Saturday, April 26, 2008

America's Next Top Model

Last weekend, my friend Emily and her friend Jen asked me to be a model for them as they played with their cameras around Logan Square. It was so windy. I loved it. But it's amazing how frozen your face feels when people keep making you laugh all the time. I'd have to look away from them every once in awhile and just let all the muscles in my face go slack before I could begin again. Tyra never talks about that.

So, here is my favorite picture that Jen took.

You can see the rest of them here and find the rest of Jen's work here.

This is my favorite that Emily took.You can see the rest of hers here, as well as other examples of her work.

If you have need of a professional photographer in the Chicagoland area, I highly recommend either of these two women. Highly.

Friday, April 25, 2008


So I've been thinking about this MadTV sketch lately because although I have spent years attempting to tame my inner irrational self, I still get people who explain some way that they've treated me by saying that they were afraid I'd make a scene. These are people that have met me in the last few years, well after I stopped making scenes. I mean, I never made a scene with Dennis, even when we were still married and I went to see him at his "temporary" apartment and he and his mistress were still asleep because he'd forgotten about our appointment. My knowledge of the mistress had not even been confirmed at that point.

But I didn't make a scene.

I don't make scenes because I want people - all people - to like me. I know. It seems odd for someone who projects independence as well as I do. But after a childhood and adolescence of making scenes, I realized that possibly part of the reason why I didn't have many friends could be that they were embarrassed, intimidated or disgusted with the intensity of my emotions. So, even when guys are breaking up with me or friends are breaking my heart, I stay calm because if I got upset, I might push them further away and the door to future reconciliation might close and lock.

Yet, something about my personality makes people fear a scene, even if experience tells them otherwise. It makes me wonder if my logic is wrong. If I should just be honest and let them react however they're going to. I certainly haven't seen much proof that my strategy actually works.

So, since history is cyclical and this trend is recurring lately, I am delighted to find this sketch again. Nicole Parker is my new hero.

I shall pour our my spirit on ALL flesh

I could not resist sharing this top 10 list from Eddy (via Erika).
10. A man’s place is in the army.
9. The pastoral duties of men who have children might distract them from the responsibility of being a parent.
8. The physique of men indicates that they are more suited to such tasks as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do ministerial tasks.
7. Man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus, they represent an experiment rather than the crowning achievement of creation.
6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. Their conduct at football and basketball games demonstrates this.
5. Some men are handsome, and this will distract women worshipers.
4. Pastors need to nurture their congregations. But this is not a traditional male role. Throughout history, women have been recognized as not only more skilled than men at nurturing, but also more fervently attracted to it. This makes them the obvious choice for ordination.
3. Men are prone to violence. No really masculine man wants to settle disputes except by fighting about them. Thus they would be poor role models as well as dangerously unstable in positions of leadership.
2. The New Testament tells us that Jesus was betrayed by a man. His lack of faith and ensuing punishment remind us of the subordinated position that all men should take.
1. Men can still be involved in church activities, even without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the church roof, and perhaps even lead the song service on Father’s Day. By confining themselves to such traditional male roles, they can still be vitally important in the life of the church.
I particularly like #5. My response to people (both men and women!) when they talk about dressing modestly in Christian settings because otherwise I might lead a man to sin in his thoughts?

"As long as the men can return the favor and stop being tall and decisive when we're in church together, I'll do it."

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE)

It is really important to me that we emerging folks, as a movement, do not begin to believe that we are the only people who have seen this new truth about God. If we cling to our identities as a small band of rebel fighters, that identity will become an idol that we worship rather than God.

The reason the movement is called "emergent" is that people from all walks of life and from all different church traditions are coming to the same realizations at the same time without having talked to one another first. Hence, emerge. Like lots of butterflies all at the same time.

So, with that mission in mind, I try to attend conferences that aren't labeled "emergent" as much as possible. Last weekend, I was able to attend the Friday session of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE)

I was astonished that each of the three speakers in the three sessions I attended would have easily been identified as emergent if they were white, tall, and wore funky glasses. Instead two were African American and one was Asian. In a couple of weeks, they will be available for download online. I'll update you when that happens. But now, let me tell you about them.

First to speak was Otis Moss III. He's the current pastor at Barack Obama's church. His topic for the morning Bible study was the hip-hop church. He began by saying that the church has failed in reaching the post-modern, post-soul, technologically equipped generation. Sound familiar anyone? His text was Deuteronomy 34 and the first chapter of Joshua. These are the verses that talk about Moses passing leadership on to Joshua as he died so that the Jewish people who have a leader to take them into the Promised Land. The Joshua generation has never experienced slavery (speaking of both) or segregation (speaking of now) and so they come to God from a completely different direction.

