Saturday, December 31, 2005

Jesus and Me

I would like to recommend this post by Adam Felber, a radio personality that I have always liked and just recently learned had a blog of his own. It has 112 replies and I haven't read those yet, but the post was a real thought-jerker.

Everyone's relationship with Jesus should be important to Christians. Even those that don't claim he is their lord and savior. It's called "being an ambassador for Christ," to use the language of the born-again. If the behavior of Christians is causing non-
Christians to be disgusted with the guy that seems to have led them into that behavior, they should rethink their motivations. Because, chances are, disgusting behavior was not commanded by the God of Love. Chances are, disgusting behavior was a result of human interpretation of the Bible. Guess what, guys, because of the Fall, human interpretation has the chance of being flawed. THINK IT THROUGH AGAIN.

Oh, those pesky consequences inherited from Adam and Eve.

As I have been thinking about Adam's post, I have thought about my own relationship with Jesus. The main thing that strikes me (maybe because I am actually doing a little pondering of the New Year) is just how much I have talked about my relationship this past year. I have talked more about Jesus this past year than I ever have in my life, both on this blog and in actual conversations with people. I have talked about Jesus and what he has taught me, I have talked about Jesus and how much I respect him, to the point that I try to do what he tells me, I talk about God as I view him through the lens of my Christian upbringing and the lens of truths that my heart tells me. I talk about Jesus more than I did when my faith was vehement as a teenager. At least, I talk about him more with strangers and people that do not know Jesus.

I have never been comfortable with the human interpretation that we should convert the masses. God gave us free will and I believe that manipulating others into conversion, especially in their times of emtional weakness, is actually taking away their free will, which is contermanding God's desire. I do believe in education and most people learn by watching others demonstrate knowledge. Think about it: we don't learn to tie our shoes because someone explained to us in words that first you make a loop with the string in your right hand, then you wrap the other string around the base of the loop and pull that second string through to make a second loop. We watched others demonstrate. Ocassionally, someone else would wrap their arms around us from behind and guide our hands through the process. The same is true about spiritual education. I can't tell someone else how to find happiness by loving Jesus. All I can do is relate my own experiences honestly, without any attempt to force an outcome (telling the stories with the intent to convert would sully the truth of the story and it would not resonate). Since they are offered up without any strings attached (usually, I've written for my own sense of reflection or for pure entertainment value), I hope that God can use my stories and people's reactions to them as they are needed. They'll be little bits of stone contributing to the concrete of someone else's foundation. An aggregate faith. Attempts to manipulate conversion are attempts to build someone else's foundation for them out of big blocks of ourselves. Fast and dramatic. Big blocks of ourselves are like blocks of sandstone of even the foam that setbuilders build facades fro movies and plays with(remember the Fall). Since God wasn't really offered control of the building, it is flawed and will ultimately crumble under pressure.

Wow, that's a lot of metaphors.

Still, although thus endeth the lesson, I am a filled witha sense of contentment that I have been given the opportunity and felt a fluency in talking about my relationship with Jesus. He is a good friend and someone I admire and it's a little like introducing good friends of mine that have never met each other. I know that there is a chance that they won't get along or that they just don't see anything special in each other. But, they'll each have met the other so that when I talk about them in the future, they'll have better sense of what I'm talking about and the complexity of the relationship. This will make my relationship with both individuals more intimate and that's absolutely necessary for my happiness, if nothing else.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Take a Ride on the Reading

