Saturday, March 29, 2008

An email from a stranger

I recently received this email from someone I don't know. However, I love his spirit. I responded to him but I wonder what other people might say.
hey. my name is _____. i live in texas, i'm 17 years old, i'm homeschooled and i'm going to graduate from highschool tomorrow. after that i want to go somewhere away from texas, and it seems like going outside of the US would be prohibitively expensive. so i'm thinking about learning from matthew 19:22 (rich young ruler) and selling a bunch of stuff and going to a big city for about a month (because it's not learning if you don't actually do anything about it, is it?) so i thought it would be a good idea to look up some like-minded people (or on a more idealistic bent, brothers and sisters in Christ) and chat somebody up.

so, do you have any words for me?
Comment and tell me what you would tell him. I'll forward your replies to him in a couple of days.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A More Perfect Union

I have finally watched Barack Obama's speech on race from a week ago. I was waiting until I felt like I could absorb it all. What I've realized about Spring Break is that I wasn't going to feel rested and productive on the first day. It took me almost 5 days to realize that. Luckily, I have practice listening to my body and every time my brain said, "You really should be hitting that to-do list," I checked first with my soul to see how it was feeling. Until today, it kept telling me, "Not yet. Can't we quilt just a little bit more?"

So, Barack. If you haven't watched this speech yet, please find the 45 minutes you'll need to sit down with it, sometimes stopping and backing up to hear something again.

If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know that I love African American culture and try to expose myself to as much of it as possible, working to reconcile and assist from an inherited place of privilege in the least paternalistic way that I can. I fail a lot of the time.

A little while ago I wrote a post about Things White People Like, and my friend Mike pointed out that he wasn't sure why he didn't find it as funny as I did. I've been thinking about how to explain that. I think that it has become such a phenomenon because it names us. The day after I added Threadless to my online profile as something I liked, Stuff White People Like described the evaluation criteria white people use for determining whether a t-shirt is valuable or not. I laughed because I think I'm so unique in my tastes, but they described them exactly, down to saying that Threadless was one of the only acceptable new t-shirt sources. This sinking laughter from being named comes from my realization that the ways in which I see myself are more closely identified with my race and class than they are with my faith or my ideology. Mike, as a pastor, has learned to see himself as a follower of Jesus rather than a white guy and his life reflects this.  I makes me wonder how my life would change if I based my decisions on the latter rather than the former.

Barack Obama's speech was so powerful a) because Aaron Sorkin must have written it and b) because it names us. It names the anger of the black community and the resentment of the white community. It names my tendency to get distracted by the media from the issues that really matter:
We can play Reverend Wright's sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she's playing the race card, or we can speculate on whether white men will all flock to John McCain in the general election regardless of his policies.

We can do that.
Barack Obama's speech is so powerful because he suggests that we don't have to do that.  We don't have to be who we have always been, identified with our race rather than our hope. He suggests that we can change the system, evolve, emerge from the dichotomous thinking of the modern era and shape our world systemically to reflect the new reality of our post-modern thinking. Brian McLaren describes this shift to post-modernism in Everything Must Change using the Civil Rights movement as an object lesson:
For the first time, millions of white people around the world had to look back and face how their ancestors had treated non-white people, [which was] not in shame and secrecy, but openly . . . without a second thought. Now they were having to entertain those second thoughts."
The second thoughts are post-modern thinking. The world has gotten so small that we realize no one (including us) can conquer it all and make everyone think the same, so we have to make room for different ideas to exist in the same space.  

This is what the emerging church is trying to do as well.  I've mentioned before that a couple of months ago, Pastor Phil Jackson told me that the African American church has been emerging for a long time because it had to.  This is what Barack describes when he describes his church, Trinity UCC: 
Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety - the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity's services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.
What Barack is describing is a post-modern church: a church full of contradictions and truth found through different people being considered equal to each other in the eyes of God and in the face of society that tells them otherwise.  

I have long been jealous of black people's ability to overcome class and acknowledge the humanity of each other in any situation. In my school building, the black professors stop by and have brief conversations with the security guards, the cleaning lady stands with the dean of admissions and laughs about something. I always feel so colonial when I try to small talk with with non-white people outside of my socio-economic class. My friend Jess said that she always loved it that when she was growing up a young black girl in Cleveland, her dad would nod slightly to any black man he passed on the streets. She said it gave her such a sense of of kinship with other black people.