Pastor Moss then went into a brilliantly succinct history of hip-hop, including dead-accurate renditions of Rapper's Delight and The Message. His point in educating his audience was to show how very glaringly different this generation is from generations that came before it. Why? "You cannot reach a Joshua generation with a Moses methodology." He also pointed out that Jesus is the best person at re-mixing, that is, taking a "song" that already exists and making it into something new. "You have heard it said . . . but I say . . ." A total re-mix. He said that we can choose to listen to "Amazing Grace" on 8-tracks, LPs, Cassettes, CDs or MP3s but your medium will affect who will listen to the music.

Overall, I felt like he could have gone a little further than simply saying that we have to package the gospel message in new wrapping. Actually, I asked a question to see whether he could go further than that and I was disappointed that he went a different direction in his answer. However, often when I wonder about whether racial reconciliation is possible in the emergent movement, I worry about the doctrinal and social conservatism of most African American churches. If the emergent movement is about creating a safe place to have a conversation about God since God is actually bigger than any words or cluster of words that we can use to describe her, this necessarily demolishes the idea that one has to agree to a list of "beliefs" about God in order to be a follower of Christ. But "right doctrine" is so central t traditional churches. I wanted to know if that was part of the wrapping that Pastor Moss was willing to change in order to show young people that God has been in their lives all along.

So, even if he wouldn't go that far that day, he did come out in favor of women being equal leaders in the church and extolled the virtues of Bayard Rustin, the openly gay Civil Rights leader who was most influential on Martin Luther King, Jr's commitment to non-violence. It's a start, right? A giant one, actually, in my book. To have over-turned traditional church doctrines forcing women into submissive roles and homosexuals into roles as permanent sinners (unlike the rest of us, of course) indicates a willingness to recognize that all of our doctrines are interpretations, and interpretations can change as we gain new knowledge.

The second session I attended was presented byRev. Soong Chan Rah and Dr. Velda Love, both of whom teach at North Park University. The first stated outcome on the flip chart for the session was, "Identify methods used that hold churches captive to Western Christian ideology." Woohoo! A major aspect of the emerging movement is recognizing that the traditions of the church were mostly formed in the last 500 years. This includes both styles of worship and doctrinal necessities like believing that Jesus had to die because a supposedly loving God was so angry with us that we were going to go to Hell if he didn't appease himself. As the session went on, it became clear that this is what the presenters meant by Western Christian ideology, although they focused on race specifically.

They pointed out that most Christian churches look more like western white America than we look like the scriptures, emphasizing individualism, consumerism/materialism and racism rather than saving communities, living simply to that others may simply live and deliberate reconciliation. They pointed out that the fastest growing denominations are Catholics, Baptists and Pentecostals, all of which are only around 60% white. The fastest diminishing denominations are Lutherans, Congregationalists (UCC), and Anglicans, who are all 88-96% white. My favorite point that they made was that if churches really believed that overturning Roe vs. Wade was important because God doesn't want our society to kill babies, they should vote to give the 12 million undocumented workers living in America citizenship because they would overwhelmingly turn the tide on that issue. The implied message is that most churches believe in keeping America for Americans than they actually care about abortion.

I have heard that Rev. Soong Chan Rah is critical of the emerging movement for limiting its activities to the white evangelical and mainstream communities. I've also heard that he's pretty accessible so I'm going to see if I can get a lunch with him to talk about it further. Right now, I think that critique imbues the movement with more power or intention than it has, since we are not out there actively recruiting folks, simply being available to people that are looking for us. But I know there are subtle ways to be welcoming to non-white folks that we probably aren't doing on a movement level, even if some churches are. I'll be interested in what he has to say.

The final speaker was the crowning glory of emergent theology coming from all traditions. Dr. John W. Kinney is Dean and Professor of Theology and Historical Studies The Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology. He must also be a pastor of an Africa American church because he could preach. He started by saying "Faith is not a creed. Faith is a relationship. The creed is an attempt to communicate that relationship but can easily become an idol."

He could have stopped there and I would have gone home happy to have heard those words from an African American man's lips.

But he didn't stop there.

He railed against churches that use the Word to sanction where they already stand rather than to learn, change and grow because of it.

