Sunday, February 28, 2010

An Interfaith Wedding

Speaking of weddings, I recently posted the text of our wedding bulletin on the other website I co-host, which is for folks engaging with Judaism in non-traditional ways, such as from interfaith marriages, like mine.

Go check it out and come back here and tell me what you think.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The unexpected trials of vegetarianism

I have been to several events in the suburbs now where there was absolutely no vegetarian option available. I take that back, each had a salad made of only greens, croutons and cheese.

I hate salad.

My mouth gets tired of it long before my stomach feels full.

So, I gave in and just ate what was being served. One of the main rules of my burgeoning vegetarianism is that I will never refuse someone's hospitality. Plus, I was at these functions for work and I didn't want to get grumpy because of my hunger.

This experience was unexpected because I feel like every event I have been in the past few years (which all happened to be in the city) have had fairly broad vegetarian options. I notice because Jacob only eats vegetarian when we're not at home. I know that I just plan menus automatically that have vegetarian options built in whenever I am entertaining. (I also make some pretty good vegan or gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free dishes.) I just know a lot of people who go that route and I want to make sure they feel welcome.

Does this mean that vegetarianism is still exotic out in the suburbs?

Maybe it's not geographic. My friend who is serving vegetarian food at her wedding has twice had to tell the graphic designer who is creating their invitations (who is a friend of the groom) that she does not need to warn people that no meat will be served at the reception.

Is vegetarianism threatening to people's ideology: the beliefs they have to protect their security?

That's weird to me because I feel late to the party on this one. Almost everyone I know flirted with vegetarianism in college and many people continue to eschew eating animals even into their 30s and beyond.

This is my first jaunt and I find that my wobble a little, but not unpleasantly so.

Still, I might start eating before these suburban events.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Practical Wedding


There is only one wedding blog that I continue to read and that's Meg's A Practical Wedding. This is because she is sassy and talks authentically about experiences and is aggressive about encouraging people to have the wedding they want to have while being realistic about pesky things like family relationships and budget. She also encourages readers to think about what it means to be married and not just the event itself.

When people tell me they are engaged, I recommend that site, Bridal Bargains and Offbeat Bride. That's it. You really don't need anything else.

So, today, she posted my advice for brides that I wrote based on my own experience. These "wedding graduate" posts of hers were so helpful while I was planning and, you know me, I always want to give my own experiences more meaning by sharing them with folks. Go check it out here. Then, come back and tell me what you thought.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Heather's giveaway

Hi folks. One of the bloggers that I read is hosting a giveaway to celebrate her first birthday. Go visit her site here and take your chances.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Where things stand

Today was a busy day. I got to talk about Emergent Christianity and Race with some reporters from a pretty major magazine. Want to hear some of my answers?

I'm unwilling to make broad statements about what Emergents do and don't do when it comes to race. My pastor said once that our church would attract more non-white people when we became people with non-white friends. I use this example to say that the Emrgent movement is a decentralized movement. Different communities do different things. In the core group of 40 people at my own church, I was able to identify 14 non-white people, 4 of whom were immigrants. That's 35%. And yet the idea persists that the Emergent movement is predominantly white.

Some of that perception comes from the fact that it seems like the old guard is handing over the keys to the (material) kingdom to the Emergent darlings. This may or may not be true. Sure, a dying Presbyterian church in San Francisco gave their building to an Mission Bay, an emergent church in the area. But Mission Bay is pastored by Bruce Reyes-Chow. Yup. Sounds like a WASP. Did I mention that this Filipino/Chinese-American pastor later became the leader of the entire Presbyterian denomination?

But even if we accept that premise that Emergents are getting preferential treatment and it's proven because they get all the book deals, it's hard to blame them for that. Would turning down the book deals change the system or just let the status quo be the only voice heard? I think many of us are at least mindful of our privilege and are trying to leverage it even if we don't always succeed. When the journalists approached me, I asked them to speak also to the African-American emergent community in the south suburbs.