I felt a kinship with Barack when he talked about his white grandmother: 
I can no more disown [Reverend Wright] than I can my white grandmother - a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
My grandma talks about "the blacks." My grandfather actually still used the word "colored." But my grandfather also ran an integrated YMCA for 30 years and insisted on sportsmanship above all else, even race. Even Grandpa was post-modern, holding opposing viewpoints in tension within his life.

I was extremely grateful for Barack's eloquent summary on how the racism of the past has affected both white communities and black communities today. My friend Don pointed out to me Wednesday that perhaps I might not have gotten an interview for the Mayor's Office internship because I referred to certain citizens of Chicago as "under-resourced" and "under-served" rather than "poor" or "at-risk."  He pointed out to me that my reader might wonder who I thought was supposed to be resourcing and serving those people? Could it be the Mayor of the past 16 years? Or his father before him? I am grateful that Barack was equally unwilling (although possibly less unwitting) to play politics and told the truth of the history of oppression and effects. Of course, it also makes last week's Onion headline all the more funny:

We live in a society in which the stereotype for a black guy is that he is begging on the street to support himself and this reality make a good joke because a black guy can also run for president.  As our society realizes more and more that it is post-modern, we give up our ideas of absolutes: there is no distinct right and wrong, there is no black and white.  It is wrong to abort babies AND it is wrong to make that decision for someone else.  It is right to help developing nations through free trade agreements AND free trade agreements hurt those same nations.  Black men are overwhelmingly caught in the cycle of poverty and despair AND a black man might very well be our next president.

As Barack said, this will never be a perfect nation but it can be perfected.  It will never reach an absolute state of perfection but it can be a more perfect union.  This is beautiful expression of the human condition: that we are not God but instead broken creatures in need of God and able to seek help from God.  We are capable of being more perfect but never capable of being completely perfect.  And this is what makes America and God's entire creation great.

Uptight white girls

A few weekends ago, my friend Tabitha called and asked me if I wanted to fill in for her co-worker who had to bail on a fund-raising dinner they had been invited to by another non-profit that they work with. I tried to probe her regarding what kind of dinner it would be: conservative suits and silent auction with a sermon after a well-produced inspirational video and lots of loud music, often performed by the clients of the organization? Sparkly, sexy dresses and silent auction with drinking and party-style networking? My experience says that these things usually fall into one of these two categories. Also, they're generally huge with 500-1000 people. Both have envelopes on the tables.

Tabitha put off my questions but told me what she would be wearing. Fancy but not super-sexy.

Well, when we got there, it was a blacklady affair. I was very excited but disappointed that I missed a chance to wear a sparkly dress because we didn't know ahead of time. So, here were white Tabitha and white Rebecca at an intimate two-free-drinks-and-dinner with 40 African-American folks. There was a tiny little silent auction and great appetizers. The directors of this women's ex-offender re-entry organization came over during the drinks portion of the evening and the five of us had a great conversation about what they're working on. Dinner was good. Tabitha and I talked mostly to each other but did not block out the other 4 people at the table large enough for 10 people. We were a little spread out. After some brief speeches, the directors went around the room and introduced all of the guests, including me!

And then the dancing began.

Those women got right onto that dance floor and began dancing some variation on the electric slide that I learned in a bathroom at a speech tournament when I was 16 years old, waiting for the awards ceremony but getting ready for the formal dance that we would have to race to when we got home late after the tournament. These ladies would have chuckled politely at my little electric slide.

I'm actually not a terrible dancer. I'm coordinated, can let loose and have fun and have a sense of rhythm and swing. But I was intimidated. However, after prodding me several times, Tabitha just got right up there and joined them. Basically, she shamed me. So, I studies the progression of steps just a little longer and, laughing, got on the dance floor and right foot stomped, hold it now, hold it. Hold it. Hold it now, hold it.

That first dance broke the tension and we could spend the rest of the evening going back and forth from talking to people to the dance floor because, as Tabitha said, we were no longer "the uptight white girls."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Strange economy

I bought my sewing machine when I was sixteen years old from Sam Cicero, a small Jewish man who was everything you wanted a little old Jewish man to be. Luckily, our family friend Juanita had prepped me to appreciate his archetypal nature. I spent $100 of my babysitting money on it.

