Friday, November 30, 2007

When I Grow Up

In 25 minutes I will take my first final exam as a Master's cadidate at the University of Chicago.

What!?! Why are you on Blogger? Shouldn't you be studying?


But I can't stuff any more in and it's an open book test about statistics so there is no possibility for blanking.

Plus, the atmosphere around here is a little caustic so looking busy avoids other people's nerves and the resultant lack of social grace, my own included.

Yesterday, I met with the Director of Career Services about my future. It was a helpful meeting and by far, the best news to come out of it was that I have now been in the working world long enough to merit a 2-page resume.

Thank the good Lord.

Bullet points, here I come. (Those of you who are regular readers might guess that with space constraints, it's possible that my resume is currently full of grammatical correct but slightly long sentences to take advantage of the white space on the right side of the page.)


Monday, November 26, 2007


Frank has done a nice job of creating a fad amongst Postsecret participants. In conjunction with the release of the new book, A Lifetime of Secrets, he has told several stories about people leaving their secrets in books at the store or finding secrets in the books they buy. I have been very taken with the idea and have been meaning to buy a copy because I am somewhat smitten with the humanity involved in reading the secrets of others.

For those of you not yet in the know, Postsecret was created by Frank as an art project in which people send postcards of their own design, telling a secret that they can't tell anyone else. Every week he posts about 20 of them. This is my favorite from this last week.Check out a new set every Sunday at

Although I have toyed with creating postcards for a couple of my secrets, yesterday I felt the internal need to create one for an entirely new secret that I didn't even know I had. My execution was fairly artless and definitely phrased in a chunky clunky way. I think my utter lack of an attempt to make it attractive for publication and it's urgency are definitely correlated. I considered sending it in to Frank but instead realized that I had an hour to get to the bookstore before church started in addition to having a gift certificate that my co-workers had given me when I left my job to start grad school.

So, I checked all the books that were in the store for hidden secrets and was disappointed to find none. However, I placed mine in one of the books and took another downstairs to buy it. I am intrigued by the nervous feeling that I had leaving my secret behind for a stranger to find. It really is a secret. I'm embarrassed by it so I don't tell people. And I had the physical feeling of nervous adrenaline pouring into my chest as I left the store.

I wish I could tell you that it is liberating. I wish I could tell you that I've done something so that I'm no longer ashamed of myself, especially because the shame is only just minor enough to keep it a secret. It's only slightly worse than when I used to tell people that I had donated the long hair I cut off when really I had dropped the ponytail while holding it up for the self-timer on the camera, this rendering the donation tangled and unusable.

But I can't. The secret still sits in my chest. I'm glad I put it out there and I'm interested to look at my own reaction to doing so. But that's all it is right now. I'll keep you updated if there's any change, though.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Trying Not To Be Boneheads

I'm not sure if I have mentioned this before, but I have been fortunate enough to be offered the facilitator's position to begin and run gatherings of a city branch of the up/rooted cohort, which is basically a monthly meeting of any folks that need to bounce themselves off of other folks who are trying to figure out how to follow Jesus (or just what they think about him) when they don't feel comfortable in traditional churches.

This month's meeting of up/ was definitely a balm for my soul. I had spent the day cranky and living inside my head, replaying angry thoughts and worrying about the future. However, once I arrived at Wicker Park Grace, I was pulled out of my head because the other folks that were there invited me into their hearts as they told their stories.

Twelve of us shared apples, celery, caramel sauce, peanut butter and apple juice for a little over two hours as we talked. Four of us had attended the first meeting but eight of us were brand new to the gathering and the new dynamic was interesting and good. I liked hearing that all of the attendees were brought to the meeting through the internet somehow and that many folks were meeting with each other independently for lunch.

The long-distance award goes to Bill, Helen's dad, who came all the way from Oxford, England to meet with us. Bill said many interesting things, but I was most intrigued by the logic of one of his statements. He pointed out that since church attendance is so much higher in the US than in the UK, it's reasonable to assume that Christians have a fair amount of influence on the policy that the US makes. He then talked a little bit about our continued use of capital punishment, which he believes is barbaric. He pointed out that capital punishment must have the support of Christians in the US since we are such a large majority and he questioned how that could be when God commands us to have mercy as we have been shown mercy. His voice was an intriguing addition to the group.