The problem is that Emergence is not a new denomination in the old model. It's a paradigm shift away from hierarchical church organizations that emphasize common beliefs in order to be consider a member of the community to flat organic networks that try to break down the walls between insider and outsider by respecting all experiences and their resultant beliefs. When a hierarchical system tries to pass on material goods to a decentralized system, the confusion that results can easily make folks resort to tribal instincts. When studying for my degree, I found that there are plenty of studies that show that at our deepest level, tribalism affects economic decisions. We do the best we can to receive it in good faith and to try to spread the wealth around but walking away from the chance to change the world is disrespectful to the people who still need the world changed (i.e. people without privilege). It simply allows the old systems to reproduce a new generation of oppression.

Like my pastor said, racial reconciliation is done by transforming individuals. I think folks in the Emergent movement are all at different points on the path to enlightenment about white privilege (remember, many members of the Emergent movement are non-white). We don't have an equivalent to the evangelical CCDA movement. I'm lucky enough to be involved in both but many Emergent folks aren't ready to be surrounded by a belief-based system in order to get the tools they need to do racial reconciliation (of course, no one in CCDA really knows for sure how to do it, either). Think how long Evangelicalism had to be around before those resources coalesced. We're only 15 years old and yet there is an expectation that we should be perfect in how we engage the world. We won't be. But we want to improve. So, I suppose if folks want to help the Emergent movement be better citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven when it comes to race, they will help create tools for how Emergent communities can help their people become the kind of people who have non-white friends. Not a lot of people want to help. Most want to feel threatened and so lash out. That's OK. They are on their own path, too.

On another note, I spend a lot of my time reminding people within the Emergent movement that we are not a small band of rebel fighters. This is not Star Wars lived large. Lots of people espouse similar ideas to lots of different demographic communities. I cited some examples when I spoke to the reporters today. I think very few people inside the movement would claim that we have any monopoly on the truth. That would be a new denomination in the old model. Instead, we are part of a societal shift and a few of us just happened to find each other and cluster together in the tumult.

Emergence is a label that some people need to help them on their spiritual journey. It allowed me to have a powerful sense of belonging, finally, in a spiritual community. It allows lots of people to signal who they are without going into long explanations: a shorthand almost. It functions like a handful of balloons on ribbons in a crowd and helps folks who have just read Brian McLaren or Shane Claiborne and felt a great sense of liberation look around and connected with like-minded folks.

There is some talk about how the Emergent movement is dying. It may be. All movements have life cycles and over centuries these life cycles seem to be getting shorter. If Catholicism begat Protestantism which begat Evangelicalism which begat Emergence, it makes sense that our life cycle might already be over. And that's OK. The ideas will live on. You can't go back to the cell once you have tasted liberation. I will continue calling myself Emergent for as long as it means something to the people to whom I am identifying myself. I said something like the following to the reporters today (although less thought-out and coherent) and later wrote this email:
It seems like if there were a seismic shift in the movement that people were responding to, I would have felt it. So, if the movement has not changed, then people [who are declaring their abandonment of the movement] must be responding to their own internal transformations and that's OK. But as it stands, the part of the movement that I resonate with is the part that puts the words "heresy" and "wrong thinking" up on the shelf since they are often tools a hegemony uses to force people to conform to subservient social positions. God gave us all the ability to engage with her and to reflect on that experience. Emergence acknowledges that all of those experiences are valid, even if they are different and lead to different theologies. I believe that God will transform heresy and wrong thinking through the grace of Jesus and the active presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This relieves me of the burden of saving other people from themselves, or even of judging them.
I like when I can write something like that.

It's been a big thinking day and I like that, too. I got a lot done at work and a lot done in my soul and that's a good place to be in life.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Meat is Murder. Tasty, tasty murder.

So, I'm thinking about starting to eat only vegetarian foods. I figure it's probably pretty inevitable and I have just been waiting for the right moment.

This seems to be it.

I have been having trouble maintaining my weight without being hungry all the time even though I exercise at least three to four times a week. Plus, I'm finding that I'll have a second helping of dinner (which is more and more frequently meat-based) because I'm not satisfied and I don't feel good after. I've gotten into the habit of eating slowly and waiting before second helpings and of drinking a lot of water and all that stuff you're supposed to do to make sure that you aren't eating out of habit or emotionally. But the fact is, I'm still hungry. And when I'm hungry, I'm cranky and can't focus on my work.