Oddly, when it broke today, I had no qualms about buying one to replace it when they told me that it would cost more to fix it than to buy a refurbished machine just a few years younger than my 1971 Singer. I'm usually much more attached to things that I've had for awhile.

So, let me introduce to you my new machine. This one makes button-holes and has a free arm! What is more important is that is does not have anything resembling a computer chip.
I will try to take better care of it than my old one. Goodness, was it dusty when I took it apart. So, I will put my Schoolhouse Rock t-shirt on it every night when I go to bed.

Does anyone have a use for a sewing machine that need about $20 in parts and $60 in service plus a good cleaning? Free to a good home.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Your two cents

So, I'm making this quilt for my brother's wedding present. Actually, I've been working on this quilt off and on for about 6 or 7 years. I've decided to pull it out and finish it off once and for all.

I'm getting into the homestretch and I have a dilemma. It doesn't look quite like I want it to look. However, to make it look like I want it to look will require spending another 3 months, at least, tearing out seams and putting them back in.

WIll that effort be worth it? I'm kind of getting used to the metaphor that over time our priorities and methods change but we have to live with that accumulation of changes in the present self we are now. The same applies to marriage.

The same applies to this quilt. 6 years ago, I estimated a 1/4 inch seam allowance as I hand-pieced much less accurately than I estimate it now. Hence, old strips of color are much shorter than the strips of color I've recently done. This means that the tumblers don't line up like they're supposed to when the strips are stacked on top of each other. It disappoints me a little because I might have just as well used squares for the total lack of design effect.

This is what it's supposed to look like (via):

This is what it actually looks like:

What do you think? This is only the green portion of the quilt. It will be joined by the yellow, orange, red, pink, purple and blue strips that are already done and just need to be sewn to each other to form the big color strips.

This is a charm quilt, which means that every piece is a different fabric. It's been fun to work on and I like the metaphor of that, too.

Yesterday, I was in a quilt store that was super-design-y. I heard the owner boast to another customer that many of the women she knew who quilted came from an engineering background. That could not describe me less. I'm really organic and a little lazy. I value the act of piecing and love playing with color. Getting it right isn't super-important and usually that means the results are whimsical and rustic. I think this quilt could end up that way (someone else will actually quilt it with an all-over pattern) but I'm really struggling to predict it. It's the biggest quilt I've ever made so I'm a little nervous about how to commit my time since the wedding is in August and my other brother's is in January and I haven't even started their present yet.

Can anyone give me any guidance?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Josiah Community

One of the things I've been doing lately that isn't school is working with a group of folks to develop an intentional community condo development. I was brought into the whole thing by my roommate in Africa, Arloa Sutter. Basically, we're converting a warehouse in North Lawndale to about 45 condos that people will own individually. However, the condos will be design to encourage interaction with neighbors: kitchen windows facing into hallways, "front porches," lots of common areas and a community cooking and dining area where folks will rotate cooking for anyone that doesn't want to eat mac and cheese in front of the TV every night. I like the combination of privacy and community since I can always retreat to my condo but have the freedom to knock on people's doors if I need them.

All decisions of the community will be made by consensus. When I apply what I've been learning in my poli-sci classes, this means that the status quo regarding community life will be hard to overturn once we get going. I see this as a good thing since I'm one of about 8-15 people that are the core group of ground-floor decision-makers. We'd love to see this number get bigger, though. Our next meeting is April 30.

One of my major concerns in these discussions is that we emphasize relationships rather than rules. While I'm happy to sit down over coffee with a neighbor to discuss my lifestyle choices, I'm not at all interested in being held "accountable" by my neighbors for them. So, if the idea of being surrounded by other Christians and their tendency to judge gives you the willies, please be assured that I have those same willies (or heebie-jeebies, whatever you want to call them) and I'm working to make sure that doesn't happen in our earliest conversations.

Our community will be made up of whoever shows up and the culture will reflect those folks. How cool would it be to have a building full of emerging folks?

All sorts of information is available at the blog.