Today, in the flurry of getting back into my commuting routine, I totally forgot a book to read on the train. On the way in, it was fairly painful because I was tired, a little grumpy and so was everyone else so there wasn't anything interesting to look at. On the way, home, however, I was interested to see what other people were reading. (Paige says that people reading on public transportation is one of two characteristics that are indentifying foibles of the city. The other is people bringing their lunches to work.) I could only see 4 titles. The young Hispanic girl sitting next to me plunked her backpack onto her lap and hauled out a giant hardcover of Book 4 of the Wheel of Time series, a high fantasy 12-book series that I've read twice. Across the aisle was a West coast-looking lady reading Memoirs of a Geisha. At the other end of the train, standing by the door, a regular-looking woman was reading Dan Brown's Deception Point (a book that was so bad that I didn't get past page 50 - too many beautiful bilingual squash playing people outfoxing exotic attackers seemingly effortlessly). I had to read the title backwards in the window and I'm very proud of my keen observational skills on that one. Finally, this cutie blue-eyed guy, totally one of my types, was reading the 3rd Harry Potter. As I looked at him, the ring that I noticed in my peripheral vision and simply registered as a wedding ring turned out to be on his right hand. As I looked closer, I realized that some sort of design was incised in the gold band. A sweet smile of amusement slowly spread on my face as I realized it was a reproduction of the "One Ring to Rule Them All," from the Lord of the Rings movies.

Ooowee! I hope he's on the train again tomorrow!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

GRE's are G-R-E-AT!

Soon, I will hit play on the DVD remote and sink into the world of Star Wars: Episode III. It's a little weird to admit that this will be the first time that I've seen it since I saw it in the theater when it came out.

The question is, though, why would I spend two and half hours doing nothing but watching a movie when there is so much else in my life to do? I need to finish my application to grad school, research other grad schools because I'm nervous now that maybe I don't want to be limited to just one school, exercise after a cheesy, creamy Christmas, make presents for my extended family who are coming to visit at the end of this week, unpack from several days spent at my parents' house and just general life stuff like cleaning up around here. So, the question remains, why waste the time on a movie?

Because I did a great job on the GRE! [picture me smiling, squealing and shaking my little fists in pent-up excitement] Since you take the test on computer, they tell you your score before you go and I did way better than I worried I would. Yay! I've been so nervous that a year spent on the island with all that smoke hanging in omnipresent clouds around me actually might have made me dumber. (Who knows which of the scare tactics used on me in school were actually right?) This was made worse when I took a second sample test and fell 13 percentage points on the verbal section. If I had lost my edge, where would my identity be?

I know that humility is a virtue and that there is definitely something to be said for not crowing about one's successes because others might feel bad, but really folks, bein' smart is all I got. Most of you socialize better than I do, are prettier than I am, are more athletically powerful and coordinated than I am, cook better than I do, keep cleaner domiciles than I do, are just generally nicer than I am, and probably have a few less nueroses than I do. But, today I proved to myself that I might just be a little bit smarter than some of you. :-) At least, I may be a little bit more versatile in manipulating and understanding English than you. Or, I guess maybe I just know some obscure vocabulary. And, now that I think about it, most of my friends tend to be pretty verbal too.

OKAY! So maybe it's not that big of a deal after all. I'm still watching the movie!

As a final note, last night when I was worrying about the test, my friend Elena told me facetiously, "Don't worry, you love taking tests like this." The truth of this statement hit me so hard that I totally missed the sarcasm and said, "You're right, I do love taking tests like this!" I can remember being so happy in the third grade because the Iowa Test of Basic Skills was so much fun. I mean, here was something I was good at! I could even read my book during the time that was left after I finished each section! They wouldn't let me do that in spelling tests.

Elena just looked at me and said, "I was kidding. You're weird."

Monday, December 26, 2005

White Christmas

Jeff and I went to the Sing-A-Long White Christmas at the Music Box Theater on Friday night. It was an interesting evening of Christmas carols and people who knew the movie WAY too well. They hissed Rosemary Clooney when she fulfilled the necesary role in Comedies of Manners of the romantic partner who misunderstands a situation, gets mad and huffs off without bothering to get an explanation because the courtship process is still young. It's not Rosemary's fault! Someone has to do it or the ultimate make-up kiss isn't nearly as good!

Anyway, the evening was made perfect when I was talking to the 22-year-old usher with chunky little glasses and dirty hair that had so carefully been arranged to look like he'd just run his fingers through it that morning: obviously he considered himself an artist. So, I was talking to him about what to do with my extra tickets and my evening was made complete when he said, "I don't see why anyone would want the tickets. If I had the choice, I'd be in Gilles Wife; it's actually a good movie."