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of Skinny Bitch at the thrift store for $.99. Although their "trademark straight-talk and bawdy humor" gets pretty annoying pretty fast, the book is a quick read and seems to make a lot of sense based on what I already know about how our bodies work. It cuts through the urban legends of dieting that try to circumvent natural functioning and talks about what our bodies weren't meant to eat to sustain us. It pointed out that digesting rotting corpses is pretty inefficient and I figure it's worth a shot to try being vegetarian for a little while. If I'm eating a lot, at least it's easy for my body to digest.

I say that vegetarianism was probably inevitable because I've known for awhile now about how awful the animals that we eat get treated. I've mostly shifted to organic foods because of that but still, I know that none of the flesh that enters my mouth was tenderly cared for by a farmer in overalls. It also has a huge environmental impact to eat meat. I know that I can't actually make a measurable difference but that has never stopped me from altering my consumer choices before. I want to be able to live with myself and my choices and that means that I choose the less oppressive choice as much as I can, even if it means paying more or sacrificing a little. It's just the kind of person I want to be. So, I shop at thrift stores for all my clothes, I buy only fair trade chocolate, and now I am a vegetarian.

I want to be a little loose because a) we still have stuff in the freezer and kosher meat is expensive and b) I never want to reject someone else's hospitality.

Still, I am actually a little scared. I held Jacob's hand in bed the other night and cried a little as we talked about it. I find so much joy in my life from eating good and satisfying food. I learned from my mother than eating unsatisfying food (like supermarket birthday cake) is a "waste of calories" and that has stuck with me. I spend a lot of brain waves about my meals and I fear that I will not be able to create enough variety or attain satisfaction with vegetarian meals without spending 3 hours cooking every day. It seems like easy vegetarian meals are just recombinations of the same ingredients. Like in the Simpsons:
Marge: This is delicious! What's in it?
Manjula: Chick peas, lentils, and rice.
Marge: And what's in this?
Manjula: Chick peas and lentils.
Apu: Try it with rice.
I don't know enough about spices to make things interesting and you can't eat navy bean soup every day.

It seems like the alternative of vegetarian dishes that sound interesting require more than 10 ingredients each and you need to make three of them to have a balanced meal. I tend to keep a few staples in the house and work with what I have. Jacob tried to soothe me and said, "Pasta with sauce and steamed broccoli on the side is a good vegetarian meal."

This did not help. This is, in fact, my nightmare of vegetarian casual cooking.

But I'm going to try anyway. Jacob can't figure out what the big deal is. He really doesn't care about whether or not the food tastes good or is balanced so that one feels like one has had a full meal. Plus, he has had to be functionally vegetarian whenever he eats other places since kosher meat is generally unavailable or is unwittingly paired with butter or cheese.

The lovely A. has recommended the rebar cookbook for its unexpected flavor combinations and although it looks daunting, I'm willing to trust her and give a few a try. I like working with beans (especially because I can buy them bulk and avoid all the excess packaging that gets thrown out) so I'm trying to spice them differently. I've had a craving for pintos and cheese for days so I thought ahead to be able to make them for lunch today. I guess I'll leave you with my recipe for that since I typed it out for a friend on Facebook.

Soak two cups of pintos overnight with a big handful of salt. Drain and rinse in the morning. Put in crock pot with four cups of water, a diced onions and 4-5 diced garlic cloves. Cook on high stirring occasionally until pintos are mushy (5 hours? 6?) Add a bunch of Trader Joe's quattro formaggio. Stir. Eat. Sometimes I add zucchini or ... canned tomatoes in the last hour or two to get in some sneaky vegetables. If the pintos are smushy but too wet, leave the lid off for the last hour. Yum.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Timmy Turner

Last Thursday I left work with the company Yukon (it was donated) to pick up a 12-year-old boy so that his mom could go to the hospital. She has both sickle cell and asthma (because that's what poverty does to a body) and was having an attack. So, here I am, a white lady headed to the west side of Chicago in a giant SUV. This has trouble written all over it.