This will be a Christian community, however, we haven't set in concrete how that is defined. Since I'm involved, I'm hoping to sway the group toward an inclusive, emerging definition of Christian. More folks like me involved with this project early on will make this more likely. (hint, hint)

The other major element of this project is that a major portion of the community space will be dedicated to a non-profit that facilitates theological study, often in the form of folks taking sabbaticals. There will be a hostel available in the building for these folks that will spend half their day working in the community, and half of their days studying.

Optimistically, condos will be ready for moving in in a little over a year. I see this as an experiment in living within the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth by living in community.

Want to do something a little radical and join me?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Marry Him!

I just finished reading “Marry Him!” by Lori Gottlieb in this month’s Atlantic. (via Erika and Amber) I’m all sorts of torn, which is good because it means I’m getting closer to my ideal of living realistically in a grey world rather than seeing everything in black and white. But it’s unsatisfying. I would like to be able to shout, “No! She’s wrong! True love and partnership are out there for me!” or “Yes! Finally! Someone who speaks about the real world and not the movies!” But I can’t. Most of this has to do with how well she writes. She openly acknowledges that touting the benefits of “settling” for a partner rather than a lover is unpalatable, especially since it is advice she is giving to younger women (my age) from the perspective of missed opportunity since she no longer possesses the physical ability to attract men worth settling for anymore. But even in taking this stance, she admits the possibility that the sense of longing that would result from settling might have spoiled everything with any of those men. She describes a friend:
“At the time, she couldn’t imagine settling, but here’s the Catch-22: ‘If I’d settled at 39,’ she said, ‘I always would have had the fantasy that something better exists out there. Now I know better. Either way, I was screwed.’”

But her point is that raising a child without a tag-team partner is hard. And being lonely is hard. And facing the prospect of growing old alone is hard.
“[Women who complain about their husbands], like me, would rather feel alone in a marriage than actually be alone, because they, like me, realize that marriage ultimately isn’t about cosmic connection—it’s about how having a teammate, even if he’s not the love of your life, is better than not having one at all.”

I don’t disagree with anything she’s said. I can see that in a few years my criteria could and probably should change. I should be willing to knock “chemistry” and “the ability to understand my spiritual desires” lower on the list of priorities so that they live underneath “caring” and “stable.” Most of my unwillingness to do that right now stems from already having married a man with whom I had no chemistry and being unwilling to go back to a Woody Allen life of bad sex and not enough of it. As my eggs get older, I might reconsider. It’s also possible that I will make the same decision Ms. Gottlieb did to have a baby on my own and just live with the consequences.

The biggest problem that I have with her essay is her implication that there were plenty of men that she dated in her 30s who she dumped when she shouldn’t have:
What I didn’t realize when I decided, in my 30s, to break up with boyfriends I might otherwise have ended up marrying, is that while settling seems like an enormous act of resignation when you’re looking at it from the vantage point of a single person, once you take the plunge and do it, you’ll probably be relatively content. It sounds obvious now, but I didn’t fully appreciate back then that what makes for a good marriage isn’t necessarily what makes for a good romantic relationship.

Where are those men in my life? Of the five men I’ve been in a dating relationship with since my divorce, only one could qualify as being someone “I might otherwise have ended up marrying” if I hadn’t left him. I would probably have joined my life happily with the other 4 (and only one would have been a total mistake). Why didn’t I?

They didn’t want to. They were classic male commitment-phobes. Or to be more generous, they weren’t ready to settle for me yet. One felt like he needed to work out his own dysfunctions alone before offering himself up for partnership. One just didn’t feel a spark even though he loved spending time with me. Two were still working through the early stages of their own divorces and were unwilling to tie themselves to someone else so soon after being set free. In all cases, even amidst the pain and jealousy of re-creating my life without them at the center, I was thankful they hadn’t let me settle.

Hell, I was willing to work things out with my ex-husband, even after learning that he had lied to me about who he was on our first date and kept up that habit throughout our 7 years together, even after I learned about the other woman, even after I learned about the drugs. Only his own horror at having to face himself saved me from that fate.

I want a relationship. I want a father for my child. I want a companion to grow old with. I used to want this no matter what the cost.