He bemoaned the fact that we are one nation under God because that means that we are not a nation with God. This hierarchical relationship that we have created is then reflected in all of our other relationships. A major tenet of emerging conversations and churches is a flattened social network, also called decentralized leadership. Dr. Kinney called this an over/under relationship. He said, "When you posit Christianity as the over religion [over other religions], it reaffirms the system that Jesus came to subvert." When emerging folks says that other religions might be just as valid as other religions since God isn't big enough to be contained by just one kind of spirituality, we get called pluralists like it's a dirty word. But here is this man, saying exactly that. He went on to say, "The concept of over/under is not the design of God, it's the result of the curse [of the Fall]." Wow. He made a great double entendre about not expecting women to be under men. I love the bawdiness that's allowed in the black church.

He used the text from Zephaniah 3 (thanks Bible Gateway!):
What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem,
the city of violence and crime!
2 No one can tell it anything;
it refuses all correction.
It does not trust in the Lord
or draw near to its God.
3 Its leaders are like roaring lions
hunting for their victims.
Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time,
who by dawn have left no trace of their prey.
4 Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain.
Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions.
5 But the Lord is still there in the city,
and he does no wrong.
But God is still in the city.

The passage goes on to say, "Therefore, wait." Stay in the city. Go to the city. But if God is still in the city, you can't save it. She already has. You are being blessed by being allowed in.

Dr. Kinney also pointed out that the first thing you have to do to resurrect the dead in Scripture is break with religious tradition. "You gotta touch some people you've been taught not to touch."

If that isn't a rallying cry for the emergent movement to begin interacting with folks who aren't white and educated, I don't know what is.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Another evening spent with sweating, muscular men, shouting and cheering as they executed particularly skilled maneuvers.

Oh no.

Oh yes.

Another night of indie, semi-professional wrestling with the Ring of Honor in Chicago Ridge.

I can't tell you how delightful it was. This time, it wasn't even that I was surrounded by the uber-nerds that are attracted to this kind of niche sporting entertainment. They just kind of existed around me like a warm sea of ambient interest.

This time, I was entranced by the actual wrestling. I'm starting to get to know the characters and by knowing the script, I can enjoy booing at the heels and cheering the faces. I made fun of Jimmy Jacobs when he cried. I I booed Adam Pearce just on general principal. I marveled at the beauty of Kota Ibushi. I marveled at how not huge El Generico is. I yelled gibberish back at Delirious but admired Chris Hero, since he's currently Daniel's favorite, although his was a disappointing finish. I even yelled a sarcastic "Good job Sinclair!" in a moment of quiet with my obviously female voice at the official that everyone loves to hate (but only in Chicago, interestingly). I chanted "R-O-H! R-O-H!" out of appreciation for the experience that the league provides when the overall wrestling itself was particularly fine, such as in the tag-team match-up between the Briscoes and the Motor City Machine Guns. This is a crowd that chants "Please come back! Please come back!" when visiting wrestlers work well with the regulars and provide a good show. Of course, they also chant "You fucked up! You fucked up!" when a wrestler sets up a move and then fumbles it. They're very aware that this is entertainment, not competition.

There were some particularly cringe-worthy moments last night. One of the wrestlers only has one leg! That's some crazy shit. He does back-flips and stuff. But he's evil so you feel all torn inside whether you should admire him for overcoming adversity or hate him for beating up Austin Aries.

I hate the moments in wrestling when the wrestler threatens his girlfriend after she cheats on him. It doesn't matter that she can fight back because she's a wrestler, too. It just makes me uncomfortable to see that dynamic played out when you know that it actually happens to millions of women every night and they can't fight back. When the men fight each other or the women fight each other it's just a caricature and doesn't cause me to have that response. Maybe it should.

The final gross was that Kevin Steen had some sort of growth under his armpit. It was bigger than a quarter. The band-aid came off early and so we were morbidly attracted to it every time he raised his arm. It was like we couldn't look away. Then, it popped. Let me say that again after the carriage return for emphasis.

Then, it popped.

I can't get the splatter out of my visual memory. It was all CSI and shit. I was so overcome with laughter that Daniel told me I had to calm down because he was afraid I would hurt the wrestler's feelings. But seriously, why didn't he wrap that thing with an ACE? He really thought that little bit of adhesive would hold it with all the sweat and hair?

Daniel says that sometimes he and I show up in the DVDs. Since we now spend the money on second row seats, this is going to become even more likely.

A terribly satisfying evening.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Watch me get your mom.

I've been watching the West Wing today after swimming this morning and sitting in the sauna for half an hour to sweat out some of the toxins from last night.

I had a really good time. I looked great. So did everyone else and it was fun to just look at all of us in our finest.

My Crazies were right in some ways and wrong in others. Not all of the toxins that I needed to sweat out were alcohol-based.