Ah, the cynicism of youth. How I miss those days. Missing all that fun because it felt so good to judge. Ummm.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Geek Christmas

Well, Christmas morning has come and gone and I've only been hit with one Nerf dart. However, I have held my arm over my eyes to guard them from harm on several occasions.

What I can't help but notice is the prominent trend in the gifts that my family have given me.

My family think I'm a nerd!

I mean, really! When have I ever given them the impression that I would like things like the first three Star Wars movies and Revenge of the Sith on DVD? I mean just because I told Daniel to tell David that I wanted it, why would they think that?! And my very own copy of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a book that I had to explain to Daniel's girlfriend was the new fantasy book that was so good, nerds started conversations with other nerds by saying, "Hey, have you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell yet?" Never a question of whether or not they will read it, just have-you-read-it-yet? What would make my mom think that of all the things I wrote on my list, I would actually want that? The Dark Vader/Obi Wan Kenobi M&M's, the special iBook carry-bag, the Ewok movies: Caravan of Courage and The Battle for Endor? Only total geeks get presents like that for Christmas!


Saturday, December 24, 2005

Silent Night

During the Christmas Eve service, when the lights were turned off for the candlelight part of the service, a small child asked, "Is it time for night-night?"

The sweet consequences of going to the 5:00 children's service.

Later in the evening, Daniel chose the lobster that snapped its tail and frightened him a little as the first one for the pot. He is currently reliving the battle with my mom and his girlfriend as they steam (the lobsters, not the women). Picture Daniel, all CSI Horatio-like, stating dramatically, "When you fight a foe like that, you can't easily forget him."

He has a talent for dialogue, that boy does.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happier Update

I want to give you a quick update before the social world of Christmas takes over. I realize that the last couple posts have shown that I have been a little depressed. Let me assure you that it not a persistent state. I have lots of good moments. My Christmas Tree looks great. When I planned something wrong at work and people started calling to complain to my boss, I braced hard and scrambled to cover my ass only to find that my co-workers and boss didn't blame me. Everyone admitted that it was a mistake based on ignorance of something no one could have expected me to know unless someone had told me. The recoil of tension letting go was similar to when the person on the other end lets go of the rope alluvasudden. Life in the warehouse is usually fun. The other morning, one of the guys that moves stuff around the warehouse shouted, "Woohoo! As-tro-turf! Yeah!" We also received rolls of vinyl flooring that day that created an obstacle course that I had to climb over to get to my office. All sorts of warehouse fun. I made cookies for the office party tomorrow that aren't my best, but I know why they're not my best and I'll do better next time. I made the best ornament at the ornament exchange party and got a cool-beaner starfish painted as a beach Santa. Things are pretty good.


Saturday, December 17, 2005


I totally just got sap in my eye.

The Godfather Goes to Africa

I am avoiding practicing for my GREs. Although I've recently decided that what I want most in the world is to go back into teaching (this job is just fine; I just can't see myself getting passionate for it and I find myself writing lesson plans in my head while I commute), so although I've decided that I want to go back to teaching, I've also decided that I have to get my masters degree first because I absolutely don't want to be going to school while I'm teaching. So, if these are the big decisions that I'm making and the GRE is the hinge on which this future swings, I just can't make myself do it. I can't make myself study for it. I can't make myself write practiced, timed essays. Tomorrow, I'll write my entrance essay and personal statement. So, today I was supposed to write my practice exam. That's what I'm supposed to be doing.

So, here's a list of what I have been doing:

-Calling a friend
-Listening to a new James Brown CD that Emily's husband Joe loaned to me
-Surfing the internet
-Watching Sex and the City
-Fussing with my iTunes

Brilliant. I get this far in life with the renowned character and moral integrity that I and my father have worked so hard to develop and I'm stuck here, not even wasting my time doing things that would be productive, like cleaning my room.

Now Daniel has come home without his girlfriend and so I'm distracted by talking with him.