But not anymore. Because what I really want is to feel like I haven’t wasted a minute of this life. That every minute mattered, even if it was mistake. I’m not into delayed gratification. If something doesn’t have inherent value, it’s not worth doing, regardless of the ultimate rewards. The best way to make God laugh is to tell her your plans. I’d rather listen to her as she tells me what to do next. The only way I know how to do this is to get quiet every once in awhile and ask. Usually, a thought bubbles up from somewhere around the base of my sternum and pops just behind my eyelids and I can see what next step will have inherent value. Often, it’s the opposite of what I wanted before and often it doesn’t make any sense. But she has yet to steer me wrong, although it would be misleading to say that what God wants for me doesn’t involves hard work or suffering. Sometimes it does, but it always leads to joy.

To this end, I want someone who thinks I’m the most important person in the world, without hesitation. I want someone to respect and be proud of, flaws and all. I want someone who is actually a partner, willing to sacrifice his own comfort for my needs. I want someone that will make me a better person through my own desire to sacrifice my comfort for his needs. I want someone who is vulnerable to me and with whom it is safe to share my deepest secrets. I want to feel passionate about someone in whom I arouse passion. This has inherent value. The rest is just logistics.

Spouses die. God help us, children die. In the cost-benefit analysis, how does settling pay off then?

Anything other than honest partnership will leave me feeling trapped. Like someone tied my left arm to my waist rather than offering a second set of hands to help finish my project.

Ms Gottlieb writes,
“I’ve been told that the reason so many women end up alone is that we have too many choices. I think it’s the opposite: we have no choice. If we could choose, we’d choose to be in a healthy marriage based on reciprocal passion and friendship. But the only choices on the table, it sometimes seems, are settle or risk being alone forever. That’s not a whole lot of choice.”

She’s right. It’s not a whole lot of choice. But I’m not willing to accept her premise just yet. I’m not sure she does either, despite a clear thesis and persuasive structure in her writing. One of her last sentences belies a willingness to accept that this desperation that has set in now that she’s older is simply the monkey-mind trying to deny her the happiness of spiritual contentment: "I also acknowledge the power of the grass-is-always-greener phenomenon, and allow for the possibility that my life alone is better (if far more difficult) than the life I would have in a comfortable but tepid marriage."

I respect Ms. Gottlieb’s willingness to live in mystery, not pinning down an absolute black or white on an issue. There are no choices that make life perfect and there is no way of knowing what life would have been like if we had made different choices. But we can make choices that spread the risk of hardship, investing time and energy into a network of partners, and working toward a spirituality of imperfection that helps us find joy in and add color to the mottled black, white and grey lives that are available to us.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Media Blitz

My church was highlighted in two different media outlets this week. As a leadership co-op, we talk pretty regularly about how Nanette should interact with the media. We don't want to be someone's token "trendy" church for a segment and we don't want to be mis-represented. So, although this cover story from The Christian Century got a couple of things wrong, I was pleased by this sentence:
Wicker Park Grace is a good, small, delicate thing, riding the tides of gentrification and gathering up refugees from other churches, promising a more peaceful, gentle way.
Check out the rest of the article here: The Church Downtown: Strategies for Urban Ministry

We also got one soundbite from Nanette on National Public Radio. This link gives you both the audio and a written transcript:Congregations Reach Out with Rock, Jazz and Martinis Wicker Park Grace is one of three communities featured in this NPR story aired on "848", and "All Things Considered", March 11, 2008.

Of course, if you want to go straight to the source, our church's website is

Buffy the Morning Slayer!

Did anyone else deflect the snooze alarm arrows as well as I did this morning?

It's like I have super-powers!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Little Zoo

This is one of the sweetest things I've seen in awhile. Little animals captured by gorgeous photography. See the whole collection here.

The artist also sells prints and notecards of the images here.

Huh. That's unexpected. I picked the only two images that had letters in them. And by unexpected I mean "not surprising at all."

Not feeling much better today but my mom and dad called both called to tell me they loved me. It's a start.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Grace and peace

Grace and peace to you . . . In a couple of weeks we're going to celebrate the resurrection because as far as we know, the tomb is empty . . . If you're joining us for the first time, we're thrilled that you are with us. If you're going through a difficult time, grace and peace to you. If you came through the doors loaded down with a sense of your own inadequacy: grace. Grace and peace. If you had some sort of experience this week in which you were sent strong messages that you aren't good enough, thin enough, fast enough, strong enough, wealthy enough, whatever: grace. Grace and peace. Grace and peace. For us here, everything at the center of what we do is about this Jesus, who God has given us to rescue us and redeem us and save us and remind us that we're loved, not because of how great or moral or spiritual or selfless we are but because God has expressed ultimate love to us in the the resurrected Christ so we can say to each other grace and peace.
This is why I love Rob Bell.

