Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Preface Regarding Relatives and Insects

I suppose you can't really have a preface in the middle of a work. But I feel the sudden and immediate need to explain the nomenclature I will presently be using to refer to my aunt in the ensuing narratives.

When I turned five, my friend Mark scoffed at me because I still called my parents "Mommy" and "Daddy," names which he said, with great authority, were baby-talk. We were five-year-olds now, and far beyond the need to add diminuitive endings. Please!

I remember feeling rebuffed and very insecure about that for months--maybe even years--afterwards. These days I typically call my parents "Mom" and "Dad," only occasionally reverting to the more "babyish" terms. However, I still call all my aunts "auntie." I can't get rid of it. They probably wish I would, and sometimes I wish I would, which is why I feel constrained to defend it now. I think a lot of it is habit. For example, even though my high school band teacher told me after I graduated that I could call him "Franz," I still find it easier to refer to him as "Mr Kuder." And it remains a struggle for me to refer to my college faculty advisor as "Kent" instead of "Dr Gramm," even though I used to visit with him and his wife casually when they would come over to England with an entourage of undergrads.

There are other reasons for my use of the word auntie, though. I think it has to do with auditory asthetics. I hail from a region of the country where aunt rhymes with words like gaunt and flaunt and taunt. There is, after all, a u in it. To this day I fail to see any good reason for talking about the sisters of one's parents as if they were small black or red insects which most people pay money to exterminate. (Then again, maybe it's because all my aunts are very very cool.) Let it be known here, moreover, that if and when my brother and esteemed midwestern sister-in-law have children, said children are welcome to call Peggy and Kelly "Ant," if these women so desire it, but let's have none of this talk of my being called "Ant Jenn."

But the thing about the pronunciation of, er, that word, is that it affects how the following name sounds, too. For example, "Ant Susan," if you were going to call her that, sounds "better" than "Antie Susan." But to me, "Aunt Susan" sounds funny, too--incomplete, as it were. I don't know what it is--maybe just subjective--but to me the name has a better flow as "Auntie Susan."

That is all a very long way of saying that in future posts about Costa Rica, I will be referring to my Costa Rican aunt as "Auntie Susan," and I hope nobody scoffs.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Not Computer-Savvy

I couldn't get the photos added into yesterday's blogpost, so I added them into a new one and posted yesterday's text into it, finally deleting yesterday's. This is okay, but it means you might think you got something new to read and you didn't (except this). Also, sorry I deleted your comment, Mom.


Still Not in Costa Rica

The morning of my departure dawned gloriously sunny, and it occurred to me that although I was taking a trip to a tropical country, I might regret the timing. The leaves around here were shaping up to be pretty spectacular; I had spent the last few days before taking walks surrounded by blue sky and fiery leaves, and dodging acorns, which, by the way, can be rather threatening little objects. I wanted to write a blog incorporating the phrase “the land of falling acorns,” because it sounds so romantic but really just means if you park your car outside, you can expect a lot more dings in the roof the next morning. Only at the time I was embroiled in the women/church/leadership issue and didn’t feel up to it.

In the meantime, I was heading to a warmer country that was having its rainy season. This entire year has been a rainy season here, really, and I wasn’t too sure how happy I was to be giving up some actually-sunny days. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the ride to the airport. The cab driver was a Tanzanian with dreds (is it “dreds” or “dreads,” by the way?) and that accent that makes every utterance sound wise, whether it is or not. He was both voluble and aphoristic, and we talked about missionaries and faith and materialism. At one point when I said I had been a missionary in London, he said, with the sound of one raised eyebrow in his tone of voice, “But aren’t we all children of God?”

I said I thought we were. But I also said that not all children relate to their parents. If God’s everybody’s Father, well and good, but He gives us the choice to actually relate to Him or not. There’s been a rift between us, and He sent us Jesus to reopen communication. Still, we don’t have to accept the offer of peace. (In thinking about this later it occurred to me that if we reject the offer of peace and God forced us to come to live with Him in Heaven anyway, it would be like being forced to live at home with parents we hated, I think.)

Tanzanian-Cab-Driver tentatively agreed with that, and then pointed out that most people just go to God when they’re in trouble. I agreed, too, and observed that, if they do that and things don’t go well, they blame God.

“Yeah,” he said. “But really, for God there is no ‘bad time.’ It’s all just equal to Him. It might seem like a bad time to us, but to Him, we’re still learning something and we weren’t learning it under normal circumstances.” (Brian H will be relieved to know that he did not follow this up by saying, “It all good.” I kept waiting for him to, but he didn’t.)

It did sort of hit me, though. I mean, I don’t think that’s completely right, because I think the Bible is sort of a diary of God’s pain, and I think it’s pretty clear that a lot of His pain is closely tied into and a result of ours. (A thought which is pretty intense and crazy in its own right.) but on the other hand, it does seem like that would explain a little of why He allows the stuff He does. On some level, maybe He really doesn’t see things as “a bad time” or “a good time” the way we do. Maybe to Him “a bad time” is when we’re so comfortable we take our lives for granted, and a “good” one is when we’re grabbing onto His lapels, screaming “WHY?” into His face at the tops of our lungs.