The group included an atheist, an almost atheist, an agnostic, a former neo-gnostic, a couple of pastors, former and current evangelicals, former and current mainline protestants, and folks who are still looking for a way to describe their faiths. Beautifully, all of us are actively examining ourselves and the world for God. Over the course of the evening, we built trust with each other, telling stories and asking questions. I particularly appreciated Helen's good questions. We talked about literalism in biblical interpretation, the use of Christian music in schools as an art form, manipulation as evangelism, the teaching of some churches that "doubt is bad" and the funding of church plants, in addition to other topics.

The best question asked, in my mind, came from Steve, the self-proclaimed "atheist husband" of Lainie, who asked, "Wouldn't it be a more enjoyable world to live in if the Christian message that was heard came from Christians who weren't boneheads?"

Amen, brother. I think that's probably something everyone can get behind.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I took this picture with my phone from the bench I sat on this afternoon.

I'm not feeling well. I haven't been for a little over a week. It's this low-grade something. I have a sore throat that moved into my chest today. It's more annoying than anything else and what's most annoying is that I'm so tired all the time. All my free time gets spent on the couch or longing for the couch.

So, I spent some free time while I had to be on campus on a 60 degree day in November sitting on a bench by the botany pond. I'm sharing it with you because I'm so tickled to be attending a university that looks like what a university should look like.

All collegiate and shit.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Compromise, compromise, compromise

Two Tuesdays ago it was a bumpity morning. From the moment I stepped out of the front door, I was stepping on feet, knocking my backpack into people, and hitting a girl in the face with the backswing of my arm as I walked up the steps to the El platform. So, when I topped the steps and saw the accumulation of travelers that indicated that a train hadn’t come in awhile and would be really full when it got there, my eyes glazed over and I crept inside myself in defeat. As the train approached, I queued up to board using the second door of the penultimate car, like always. It’s always a gamble to guess exactly where the roulette ball that is a train door will stop but on the days that I win and those double doors slide open with me centered exactly in front of them, the internal payoff of feeling victorious is fantastic. Tuesday was not one of those days. So, other people got the first chance to board the crowded train and as it got to be my turn, I realized that I would have to push to get in. Unlike the Japanese, we have no uniformed white-gloved attendants to pack us in like sardines. After the havoc I had already inflicted on my fellow commuters, I decided I’d wait for the next train. Just as I had resigned myself to this scenario and had begun congratulating myself for my moral high-ground self-sacrifice to assuage the internal payoff of feeling defeated, a man about my age rushed up, angled in front of me and made to mount the train. I had my headphones in, so I think my dismissive inside thought was accidentally audible: "cute." Whether he heard me or not, he swept me up in his embarkation, placing a hand firmly on my backpack, his momentum forcing space on the train for both of us. My whole countenance changed and I thanked him. I loved the world again and my clunky place in it. I loved the smell of everyone's shampoo and the metaphor suggested by the fact that with so many people on the train, I didn't actually need to hold on to keep from falling.

Now, I know a lot of people who don't like the old gender expectations of gallantry for men and subsequent helplessness for women. I agree with them wholeheartedly. When either gender does not have the choice to live the most fulfilling life possible - either because options aren't available or because available options never occur to them because society keeps their thoughts in the box - then our societal experience is sub-optimal. But often I'm comforted when a man's actions communicate with confidence, "Relax. I've got this one." My feminist brain and heart have learned to accommodate this visceral response by assuring themselves, "That doesn't mean he has to get it every time. I'll get it next time."

I don't think that's an unreasonable compromise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Gods Aren't Angry Tour

My brothers don't go to church.

Interestingly, though, when they do go to church, they have very specific expectations for what happens when we get there. There are specific rituals and songs that they want to sing. Since it is usually Christmas or Easter when they plunk their skinny little asses into the pews, their desires are often met. That's right, my brothers are Creasters. Creasters are folks who only come to church on Christmas and Easter, usually tagging along with family members (parents) who go more regularly but often independently out of some vague sense like my brothers' that there are certain rituals that need to be attended to on a somewhat yearly basis. I think there are other people that show up out of curiosity or yearning and the fact that the country recognizes the holidays gives them a push to explore. Actually, I shouldn't speculate. There is probably a rich complexity of reasons why people can be classified as Creasters. I'm a little intrigued by it.