The West Wing often makes me cry. Today, two things happened in an episode I was watching. The first is that the president and CJ disembark from Air Force One and have this conversation:
President Bartlett: CJ, look.

CJ: Don’t start with me, Mr. President.

PB: I was helping pass the time. I was being entertaining as well as instructive.

CJ: I am back in America now; I have rights. I am no longer belted down next to the passenger from hell.

Leo: Welcome back Mr. President, how was the flight?

[At the same time]
PB: It was great.
CJ: It was gruesome.

CJ: “If you look out the left side of the cabin, you’ll see the fjords.” Then we got the history of the fjords. Then we got a quiz on the fjords. Do you have any idea how much I wanted to dress you up in leder-hosen and drop-kick you into those fjords?

PB: Ah, you don’t know how to have fun when we’re traveling.
What I love about this scene is that CJ is legitimately pissed at the President. But the President is fucking with her. He did all that on the flight because he knew it would piss her off and that amused him. The reality is that it amuses CJ, too. It’s kind of fun to get all riled up like that. Sure, it the great scheme of things, she probably would have preferred to nap or to get some work done, but once the President made it clear that wasn’t going to happen, she gave in and played the game.

I love this dynamic. My family is like this. My dad will kick us under the table and say, “Watch me get your mom,” then proceed to ask the world’s dumbest questions to get her frustrated because she actually believes in that moment that he’s capable of such intense stupidity. (I’m not sure who that reflects worse on: my mom for being gullible or my dad for being the type of guy people are likely to believe is actually as dumb as he looks.) It’s perverse and sick and we all love it. Because the thing is, it would never work if Mom didn’t care enough about Dad to answer his questions to help him “understand” something.

In families, occasionally we abuse the intimacy of our relationships with one another to drive each other crazy simply because we can. Because we know that almost nothing will threaten the family unit because of all of the positive things it provides for us. In the cost-benefit analysis, it is always better to err on the side of tolerance and appeasement than to threaten the existence of the family unit.

Do we get pissed at each other? Yup.

Do we yell at each other? Gosh yes.

Do we laugh and make jokes at each other’s expense? Yes.

But in the end, all is forgiven because it has to be. We would rather accommodate each other at almost any cost than walk away.

I know not all families are like this. But mine is and I’m grateful for it.

I believe that this ideal community is the basis for much of our art and literature that describes groups of friends that stick together through thick and thin: soldiers, groups of girlfriends, gangs of jocular thieves, etc. And the staff of the West Wing. These folks have the freedom to be whoever they are - pissed, funny, vulnerable, crazy,

It’s possible that for the first time in my life I’ve found that group of friends at school. It’s possible that I haven’t. Only time will tell. But we’ve been over a few bumps already in the last 8 months and none of us have fallen out of the Jeep yet even though some of those bumps have foothills that we've still navigating.

But the second things that happened in this episode of the West Wing was that when the President asked Charlie if he would want the man who shot his mother executed, Charlie responds that he would want to kill the man himself. This affected me because Charlie will never do this, no matter how much he wants to. There are things that are more important to him that scratching that giant itch.

I thought, "Life's hard." Then I thought, "But you just have to live with it."

I'm a little embarrassed that my internal monologue is so cliche-ed. But life feels hard for me. Among other things, my ex will probably date someone new soon, someone that I know. I don't actually want to still be dating him but I also don't want to lose his friendship through the awkwardness of tricky dynamics and the time that a new woman will take from me. But I kind of just have to live with whatever happens because, well, you just have to live with it.

But I have this sneaking suspicion that it will all be OK. Time will go on and these bumps will make the community all of my friends - not just the school ones - people that I can be myself with because I do not fear losing them if I abuse our intimacy from time to time.

That's a hard one for me. I've driven a lot of people off by letting them see the real me, the unpleasant me, the bitchy me, the controlling me, the vulnerable me. Friends are very often ephemeral in my life. I think this is probably true for everyone.

Yet, I still hope. Even though my heart aches sometimes. I realize that my heart aches because I fear losing community. My heart aches because we live in a world in which none of us ever feel completely reconciled. If we were completely reconciled, there would be no cost-benefit analysis, no trade-off. We would not hurt each other. We would not abuse intimacies just to be reminded that we are loved enough to be forgiven.

I hope for a world where people are reconciled. I believe this is what Jesus is offering us when he is offering to let us live in the Kingdom of God. The trick, of course, is that we have to fight to expand the boundaries of this kingdom so that it's big enough for everyone to live in or it's not big enough for any of us. We'll always live half in and half out.