I have actually met this kid before and he's really nice. He drew me a picture of Timmy Turner once while he waited for the family that was going to take him in the last time his mom went into the hospital. Unfortunately, that family wasn't available again this time so I didn't know where he was going to go as I was driving down Homan Avenue.

As I pulled up to the building, it had a sign on the front that indicated it was some sort of private housing project. An ambulance was pulling away without lights or sirens and I wondered if that had anything to do with Jesse's mom (of course, I've changed his name). A middle-aged African-American man let me into the foyer that was well-lit, clean and institutional. His expression asked me my business and I said I was here to pick up Jesse. He confirmed that the ambulance just left without Jesse's mom and they were up on the 6th floor. I got in the elevator that took forever, feeling very conspicuous as the classic white social worker type. No one questioned my presence.

When the elevator doors opened, a woman was yelling for help from an open apartment door and yelling that she couldn't handle it any more. A man in the apartment next door had his head stuck out looking around but closed it quickly when I arrived. The woman said something about Jesse and I entered her apartment to see what was going on. It started to register from my ears that she was saying something about a knife but I saw Jesse walking toward me and all I wanted to do was hug the kid once I saw him. He was so rigid with anger and sorrow. His eyes looked up at me as if the muscles of his face were bench-pressing his eyeballs up in my direction. He was scared of himself and tears were running down his face. He jerked and twitched in order to walk but his body stayed rigid. I reached out to put my hands on his shoulders but he pulled away and only then did I realize that he was holding a knife in his hands. From my earlier scan of the apartment, I recognized it as a cheap serrated steak knife like I had seen in the dish drying rack.

His mom told me to help her and I said, "Ma'am, I can't help you." And I really couldn't. I don't know how to take down an out-of-control kid. I don't know him well enough to talk him down from his rage. And I didn't know what my legal liability was. I've been working in under-resourced communities long enough to know how limited I really was. If this had been 10 years old, I'm sure I would have been brave and stupid and tried to fix everything. Maybe I would have succeeded. Probably not. Since I am 32 and not 22, I stood there somewhat helplessly. I was pretty sure Jesse wouldn't hurt me. The knife was held rigidly pointed down at the floor, like he'd grabbed it in a fury and then didn't know what to do with it. I've felt like that before. Like my body needed to take a violent action but my brain interceded before I could do any actual damage. Still, I thought about how Jacob would feel if I took a risk based on my assessment. This is when I tried to pray.

Pray for me involves opening my inner self up to the presence of God. Like meditation, I try to let down the emotional walls I regularly put up and try to listen to God. As I tried to pray in that apartment, making myself vulnerable actually caused me to tear up a little bit and so I quickly stopped praying and tried to toughen up because I knew I had to keep it together and be strong for these people. My privileged innocence wasn't the most important thing being hurt in this moment.

Jesse pushed by me into the hall. This whole time his mom had been yelling about how awful he was but clearly in an end-of-her-rope way and not in a bad mom way. She was clearly in physical pain, which must have been why she wanted to go to the hospital and now her adolescent was freaking out. I don't think I'd have done a lot better based on my own experience of how tetchy I get when I'm in physical pain, even the minor pain of dental surgery or cramps.

At this point, the man that let me in the front door appeared out of the elevator and made a quick assessment of what was going on. I was grateful to realize that he was really big and calm. He spoke to Jesse's mom while Jesse stood with his back to us at the end of the hall. She had been spiraling into a more intense state of upset and he talked her down a little bit. I learned that the ambulance driver had insisted on taking her to the local hospital but she advocated for herself and wanted to be taken to the hospital where her doctor was, saying the local hospital treated her badly whenever she went. I offered to drop her off at her hospital, which was only a mile away and the man used this to help her calm down.