I feel loaded down with a sense of my own inadequacy. I have been sent strong messages that I'm not good enough or attractive enough lately. This quarter is like the exact opposite of last quarter.

I didn't get an interview from the first place I applied for an internship. Other people got calls today from the Mayor's Office for their interviews there and I haven't got one yet. Given my first at-bat, it makes me nervous. I did so poorly on my Org Theory mid-term that I'm actually embarrassed to tell people about it. My Org Theory paper got graded down, not because of content but because of my writing.

I've lost all confidence in my ability to succeed at school. Whether that's reasonable or not, it's true. I have gotten so many compliments on my writing that I've begun to associate being good at it with self-worth. So, when I couldn't translate that skill to class or cover letter and I don't really know how to fix it, I felt and continue to feel pretty inadequate.

But Rob Bell says to me, "grace and peace."

Grace is forgiveness for not being good enough.

Peace is the result of believing that I'm loved just the way I am.

I cried a little on Jackson and State when I heard those words.

Grace and peace.

I'm still stymied here as I sit down to write my second paper. But I'll try to remember grace so that I can feel peace and get something typed.

Lorinda sent me a picture of a sleeping 4-month-old Conrad with the message, "resting up for post finals play."

Grace and peace.

I just need people to keep saying it to me.

Grace and peace.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Community Storytelling

Upon reading my earlier post, my friend Mark went and found a fantastic eulogy for Gary Gygax, entitled "How Dungeons & Dragons creator Gary Gygax created the modern nerd."

My mother shakes her head about my nerdy tendencies and many other friends just sort of ignore that part of my life. However, I think this article is worth reading by everyone. The author, Darren Zenko, puts into words what those of us who play (and read science fiction/fantasy and work at the Renaissance Faire and any number of other pursuits that require imagination and intelligence) find so attractive about a life spent partially surrounded by images of gallantry and heroism.
Dungeons & Dragons was perfectly timed, and perfectly of its time. The leading edge of Generation X had turned teen, and D&D offered an escape – and a social life – to the bookworms, brainiacs, daydreamers and malaise-ridden misfits who opted out of punk. As the '80s drew near, the game Gygax had thought might sell 50,000 copies to a niche market had become an underground craze. The world's disparate geeks had unified into a subculture with its own language, iconography, rituals and fetish objects – and the modern Nerd was born.
Isn't community one of the most basic desires that anyone can feel? What was the only thing Adam wanted when surrounded by Paradise? A friend and partner. And that was before the Fall.

When you consider the world for adolescents previous to this era, we picture a world of conformity and success through winning friends and influencing people. Football players got the girls and good hostesses were envied by all. We know this is true because so many of the "outside" folks of that culture wrote about football players and housewives with such venom. Think One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Catcher in the Rye, even The Invisible Man.

Many of you know that my entrance to D&D was through my ex-husband, who was a Dungeon Master, meaning he created an elaborate world that his friends could explore with characters they created. The mechanics of exploring this world involve him describing a scene: "You're standing in a hallway made of rough-hewn stone with water dripping in places and moss growing from the cracks. The ceiling is low and torches burn in brackets placed periodically along the wall. About 20 feet in front of you on the right is a large door." Then, he would ask, "What do you do?" We would answer according to our imagined character's personality: "I walk down and try to open the door." "I check the area for secret doors." "I take out my crossbow." "I wait until everyone else decides." "I eat the lunch I brought with me." "I cast a protection spell." According to our decisions, something else would happen, "The door is locked." "Roll a 20 sided die to see if you found secret doors based on the probability that someone of your skill would find them." "Ok, you start eating a sandwich."

Activities moved from the mundane to the heroic as monsters emerged from doors or secrets were uncovered. Dennis was creative enough and had put enough planning into his world's creation that Enclidius allowed us to go in any direction we wanted to.