I think maybe I'll finally decorate the Christmas tree to the hopped up sounds of James Brown in Kinshasha, Zaire.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Friction and Irritation

I'm so tired of being cold. It is ever-present. Although my office has a space heater, half the day is spent out in the warehouse that has its dock door open to the Chicago winter for much of the day. So, despite the silk long underwear and wool socks, I'm cold all day, ride the El home to an apartment with giant heat-sucking windows and never really get warm until I have been in bed under the down comfroter for at least 10 minutes. By then, I'm usually asleep.

This cold makes me tense. It is an assault on my physical centeredness. I can't be at peace when my body is shivering. Plus, my mind can't be at peace when it realizes that I'm a lot warmer than lots and lots of people who have a lot more than cold to worry about because they're much further down on Maslow's Pyramid of Needs. But if I'm going to help those people, don't I have to accept my relative position and make the best of what I have? Because right now, it's hard for me to be nice to them. Part of my job has been to decide which community organizations get Christmas toys and which ones don't and the ones who don't haven't necessarily been all that nice to me about it. And it helps to know that if I hadn't taken on this task, no one would have gotten toys. And it helps to remember that I shouldn't expect them to be nice because when you don't have anything, you clutch at any possibilities. And it helps to know that I've allowed myself to be a punching bag in the past (without lasting harm) to hurting urban parents who really didn't know what else to do with their kids but blame their teachers.

But I've only been in town for a little over a month and I'm cold and I'm not happy. So, tonight is a weepy night. I can't really catch my breath. But, aside from the tears and sense of being a little lost, I'm not unhappy, either. In fact, I can be pushed up and over to happy quite quickly (especially if I'm warm) and easily: those gears are well-oiled. But my default state of mind/body/emotion is neutral and even a little irritated. Which is, I guess, pretty appropriate. Life on the island proceeded without much friction. My sense weren't assaulted to the same degree as they are here. There wasn't traffic or unmitigated cold or walking through slush or garbage or talking public transportation out my window or hordes of ugly buildings and railings. Ocean, mountains, trees. There weren't so many people. I guess that the number I actually interact with is not much larger, but the peripheral people push in on all sides. On Sunday, I bumped a Hispanic teenaged boy in the crosswalk with my car because I was zoned out while driving and he was in the blind spot created by dried, dirty slush at the edges of my windshield where the wipers don't go. I'm horrified with myself over that. Today, I asked a woman if I could sit down next to her on the El and I didn't realize until she moved her shopping bag only a little that she had the sheen of grime on her clothing that only the homeless acquire and as I sat I recognized the odor as well. This is not an experience that I would have to process on the island. I've thought about this woman all day now: remembering the defensive hesitation in her face when I spoke to her, debating what the kindest thing to do for her would have been (what if my speaking to her as if she were a normal person was the nicest thing anyone has done for her all day? and it was a mistake!), the fact that the only tell-tale sign she was homeless was the dirt and smell, other than that, she was young and pulled-together.

There is more friction and pressure on my existence here. I got soft on the island. So, I'm having trouble finding the peace and centered feeligns that I knew there. I don't want to build callouses. I want happiness to well up rather than to be something that I must achieve.

I know that this most likely a normal stage of transition for me. Culture shock hits me hard when I travel; why should moving from one culture to another be any different? I'm not going to do this, but I bet if you looked at entries from one to two months into living on the island (October and November 2004), my emotions look pretty similar. Like knowing that they're mean to me because they have less to fall back on when encountering disappointment makes me feel better at least logically, knwoing that this is my pattern makes the emotions a little less consuming because I know there is a way out and the sign over that tunnel is labeled, "Time."

That doesn't make me any warmer, though.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Angry molasses

Life doesn't feel crazt but I'm kept from blogging because life feels a little like it's moving through molasses.