I know that my parents hate that I am so vulnerable on this blog. My mom thinks stalkers and predators will be attracted to me and my dad thinks that someday I won't be able to get a job I want because of it. And I respect their opinions and I'm more careful than I would normally be because of them.

But the only way the people in this world will become reconciled to each other is if some of us, little by little, start trusting that the bumps we're rolling over will actually make us stronger friends in the end because we get practice holding each other in the Jeep. That the only way we'll know that we're loved is if we push the boundaries a little and the only way others will trust that they are loved is if we let them fuck with us a little. We have to be willing to put down what we thought we were going to get done on the flight and play the game.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

I love thrift stores

So, I'm going to need someone else to say, "boo ya!" one more time.

I've been obsessing for days about what I am going to wear to the gala auction tonight that everyone from school will be at. My very finest Crazies have been in attendance the whole time, reminding me that an ex-boyfriend will be there, he's probably got a new girlfriend that I don't know about, all the single girls in the program are at least 3 years younger, thinner, more skilled at applying make-up. You get the point. Every insecurity. Between yesterday and today, I've tried on every piece of formal-wear that I own in every possible combination and rejected them all as too frumpy and continuing to look for, to quote one of my Crazies, "more boobs."

I thought I could relax when I found this top.

However, I realized that the reason I got it on such a discount at the Banana Republic is that is must be from their maternity line. No amount of shiny was going to let me feel radiant after that discovery.

So, the search continued. I honesty tried to pair one of my Renaissance Faire bodices with some skirts. It is not one of my finer moments and I am not proud of myself.

Finally, I settled on a red empire-waist dress that that I've had for 10 years but since it's a classic design and couldn't handle a bra, it came closest to fulfilling the "more boobs" requirement.

But the Crazies didn't leave.

So, when my 3:00 tea date called at 2:30 to tell me he wouldn't be there to 3:30, I took the Crazies by the hand and took them to the Family Thrift around the corner. 10 minutes of looking got me a perfectly sized, perfectly designed for my body type Jones New York, non-stinky black dress.

I took it home and tried it on. Unfortunately, this is the best picture I can get of it right now. I'm running a little late.

These boobs are just right, Goldilocks.

I've been listening to Mike Doughty's new album and particularly the song, "Like Luminous Girl."

I can be that girl now.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Not to toot my own horn, but . . .

I just read the following paragraph and understood all of it.
H^ijt - a^i + r^j + d^t + (b)MEMP^it + (g)CCARE^it + (L)Z^ijt + e^ijt

In this equation, H^ijt represents the health of child i in site j at age t, which is measured in months. In our simplified specification of the production function, child health depends on an individual-specific effect, a^i (an unchanging characteristic of the child-mother pair, for example, the child's health endowment or his race); site effects, r^j; age effects, d^t; maternal employment at age t, MEMP; time spent in child care at age t, CCARE; and the quality of other health inputs, Z, at age t. In the empirical analysis, Z^ijt is a vector of possibly time-varying family and child characteristics (e.g., current family structure - number of siblings and adults - mother's age and education at the child's birth, and in some models, family income) that, along with site dummy variables, will be the proxy variables for more direct health inputs. We also control for calendar months and year. Month may be important for injuries because of seasonality in children's activity and for infectious disease because of seasonality in flue exposure. Finally, we include contemporaneous rather than lagged influences in child health because our health measures, injuries and infectious disease, have short gestational periods.

Can I hear a "Boo ya!" anyone?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Everything Must Change Tour, Part 3

My friend Scott sent the pictures that he took and I discovered another page in my journal of notes from the conference so you are all going to be treated to one more post.

On Friday, they showed a Sierra Club video about mountain top removal and then asked us to split into small groups to discuss our reactions. I admitted to my partner that I didn't feel much of anything at all except a reaffirmation that it is a huge task in front of us to fix this world and usually I have trouble believing that it will actually happen. I just act like I believe and hope that will be enough to fake it til I make it. On Saturday, Brian Mitchell, one of the speakers for the local panel echoed my thoughts and that made me feel better about my lack of indignance: "It's really hard to engage with that emotionally because then I'd have to do something." This was also echoed a little but in one of the prayers written on the butcher paper taped to the walls: "Why do I keep hitting snooze?" I ask myself that every morning. I have a feeling of absolute certainty that another 9 minutes is the best possible thing I can do for myself or the clarity with which I believe that if I turn the alarm off, I'll be able to simply lie in bed for 5 more minutes and then get up. This feeling is a pretty good metaphor for my occasional bouts of urgency that I must change my life now or I won't be living with integrity. But then I see a perfect sweater for $13 at Banana Republic or want to take my leftovers home when the only option is a styrofoam container. I fall back asleep.