So, anyway, my brother Daniel believes that the pastor who preaches on both Easter and Christmas should only preach on one topic: the Good News. When Daniel wants the pastor to preach the Good News, he means the good news that "No matter what you've done, God loves you. See, he sent his son to die for you." He gets very upset if a pastor tries to get fancy and preach on some other topic, like the history of Easter celebrations or the four women in Jesus' lineage. He thinks it's a waste of a church full of people for whom that message is not run-of-the-mill and familiar to the point that they require something more innovative in order not to be bored by hearing the same thing again and again. It is a waste of an opportunity to tell people who don't know that God loves them that God loves them.

This is a man who doesn't go to church.

He wants people to know that God loves them.


Trust me, it's adamantly.

He wants people to know that God loves them.

So, a search of my blog will indicate that I've been pretty attentive to Rob Bell over the last year or so. OnMonday, I went to hear him speak when he came to town on his The Gods Aren't Angry Tour. The tagline for this talk is "Part anthropology, part history, part deconstruction - this is new material that Rob hasn't taught before, exploring how humans invented religion to make themselves feel better." From that, I expected a somewhat academic lecture (that's the report about how his last tour went) aimed at a mixed audience of Christians and any non-Christian co-workers they could arm-twist into coming. Certainly, I tried to get some of my secular friends to come with because I felt like I could assure them that it wouldn't be a bait-and-switch. I trust Rob to give them the freedom to think about what he said without trying to scare them into conversion. Unfortunately, we have a mid-term tomorrow so none of my school friends could come and another friend is two centimeters dilated and could give birth today or two weeks from now.

I suppose this is a reasonable place to talk about how I feel about evangelism.

Generally, I'm against it.

The Christian community has made such disgusting historical display of evangelism and the almost inevitable prostelytization that I would prefer to sacrifice it altogether than risk the harm it can cause to even a few people. Now, this is easier for me to say because I don't think the afterlife is the payoff for spiritual people. But, I know that there are a lot of people out there who will disagree with my priorities because eternity seems like such a long time and I really respect a lot of those people. Bob Lupton responds to this better than I ever could in his book, And You Call Yourself a Christian: Toward Responsible Charity:
"Do you believe in a literal heaven and a literal hell?" one sharp young theology student retorted. I knew the rationale behind his question. If you believe that either eternal bliss or eternal damnation await every person after death, then the most loving act is to present the truth of the Gospel to as many people as possible and thus save them from everylasting destruction.

It's a compelling argument. The problem, of course, is that it leads to viewing others as souls instead of people. And when we opt for rescuing souls over loving neighbors, compassionate acts can soon degenerate into evagelism techniques. Pressing human needs depreciate in importance, and the spirit becomes the only thing worth caring about. Thus, the powerful leaven of unconditional, sacrificial love is diminished in society and the wounded are left lying beside the road."

My church interacts a lot with people who have been wounded by sometimes well-meaning Christians who saw them as a soul rather than a person or who were just looking to add to the notches on their batismal fonts or who counted how many people showed up on Sunday morning rather than whether the people that showed up were getting closer to Jesus. (Yay to Bill Hybels, by the way, for addressing that last particularly difficult problem in his own church.) Spencer Burke talks about those folks as being innoculated against Jesus by being exposed to only a token amount of Christianity injected by an often cold and sharp needle. Often, what they hear from the evangelism message is that Jesus will only love them if they change to be more like the Christians in that particular church. That is not the Good News. So, if the evangelists' goal is to save souls, their work is counter-productive in a huge percentage of cases.

However, there are a lot of people out there who are lonely. Who believe they are worthless. Who want to talk to God but flinch because of the previous times the Church has slapped them. They are leading the lives of quiet desperation that Thoreau talked about.

I want them to know that God loves them.

I don't care if they go to my church.

I don't care if they call themselves Christian.

I don't care if they say the magic words and get baptized.

I care that they have a community.

I care that they believe that they are valuable.

I care that they be able to talk to God when they need to.

I want for them life in all its fullness and I don't care how they find that.

So, although I don't evangelize, I do talk about God a lot and I talk about going to church and I tell people that they are always welcome to come with me and I invite them to go see Rob Bell. Because I think I have found ones of the ways to have life in all its fullness and if my machete-hacking through the jungle of experience that has been my life makes someone else's life a little easier, I shall not have lived in vain, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson. I also usually tell them that I believe they're going to Heaven no matter what, so they should feel free to refuse or accept my offers without worrying about how it will affect our friendship. I hope I'm treating them like people and not like souls to be bartered and traded by doing this.

So, enough with the aside about evangelism. I was talking about Rob Bell. And my brother's expectations as a Creaster. And my desire for all people to know that they are valuable enough to be loved.

