs. Reed (no joke, that was the school librarian's name) when she said that if I liked a book, I should look for other books by that author. So much time was spent looking up the words, "ghost" and "monster" in the subject section of the card catalog. Yes, an actual card catalog. Still, I had read all of the books before I was old enough to move up to the adult library and that included every awful Christopher Pike book that I could buy with my babysitting money. I wish I had been willing to ask more questions so that someone could have taken me upstairs because the Glen Ellyn public library actually has a fantastic science-fiction and fantasy section. Damn my unwillingness to look uninformed!

So, magic was only for those few people nerdy enough to keep seeking it out once they were too old for fairy tales. This self-selecting process made one a "nerd" and many of us ultimately grew to love the label.

What will the world be like now that more kids can stay magical longer? Will any gains from this increased density of wonder in the world be off-set by the fact that the magic is created for them rather than created by them?

I'll be interested to see how this all turns out.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A month in review

I've recently joined Facebook in a deliberate attempt to waste more of my time and therefore add to general level of stress.  At least, that's what it seems like looking back on the decision.  Anyway, since I really should be studying, I'm cribbing from it.  I really like the feature in which you write a brief status update that all your friends can see.  My friends write some pretty interesting blurbs.  I've tried to follow their leads.  Tonight, I share them with you since I don't have the time to finish my Buddha posts or to write up my Angela Davis or Buddy Guy experiences.