I've never had a schedule like this before. It's a regular 40 hour a week that requires me to wake up at 6:00 in the morning, just like my previous adult life in the suburbs. However, unlike that life, I get home around 5:00 or so. This means that I have a HUGE amount of time in the evening. (Just how different this schedule is from my island life is too obvious to go into.) I'm work tired so need some time zoning out before I catch my second wind, usually eat some dinner while I do that and then . . . well . . . I should be blogging or going to dinner with friends or quilting or making Christmas presents or emailing friends or . . . something. But the molasses feeling remains. I do get a little studying for the GRE done but it's the little crap, like reviewing supplementary and complementary angles. I don't get down and practice the writing sections like I should. I want to submit a "MacGyver" entry for ReadyMade magazine but I keep just plain forgetting because the pictures I need are at my parents' house. Sometimes I go work out but all of the ladies that work there but one piss me off on a consistent basis by correcting me on stupid stuff that doesn't really need to be corrected. That wouldn't be so bad but not one of them has bothered to even learn my name. They just see me as a lump of jiggly meat that only needs to be checked in on every once in awhile, like after we take our blood pressure when they shout, "How are you ladies doing? Everyone in their heartrate zone?" and then wait expectantly as if we should respond individually to their general cattle call. And it's freaking cold. About 20 degrees all the time. What happened to the 30's and 40's? It's like Chicago just skipped from the 50's straight to ten degrees below freezing and stayed there like a bad date who slips by your guard and weasels his way into your apartment and then just sits there trying to get you to make conversation or a move but you're too polite to just kick him out when he doesn't get the hints.

So, I guess I'm a little irritable. I can't believe that I wish I had more to do so I would get more done.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

And with you, Lord, I will seek other seas.

When I returned home from church last Sunday, Daniel and Paige asked, almost in chorus, "How was church today?" I got to reply:

"Entirely in Spanish."

pause for laughter

Yes, entirely in Spanish. Let me explain. When I move to a new area, I try to go to all the neighborhood protestant churches to see where I feel most at home. God has spoken to me in some pretty undeniable ways using this method. So, last weekend, I was finally ready to begin the search.

I cased the neighborhood on Saturday since it was nice and found a Methodist church within eyesight of my apartment and a Missionary Baptist church across the street from the Methodist church. Now, I was only just ready to start exploring, so I chose the familiar mainline protestant service over the probably entirely African-American, possibly long, possibly with lots of jumping around service across the street. Still, though, there was this nagging thought that I could be making the wrong decision because ususally, if I have to chose between two cultures, I will always choose African American over Latino culture. Like preferring pasta and red sauce over sushi, you know? Nothing against the sushi but garlic and butter just have a better chance of resonating. And there was a fairly good chance that there was some Latino culture over at the Methodists house since it's almost an entirely Hispanic neighborhood. But, I threw my lot in with the Methodists because I figured the WASPiness of the denomination would balance any neighborhood influence enough to create a comfort zone for me.

If ever there was a time for the phrase, "Boy, was I wrong," it is now.

I approached the church at exctly 10:30. I don't like to go to new services early because then I have to engage in conversation with strangers. I like to have a sense for the environment before I actually talk to anyone. Also, there's usually a flurry of people approaching, trying not to be late, and that gives me a good sense of which door to use. I should have known something was up when I had to choose the orange door at random. But, my heart was quieted a little when the first person I saw was a large black lady. Too soo, too soon, my heart.

She was the only one for the rest of the morning. So, I sat down towards the back and realized that although the architecture was familiar, with the upside down ark for a ceiling, everyone was greeting me with a "Buenos Dias." And greet me they did. I think every single one of those 40 people said hello to me as they filed in after I arrived. Apparently, after I responded to their Spanish greetings with my very gringo, "Good Morning," the white woman about my age came over to talk to me and introduced herself as the seminary student doing her internship and we chatted for a minute. While we were talking one of the women settling herself into the pew behind the seminary student dropped a large percussion instrument out of her bag and onto the floor, making a loud thump, rattle noise. The feeling that this was not going to be a comfortable protestant service grew. My kind of protestants don't bring their own percussion instruments to church with them. My kind of protestants have to be embarassed into participating at all in the service beyond roles strictly outlined in their morning bulletin. God's frozen people, you know? There was a giant man named Dick Sleckman in the church I grew up in. He had hands like small hams and was the first person that I wanted to greet after Sunday services because he seemed so genuinely excited to see me, and everyone else. He got up in the pulpit one Sunday to give a "Minute for Mission," and tried to get the congregation to cheer, college-style, "Yay God! Yay Jesus! Whooooaaaaa Holy Spirit!" When they got to the third guy in the trinity, he wanted everyone to make a spinning upward motion with their pointer fingers. To Dick's credit, he did get the congregation to join him; to illustrate my point, it took at least four tries.