But later, a woman shared that she had seen a sticker on the RedEye dispenser in her neighborhood that read: "I can't accept this narrative anymore" and I thought, "Hey, at least Ms. Sticker and I have alarm clocks." It reminded me of the "You are beautiful" stickers I see all over, stuck on garbage cans and bike racks. They make me smile every time, though they have no credibility unless one believes that everyone is beautiful. My involuntary smile and fuzzy feelings are like proof that I do believe that everyone is beautiful and discovering that I possess a belief like that makes the day better, like finding a $20 in the pocket of the coat you put on for the first time in a season.

Finally, Brian said two things that I loved. The first was that evangelism had to change from a model in which Christians were going to have to stop recruiting in order to man the life boats and start recruiting to get help putting out the fire. I've never had an eschatology (theory about the afterlife) that believed the world would get worse before the second coming, but I like the poetry of the metaphor. Brian also responded to a woman who was pushing him from a threatened perspective about some of the things he's written and said. She was trying to trap him into claiming contradictory things as true so that she could prove him wrong. (I think someone might want to sit down with her to talk about post-modernism.) But he said, "You might be probing me for a level of consistency that I don't actually have." Ah, diplomacy. I'm so bad at it that I love to see it in others.

We were given the opportunity to re-create the book cover and have it photographed. The biggest thing that I got out of this conference was a real sense that I have no idea what this Kingdom of God will look like in practical terms. I can describe it with lofty adjectives like "reconciled" but can't picture a healed society rather than one that is changed only incrementally. So, I wrote, "Imagine" as a directive to myself. My friend Jess said, "They're giving us permission to write on ourselves? Of course I'm going to do that." I really like Jess and her relationship with her husband gives me equal parts hope for my own future and despair that there couldn't possibly be more guys that good out there. One of the best parts of the whole weekend was spending more time with folks from my church, who I often only see on Sundays. We are building community and that is the only step towards changing everything that I can make myself care about. It will have to be enough.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Everything Must Change Tour, Part 2

Continuing with the theme from Part 1, I want to talk a little bit more about the sermon that I heard (in the form of emotions) while the sermon was being preached (in the form of the whole conference).

I have some experience and training as a performer and public speaker. I also like when public presentations go well, so I tend to volunteer to participate because I know at least my part has a good chance of being good. Just being honest here, folks.

My earliest experiences of performance were in church when I'd have solos in junior high choir. I think even then I quaffled about how to respond to folks when they told me how good I was. Probably someone pointed out to me that it was rude to put them off entirely but I also knew that I didn't work that hard, so I hadn't really done anything to be complimented on. God gave me a pretty voice. However, pointing to the ceiling in response to the applause is pretty dorky and kind of disingenuous. Plus, I wanted to deny that sweet thrill of Sally Fields style they-really-like-me but I really couldn't even though it just didn't seem right in church. Over time, I've gotten fairly good at really listening to what people say to me and responding to that rather than my conflicted emotions. My favorite is when they thank me for sharing my talent. I can get down with that. It's something I've actually done and I can thank them in return for acknowledging my effort. If they tell me I have such a beautiful voice, sometimes I'll tell a little story about wanting to credit my parents but being unable to since both are tone-deaf but produced 4 musical children. Otherwise, I'll give my grandma credit for insisting that I should have voice lessons when I was 8 or 9. I try to remember that even if it feels like a flood of compliments that I want to let simply wash over me, each individual person deserves individual love for doing the scary thing by being vulnerable and sharing their emotions with me.

Lately, I've been participating in things by writing little devotionals and sharing them. This has created a whole new battle with the ego for me. Linnea, the conference organizer, asked me to prepare something to say to the group and I laid awake for over an hour trying to get the words right so that everyone would think I was funny and witty and charming. I wanted them all to like me, especially the cute, single Christian men. (Not many of those around in this world, by the way. I've been a little obsessive lately about checking ring fingers.) But, eventually, as I stared at the ceiling, trying on outfits in my head and practicing my comedic timing, God was able to penetrate the cloud of selfishness and remind me that maybe I should think about how best to help people see her better.


I forgot.


Yeah. I'll get right on that.

So, I spent some time trying to figure out how to make people think that I'm really Godly and spiritual.

Wait a second. That's not right either.

I'm astonished how many times I can possibly make this same mistake of self-centeredness. But the good part about struggling with the same thought process over and over again is that I know the way out of that labyrinth. I know that if I trust God, she will give me the right words at the right time.