I loved it.

Notice that the entirety of the game involves interaction. All that happens can be written out as dialogue. We were friends sitting on couches and in armchairs writing a story together.
(This picture was taken in 1998. The costume is totally ironic. Someone found it on sale after Halloween at Walgreens and it was specifically labeled as a Dungeon Master and sized for a 12-year-old. We made him pose.)

I miss playing. Dennis took all of those friends with him by telling them lies about me and I have yet to find someone new to run a game that I could join. A couple of those friends that have reconciled with me aren't interested in D&D anymore and have moved on to new styles of role-playing. Although what they're doing is intriguing, I find that what I want is the camaraderie of collaborative storytelling and that I want it in the fantasy genre. I mean, you're talking to the girl who met her ex-husband while dressed as a flower wench at the local Renaissance Faire.
(This was taken during my first year at the Faire, which was the summer of 1997. I have no idea who the guy is, only that he wanted his picture with me. I went on to work there for four more summers after this, making almost two thousand dollars every summer working 9 weekends.)

I hear that other games like Settlers of Catan might satisfy me but again, I can't seem to find people in my networks that play or who are interested in exploring with me.

But I'll keep looking. Until then my Third Edition Player's Handbook sits on the shelf patiently waiting to show me worlds no one else has ever seen.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Again, humbled

Finals are in two weeks so I don't have much time to spend with you all right now. However, I'd love it if you went over and checked out Baraka's blog. She asked me especially to comment about public prayer from a Christian perspective but I found that once I got there, I was blown away by the effort that some Muslims have to go through to fulfill God's commandments to them.

Here's part of one:
Perhaps it’s easier because I wear hijab. So either a potential employer won’t hire me out of ignorance/fear/racism, or, they will hire me and naturally expect to make accommodations.

Maybe it’s more difficult for those who aren’t as easily identified as Muslims. In the sense that when he/she is hired, the employer doesn’t have those expectations that the employee will need religious accommodation.

Imagine if you had to wear clothing that set you apart from everyone else to be granted the ability to pray during the day.

Many people commented on their discomfort doing ablutions (ritual washing) in public bathrooms.
Since then I’ve worked in academia, and that’s fine. I do feel uncomfortable doing wudu’ in the public bathrooms, so I just use the disabled toilet which has a sink there. It also makes washing myself after going to the loo much easier, so I always head to the disabled toilets wherever and whenever I can.
Actually, I only know what wikipedia tells me about wudu but I can certainly imagine that having to worry about other people when putting one's foot in the sink could be discouraging to actually feeling the presence of God.

I think the greatest feeling I come away with after reading the comments on her post is a sense of jealousy. I wrote:
We Emergents also recognize that, especially the non-Catholics and non-orthodoxes are lacking an element in our spiritual practices because there is nothing in our tradition that forces us to consider, discuss and reveal how the mundane has become more important than our dependence on the Divine on a daily and hourly basis, like you here have been doing. Devotion can always take a back seat for convenience’s sake for most Christians, which is revealing, I think.

It will be worth your time to look around Baraka's site a little bit. She is a stunning writer, willing to bare her fears and humanity in a way that not many bloggers do. I am a better person for keeping her on my blogroll.

Rolling in his grave

A semi-tasteful tribute from Penny Arcadefor those of us that get it, which probably only includes Scooter and me.

Thank you, Gary, for hours lost in basements everywhere, surrounded by bags of Doritos and 2-litres of Mountain Dew.

Monday, March 03, 2008

My Kind of Olde Town School of Folk Music

If there not a point in my life when I get to sing sweet sweet harmony with someone else with at least a guitar and possibly a mandolin for accompaniment, I will be unsatisfied in heaven.

Now is not the time for that, though. I could not cram another thing into my life right now and still I'm trying to make some space for developing a couple of new friendships and for a crafting group at church.

However, as busy as I am with school and church, I'm interested to look back on the last several weeks and to see how many cultural events I've built into the pattern of my days. Especially considering I spent a total of 9 and a half hours on the Economics problem set that I turned in last Monday and that's only a little bit extreme for most assignments.