When we checked on Jesse again, he looked at us desperately and threw the knife to the ground, behind him and towards us. He was so clearly ashamed and trying to work himself out of this predicament he'd gotten himself into. The man went into the hall to talk to him and hold his shoulders and steer him back into the apartment. His mom was still upset, saying how she just couldn't handle him any more. I looked around as they put their coats on. The apartment was immaculate with pictures geometrically arranged on the wall. I thought about how hard she must be working to make a good life for the two of them and how it must feel like everything is against them. She complained that she was going to lose this apartment because of Jesse and it was the whine of someone who doesn't expect her complaint to be heard. She said that he was mad because she had asked him to go upstairs after she fought with the ambulance. I asked if Jesse had a school bag. He said he didn't want it and his mom said to leave it. I took it anyway.

We got into the car and I tried to act like I would if everything was normal. I didn't know what else to do. I made little remarks like, "It's this beast of a car over here." "Do you want to sit in the front?" Both Jesse and his mom sat in the back but Jesse had lost the rigor of rage enough to yell at her for it. "Who does she think she is, sitting next to me?" He continued to say things like that under his breath in an angry tone of voice, but when I asked for help on where the hospital was, he'd tell me in a normal voice, "Keep going straight here." "It's past the second flag like this." I was silent most of the time out of respect for them. I didn't want to be a pollyanna dork.

When Jesse's mom got out of the car at the emergency room, I asked him if he wanted to sit up front with me. He didn't and I let him sit quietly back there for awhile as I drove. I tried to pray for him again and again started to lose it so stopped praying. I asked him if had had dinner and then whether he wanted Burger King or McDonald's. He said, "I don't know. I just can't think right now. I'm kind of paralyzed by what happened."

My heart just broke for him. I was quiet most of the rest of the way because I didn't want to be the white social work type who sticks her nose in without knowing anything and just ends up making things worse. Still, he spoke to me every once in awhile. First he said that he was sorry. I paused for a minute and then responded, "It's OK but . . . thank you." A few minutes later he said, "Rebecca, I'm sorry for wasting your time." I told him that this is what I do. I said that I didn't understand why God made a world where families like his had to struggle so much but all I could do was try to help. He said one more thing that I can't remember but that broke my heart again for this kid. I mean. He's 12 and African American and living with his mom who has no support network. Statistics alone says that he hasn't got much of a chance at a happy life. It would be weird if he didn't end up in jail one day. He knows it and I know it. And just then I got tired of backing away from the situation. I wanted to be compassionate. I wanted to be myself, even though I was interacting with a type of person I don't normally interact with. I said, "Do you the one thing that I liked about what happened up at the apartment? I liked that you threw away the knife. You didn't want to hurt anyone. You're a good kid. It's going to be really hard to remember that about yourself over the next couple of years but it's true: you're a good kid." I looked back at him both times when I said he was a good kid.

We were quiet for a little while after that. He said that maybe he would have McDonald's. I pulled into one and he asked if we could take just a minute before pulling into the drive through so he could think about what he wanted. He said he was still finding it hard to think. I pulled over into a spot (actually three spots because Yukons are gigantic) and after a minute or two he asked me what we were doing. I teased him a little and said we were waiting so he could think about what he wanted. He laughed a little and gave me his order. When I handed the bag back to him, he asked me if I liked Cheetohs. You bet I do. He then handed me a snack pack of Doritos and one of Cheetohs. He couldn't pay me back for dinner and didn't even try. Instead, he offered me what he had. I opened it right up and began eating it so that he would know that I valued what he was giving me.

We talked a little more loosely then. He asked about the family he would be staying with. I told him what I knew. And then we were back at work. I gave him a hug when we got out of the car. As we walked into the building he mock-accused me of forgetting my other bag of chips in the car. I said, "Nuh-uh!" and showed him that I had them. When we got inside, I asked him to sit in the hall and I told the Director what had happened. I didn't want to be the only one who knew. I cried a little and, apparently the Director thought that was weird because he mentioned it to one of my colleagues and said it was weird. For me, it was just about processing the adrenaline after holding it together for an hour and a half. I didn't weep for the stranglehold of poverty this sweet kid is entangled in until Jacob arrived to take me home.

There is no moral to this story. I cannot connect it to books I am reading or conversations I have been having. I have no great spiritual insight. But it seems to be an important story so I am sharing it with you.