I want to share with you what I said. Or, at least, a reasonable facsimile of it. Chances are, I'll revise it as I write it down to make it sound better. But I'll also put into parentheses places some of my reactions while I was speaking.

Yesterday, Linnea asked me to connect some of the world crises that we're talking about to something that we do every day and asked me to find a headline in a newspaper. Linnea is very nice and I wanted to make her happy. So, I nodded my head with wide eyes and told her I was on it. She could trust me.

I don't read the newspaper.

I mean, I'm a student at the University of Chicago! To heck with the real world! Give me theory! Theory! So, in my panic about how I could do this, I loked around my neighborhood in the city and found this: a RedEye newspaper with the headline, "Totally Georgeous!" with a giant picture of George Clooney. (Oh good, they laughed both places they were supposed to. But wait, oh shit. What do I say next?)

So I went through the paper, thinking that there had to be something of substance. (Wait, I didn't expect that laughter. Shit. OK, calm down controll-y girl.) And I found an article on ATA filing for bankruptcy and some changes with the census and since I've taken some economics classes now and some statisitcs classes, I can make some connections about why these are part of a larger crisis. I can talk about oligopolies and rising gas prices to connect it with what we've been talking about. (Oh no, I totally just said that because I wanted people to think I was smart. Plus, I really can't talk about that kind of stuff off the cuff. Damage control!) But that's more dorky than I want to be in front of this many people. (So what do you talk about now, huh, genius?)

So, I want to talk about the existence of the RedEye itself. This is what people read on the El. I take the El and the bus from Logan Square to Hyde Park every day and I see this. (Ugh, so now you're a do-gooder public transportation greenie? Shush. I was building credibility for my point. Yeah? What is that point? I'm getting to it; I'm going to talk about how I look down on those people because I read real literature and political science journal articles and how that wrong and part of the world crisis. I'll be vulnerable and self-deprecatory and people will think that I'm brave for sharing and love me because I'm humble when I acknowledge my hubris. Let me set up the story for them, OK?) In the gentrified neighborhoods, they hire someone - usually a black man in his 50s - who knows what they pay him. They hire someone to hand the RedEye directly to people in my demographic on their way into the station. The RedEye is part of the problem. It is entertainment masquerading as news.

(Whoa! Where did that come from? That's not what I was going to say. Shit. Who's giving this little presentation? Oh yeah. God. Sorry, God. You know, for saying "shit" and trying to make myself look good instead of you. I'll let you drive now. Or, at least I'll try.)

People like me. People of privilege. People of influence. People of intelligence. It's a distraction, seduction to keep people that change the world from having to even think about it. When Linnea asked this morning who believed that changing the world is going to be hard, I raised my hand high and decisively. Most days, I can't see this future that we're working to bring about. But I believe in it. I'm going to change the world: I'm studying Public Policy, I go to conferences like these, I run up/rooted meetings and believe it means something.

So, this might not be the typical presentation for this segment of these conferences (see, I can't even keep from trying to make myself look special, even after God made me say all that other stuff) but it is what I can say about headlines.

Let us pray together.

I totally said that last line out of habit. It never even occurred to me that we would actually pray together. I had the prayer written out on the paper Linnea had given me and so I started reading it. By about the third sentence, I realized that people were racing to catch up and keep up, so I slowed down a little. Then, a little more until I was reading at a pace 275 people could read along. Years of performance training and experience. I shook the whole time I was up there and read too quickly.

I have to admit, though, I like being human. It's complex and worth savoring when we aren't perfect. This means that every experience has an intriguing taste, whether it's blue cheese, steak or Sour Patch Kids. A couple of weeks ago, one of Daniel's friends told a story about being totally gothed out in high school in the 80s, leaving his all-boys school at lunch to see his girlfriend, looking at her wearing $800 black leather jackboots, a mini-skirt, and giant Robert Smith hair and thinking, "Isn't life great?" The story was all the sweeter because he didn't really intend to tell it and it didn't really have any point. My questions about high school just kind of made him remember it. The irony of a goth kid savoring life was just poetic enough to make it worth repeating.

Denise Levertov poetry was highlighted during the conference. She calls life "the needful journey / the veiled distance / imperative mystery." I figure that's pretty much the same thing.

If faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see, than I my faith is pretty solid right now. I do not see what this new world that we're struggling to achieve will look like. I do not see what kind of job I will get when I finish this degree. I do not see what man will ever be my partner. But I am sure that I hope for a world that is not in a death spiral of consumption and waste. I am sure that I hope for a job that will use my talents and benefit other people. I am sure that I hope for someone who will make me happy and want me to make him happy. So, I keep making decisions as if I'm certain of these things I do not see, keep making my armor of selfishness thinner so God can break through more often and that's the best I can do.