I wish that more lonely, anxious people had been there because it was a slam-dunk Easter sermon.

Now, I could be wrong. But the Vic certainly looked like it was full of young, hip Christians, many of whom I knew and myself included. The theater seemed to hold the proverbial choir that was being preached to.

It's a weird feeling. I don't want Rob or this emerging church movement to become a Billy Graham tent revival, but he speaks so eloquently, and with such respect for the humanity and intelligence of his audience that it's like I feel the reverse of my brother's Easter morning disappointment. Instead of the pastor missing an opportunity to look people in need in the eyes and to tell them without doubt that God loves them, I feel like people in need missed an opportunity to have their eyes looked into because all the seats were taken by folks who didn't know their seat would be better sacrificed to someone else.

Although I didn't realize it until now, I guess my response to that has been to talk about it a lot. You know, "I went to see this cool speaker last night." It's created some interesting conversations with folks, especially over the drinks we needed after our last mid-term. I suppose hearing the Good News from a friend while putting back a Long Island Iced Tea (yuck) is probably better than hearing from stranger who just seems like any other televangelist on the surface except for the funky glasses and allusion to Gordon Gano (which absolutely flopped, pretty much proving my hip young Christian theory). "I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record." Perfect rhythm and and inflection.

I can only hope to be so cool.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I like. . .

From my journal:

I like the pattern of my days. I like coming to campus, seeing my new friends, making plans with them after class for study groups or coffee now or later. I like that I do almost no homework but reading by myself. I like going to class and fighting sleep in the hard ones or taking rapt notes in the interesting ones and the ones that go along at exactly a pace that I can stroll alongside. I like sitting with my friends in class or the library and fending off their hijinks so I can concentrate. (I have begun writing on Mike’s skin to keep him from writing in my notebook.) I like sitting next to Jake in the gothic library (which he called a cathedral for books when we first saw it), wanting to cuddle up against him while I read but not being able to. I like being girly girls with Tabitha. I like that our circle is getting wider naturally, pulling in Snapper and Jennie. I like being outside in the unseasonably warm fall. Right at this moment, the light is gorgeous. It’s mid-morning and there were storms earlier and there are storms to come. The trees are green and yellow. The sky is blue and grey with that certain storm filter over the lens that makes everything look a little surreal. From the bench where I sit, all I can see is lovely landscaping and sidewalks with classic lightposts. The ask leaves gets blown off the trees and stay suspended in the air like yellow glitter in a lush snowglobe. Off about 50 feet is a perfect cinematic moment: framed with trees in the upper right corner and shrubbery in the lower left, a giant green copper statue of some guy I don’t know stands very high on a pedestle. Linne. I love statues of people I don’t know. I’m fascinated that with all of the people that I think might be worth a statue, that guy is someone who was never mentioned in a history book. He evokes not even a glimmer of recognition. He doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Yet, someone revered him or learned from him or was grateful enough to him to spend what had to be a lot of money hiring an artist to create a unique, gigantic likeness of him. It certainly drives home the lesson that our impact on this world as individuals will be forgotten eventually. But it gives me hope that my ripple effect will continue on much longer, as is most likely true for Mr. Green Anonymous up there. He affected someone else with his actions or thoughts or kindness or nobility or sacrifice or study to the point that a statue of him was commissioned. That’s got to be a pretty big rock in the pool and means that his life wasn’t in vain, even if only his name and likeness is remembered only on this one statue. Elsewhere on campus is a little plaque set into the ground that reads something like, “On this spot in the spring of 1938, Muriel Fantus Fulton and Maurice F. Fulton met as students of the college.” I like that. I showed it to my friend Mike and because he’s a guy he said, “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that our ripple effect can cause ponds to overflow their banks and join with other ponds. The architect who laid out that sidewalk never knew that two people would meet for the first time and eventually spend the rest of their lives together on it. I picture them: Muriel and Maurice Fulton. I can see them simultaneously as the cute old married couple and the young under-grads at the end of the Depression. My picture is all wrong in any number of ways. But it is important because it is like the statue of the unknown 16th-century-looking-guy. I don’t know Mark and Mabel but I’ve got a good idea what their story is. It’s the same story as thousands of people around the world every day: they fell in love and then tried to stay that way. Just like I want to affect other people through my actions or thoughts or kindness or nobility or sacrifice or study, I want to fall in love and try to stay there. Those are goals worth monuments and I’m glad they exist as part of the pattern of life right now.