So, after my heart sunk a little at the sight of maracas and, additionally, claves, the seminary student asked if I spoke Spanish. It was kind of her to ask since it must have been obvious that I didn't. I laughed and said that this would probably interesting since I didn't. She said she would get me a translation and walked away. I expected her to come back with a little pamphlet that translated the order of the service and talked with several other people who stopped at my pew, some who spoke in English with me and others who simply smiled so warmly and greeted me in Spanish. A woman who carried the air of a matriarch brought me some literature about the church with a visitor's questionaire, which was actually in English. She also asked if I needed a translator. Since she used the word "translator" instead of "translation," I got a little confused because the image that word conjured was different from what I assumed the seminary student was still rummaging around in a file drawer for. But, in a minute or so, the matriarch came back with a 12-year-old boy in tow who handed me a set of ear bud headphones and a little radio. Apparently, it was going to be like Church UN and I was going to get simultaneous translation! Soon after this, the service began.

For all my trepidations, the service was actually fairly straightforward. Most of the hymns were projected onto a screen and I hummed along. I did know the English words to one of the songs thanks to being in church choir when the multicultural Presbyterian hymnal was published (it has the words to Amazing Grace in Navajo, no joke) and sang right along. I also had fun trying to figure out what the words on the overhead projector meant. I am fairly certain that "He tomado el sacrificio" means that Jesus cut up tomatoes, which gives the Veggie Tales series a strange new twist.

Most of the service was directed by a matronly woman: everything but the sermon, the intercessory prayer and the communion. At one point, she said that since the sermon would take hours and hours, we would stand for the responsive psalm. Since it was early in the service and I was still concentrating mostly on the translation and not on the rest of the congrgation, I couldn't tell if she was joking or not. Luckily, she was. During the prayers of the people, she stressed heavily that today we were only going to spend time on thanksgivings and that prayer concerns were going to be taken care of later in the service. Again, every church I've ever been to has trouble getting people to give their concerns and thanksgivings out loud. Only illnesses, tragedy, births and visitors are worth opening oneself up as vulnerable for. Not this crowd: fender benders, mom's birthday, the recent children's retreat, and the homeless were worth speaking passionately about. When limited to thanksgivings, 12 people spoke with a microphone in their hands for at least 5 minutes each. The young girl in the balcony who was translating for me would start with a blow-by-blow translation and then sort-of give up and start giving me the gist of things. I think that the quick translation also caused her to choose some non-standard alternatives for some phrases. I definitely heard her say that we would "digest the word of God" and ask, "How many candles did you turn on today?" But the stories that these people told in their thanksgiving fascinated me. I was reminded that my interaction with most Hispanic people is limited because they are having to translate complex thoughts into limited vocabularies and, I guess, sometimes it means I only hear the ideas that seem to be most necessary. But since they did not have to edit according to the worthiness of the effort, I was allowed to be much more intimate with these people than if they came to my church and had to tell the same stories in English. My favorite was a middle-aged woman who spoke of spending her Thanksgiving holiday with her in-laws who are "Arabian people." She talked about being with them all day and only knowing one word of their language, "Yes." So, when they spoke with her, she simply agreed all day with whatever they said, "yes, yes." Finally, she started pretending that every one of them was telling her how pretty she looked. "Yes, yes." My laughter was delayed by the translation but was genuine.

As we got toward the end of the service and began communion, I found that the liturgy is the liturgy across the board. "It is right to give God thanks and praise" is the same in English or Spanish so I could participate fully in this sacrament. Having to think about the words because I was generating them caused me to look at communion freshly. I can't say that I had any great epiphanies, but as I knelt at the communion rail after eating my bread (dipped), I cried as I prayed. I felt that my communication with God was almost raw. Maybe because it was one of the only parts of the service that was in my language. It was powerful. In the end, I can only say, "y proclamente Senor."