Everything Must Change Tour, Part 1

So, I have spent this weekend participating in Brian McLaren's Deep Shift conference in Chicago. It has been pretty intense and it wasn't necessarily because of anything Brian had to say. A lot of the time he was just rehashing the book and I felt the book was pretty simplistic for my level of engagement anyway. As Frederick Buechner says in Telling Secrets, "One particular sermon I will always remember though I cannot be sure that it is exactly the sermon he preached because of course it is the sermons we preach to ourselves around the preacher’s sermons that are the ones that we hear most powerfully." However, since there were only 250 or 300 people at the conference, and because I was considered an organizer (although truth be told, I did very little real organizing, just showed up and answered people's questions), I got to interact with him personally and I felt he was extremely genuine and warm.

Let's go chronologically, shall we?

Arriving at the conference on Friday night was everything junior high never was for me: a barrage of people I knew and loved coming up to me to say hello and to offer me a place to sit next to them. Take that junior high, high school and college cafeterias!

I mean, seriously, my Dad and I walked in and registered with my pastor, Nanette. While we were registering, Julie, one of my favorite bloggers, called my name and hugged me with her beautiful pregnant self. Then, we went to talk with a group that he and I both knew: Jeff, the developer for Josiah Community, Mary Nelson, one of the Board members of CCDA, her friend and Brian McLaren himself, who is speaking at the CCDA conference in the fall in Miami. We spent several minutes talking with them and while we there, all sorts of people came up to say hi. One of my favorite people from my old church, Mike, came walking down the aisle and gave me a great hug and big smile. He was the most unexpected of the evening and I was so pleased to see him. While he and I were talking, Nick from church came to talk with me a little. The most beautiful college graduate that I know, Kate, came up next to say hi and to point out where her parents, Mark and Michelle were. Mark was president of the board where I used to work and he and I became good friends over lots of lunches at Lou Malnati's. Then Jessica from church found me, hugged me and pointed over to where her husband and Nick were sitting. I wrapped up my conversation with Mike at that point to talk a little bit more with Mary, then followed my dad over to sit with Mark and Michelle (they were his only other friends there so I figured I'd let him choose where we'd sit). :-) While saying hello to them, the pastor from my old church came by and gave me a big hug and his wife Liz talked to me very specifically about what I've been up to lately since she hasn't seen me lately, which made me feel very good because she's not a traditional pastor's wife (which I've always respected) and I always kind of thought of her as aloof but it turns out otherwise. I was also glad that Daniel doesn't hold a grudge about the fact that I left the church. However, he may rightfully hold a grudge since my dad still can't get the name of the church right after knowing him for five years. Julie's husband, Mike, my good friend and the up/rooted coordinator, said hello and sat nearby. Scott from my church came to say hello and took a bunch of pictures. Helen, from Off the Map, who comes to our up/ gatherings gave me her beautiful smile and hugged me, too. Just as the presentation was getting started, I saw Michael from church a few pews ahead and I ran up to hug him and give him a smooch on the cheek. I love the smile in his eyes when he says hello to me. The final relationship delight of the evening was to look to the pew across the aisle to my right and see Juanita, one of the women who has been most influential in my life, smiling and waving at me with the little barrettes holding her bobbed hair back over her ears in the cutest little-girl style that worked stunningly on a seventy-ish woman. She also smiles really well with her eyes. I thought to myself, "disruption be damned!" and scurried across to hug her.

Whew! That's a lot of hugs and a lot of links.  That's all I have to report from Friday night, though, since Dad and I had to bail out a little early to do a little dog-wrangling for my brothers since Daniel's future mother-in-law was in the hospital unexpectedly while he was caring for my other brother's dog. It's enough to report, though. I was so grateful for where my life has come.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Done! Kind of.

I finished the charm quilts top last week. Sometimes I just hold it in my lap and look at how all the different bits frame each other.

I picture my brother's children home sick from school doing the same thing while on the couch with the TV on in the background.

Now, all that's left to do is trim the sides to make it square, add a border, construct the backing and send it off to a professional to be quilted. At the end of last week, my neck muscles were so tight it felt like I had one of those travel pillows under my skin. I don't think long hours at the sewing machine are what my body was designed for.

Thanks to everyone who chimed in, encouraging me to stick with its imperfection to find beauty in its mismatch-ed-ness.

charm quilts