In the last month I have:

Listened to Angela Davis speak.
Gone to see Buddy Guy in his penultimate performance at the old location of Buddy Guy's Legends.
Attended a Super Bowl party.
Saw Haphaestus at the Lookingglass Theatre.
Saw Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.
Listened to a band at the Hideout.
Went to see Vance Gilbert.

I feel a little bad about the Vance Gilbert one. I had invited several people to go see it with me but in the darkness of two weeks ago, I cancelled on everyone because I was looking ahead in despair at one more thing that I had to do. But when Susan still wanted to come out from the Quad Cities and spend the day with me, we decided to see if we could still get in that night.

I'm so glad we did. Susan and I have been going to see Vance since we were sophomores in college. (I went Freshman year before I knew her but took her with me the next year when he came to play at the Blue Moon Coffee House again.) Since then, we've seen him together and separately all sorts of places, including Seattle, Cedar Rapids and a nice lady's house in Evanston. I have all of his albums and can sing almost all of his songs by heart. He has a heart-stoppingly pure tenor voice that also communicates soul and the poetry he writes and sets to music is of the highest order. He is also extremely funny.

Going to see a Vance show with Susan is like putting on an old pair of comfortable pajamas. It feels so good but you can get a sinking feeling of disappointment when you catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror and realize that you look pretty dumpy. That sinking feeling of disappointment that the reality does not measure up to the internal sensation hit me when he started telling a joke I've heard him tell maybe 7 or 8 times before. "I'm so glad to see you. So many nights at these folk concerts I'm the only chip in the cookie." Vance is black. He says this to a black woman in the audience. It's a really funny joke. But I get a sense that he's clinging to old glory with it.

There are several old chestnuts that Vance serves up in a show. You're pretty much guaranteed that at some point he'll take an 8-bar as a muted trumpet and in another song, he'll hold out a note for little 3 or 4 minutes. I still haven't figured out how he breathes but he must.

But while he's doing this, my mind gets to wander into nostalgia as I look back on the last 12 years or so. Old pajamas are, above all else, comfortable. I also get to notice the nuances of his performance, like a lovely dip in intonation as he sang the word "mountain" in Unfamiliar Moon. Susan leaned over at that point and whispered, "Think of how far you've come since the first time we heard that song." She was referencing a concert at that same venue about four years ago when we heard the song for the first time and I felt like he was describing my life as he sang, "This can't be my house. How can this be home? I don't recognize it anymore. Each step to the front door is higher than I've known. It's like climbing up a mountain 'cause now I climb alone." I still picture the front steps to the house my ex-husband and I bought in Westchester with those words. One of Vance's first songs of the evening was brand new to us and it was about a woman who chooses small town life, which is Susan. He is pretty amazing at his ability to capture the experiences of our lives.

Earlier in the evening, Susan had said, "I love that this is a unifying force in our friendship. And that it has been for years." I love that Vance Gilbert has repeatedly told Susan that she is beautiful. The first year we went to see him (1997?), we sat at a table right up next to the stage and he stopped the concert to listen to her laugh. "What is that? It sounds like someone reading laughter out of a book! Hee hee hee. Hee hee hee." We couldn't breathe we were laughing so hard at being singled out. I've only heard him tell that joke once since then, so I'm fairly confident that Susan was the first. She really does laugh that way. No stretching necessary to make the comment funny. A couple of years ago, Vance said to her, "Look at you! You are what a woman is supposed to look like." He held her face in his hands with those long fingernail beds and she blushed. She blushed again last weekend when he told her she was like a whole pinchable cheek. She blushed in her cleavage and he touched her again. Both agreed that it was OK since it was as lucky as either was going to get that night. If nothing else, I love the man because he loves Susan as a fan more than he loves me.

Vance was followed by Rani Arbo, a sweet-voiced and sassy woman with a great blue-grass funky band. It is she who makes me ache to sing tight harmony with someone. And I can actually see a point in the next five years when I'm comfortable in a job when I can give one night a week to jamming like that. The evening ended with a song from their upcoming children's album. It was a play song in which she would call out an item of clothing and if you were wearing it, you were supposed to stand up and dance. So, Susan and I danced in our blue jeans and sat it out for button-down shirts. For the final iteration, I stood and turned to dance with Susan because I was wearing underwear. I danced all the more joyfully as Susan stayed firmly seated on her chair, looking up at me sheepishly.