Still mulling this over. Still being hit by how unlike “my ways” God’s ways are . . .

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

"The Costa Rica Narrative" Will Return After These Messages:

Does anyone know anything about a secret society whose sole purpose for existence is to see what it will take to completely gross out a Starbucks barista? Today a more or less normal-looking young woman came in and ordered a venti blackberry green tea coffee-based frappuccino. Not only do I have a hard time imagining how blackberry, green tea, and coffee could be good all in one swallow, but the colour combination is truly revolting. The colours being combined (with ice, in a blender) are berry-purple, grass-green, and milky-coffee brown. The ensuing product is something reminiscent, both in colour and texture though not temperature, of the contents of a baby's diaper after you have begun feeding said baby pureed vegetables. (Patti's-boyfriend-Adham says, "'Baby-Diarrhea' was never a colour in my Crayolas." Well, of course not. It shouldn't be a colour in Starbucks beverages either.)

I would consider this an abberration, except this kind phenomenon has happened before, though usually with less disastrous visual effects. For example, a peppermint caramel frappuccino doesn't really appeal to me, either. I poured the overflow of that one into a cup after I made it, and I tasted it, just to be fair. It didn't taste any better than my imagination had predicted. Then there was the guy who ordered an iced tea with a shot of espresso in it.

Anyway, I think that Starbucks employees are pretty remarkable people for being able to make such things with a straight face, but if you're bored sometime, with money to burn and no desire to actually enjoy your beverage, you might try to see if you could make one wince.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

When Your Airline Itinerary Gets Changed Five Times . . .

. . . you have to wonder if God is trying to tell you something.

(I know. I've been saying things like that a lot. More on that later, mayhap.)

Ever so many years ago, Grandma G made the extremely generous offer of flying any interested grandchildren down to Costa Rica to visit her daughter Susan (the aunt of said grandchildren). At the time, I was living in London and jetting around for ridiculously low prices to random Eastern European countries to visit former au pairs who had, after participating in my church’s ESL classes, returned home. All that to say: at the time, I wasn’t really very interested. Don’t ask me how anyone can be uninterested in a free trip to anywhere, but there you have it.

Last March, I was talking to Andrew’s-sister-Janice about the tropics and suddenly remembered the offer. It also finally dawned on me that maybe this was too good to pass up. Particularly because it costs a lot more to get to Eastern Europe from here. Fortunately, Grandma G was overjoyed to have someone else take her up on it.

I didn’t want her to have to pay too much, though, so I searched the web for the-cheapest-tickets-I-could-find. The good thing was, they turned out to be pretty cheap. The bad thing was, it was because the itinerary was shared by two airlines flying people around at deeply inconvenient hours of the day and night, via completely irrelevant locations like Philadelphia. I didn’t really think through all the repercussions of these details until things started to go wrong.

The first thing that went wrong was that United Airlines tried to ditch their leg of my return journey, leaving me stranded in irrelevant Philadelphia. (Apologies to people like Bryan and Bay and Lloyd Alexander, but you have to admit that Philly doesn’t really help me in the getting-to-Costa-Rica-quickly department.) Almost the last thing to go wrong was that United Airlines, who, over the course of three months, endeavoured to wrest me from their passenger list time and time again, finally succeeded. In the interim, I made numerous very long phone calls to very determined expedia employees and my tickets got changed five times. Moments before the final change (which happened a day and a half before I left), there was a nerve-wracking episode where it looked like I would have a pair of completely useless tickets, leaving from and returning to . . . where else but Philadelphia?

In case you haven’t guessed this by now, I do not live in Philadelphia.

In the end, though, I got to fly my whole trip on American, who behaved admirably throughout the entire ordeal, at much more human-appropriate hours, allowing for things like sleep and breakfast. But you can imagine that by the time I got on the first plane at 11 a.m. on the 7th, I was wondering if there wasn’t more to this trip than vacation.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Clueless

I finally managed to unleash a modicum of controversy with the last of my posts, although most of it went to my email inbox rather than the comments section. People should stop being so timid. I figure if I'm airing half-baked thoughts on here all the time, maybe a few others would keep me company, but never mind.

Anyway, the so-called controversy wasn't really the type I was expecting, and essentially boils down to, "What does 'head' mean in this context anyway?"

Here's what I have to say to that:

I don't know.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

More WiM

Today a friend of mine said, “You’re a challenging person to know.”

I’ve often wondered about that.

In this case, though, I think the guy who said it meant it as a compliment. I think he was trying to say that I challenged him to think about life and God—and maybe Christians—in a different way. At least, I hope that’s what he meant.

But it’s yet another thing that’s been making me think about my role as a female servant of Christ. I’ve heard it said that it’s okay for a woman to tell a man the good news about Jesus, but once he starts to believe in it, it had better be another believing man who takes it from there. Apparently there’s no authority in the message about how we can be saved from our sins—but there is in all the nitpicky details that come afterwards.

I don’t really get that. There are definitely good and valid reasons for men to work with men and women to work with women in the church. I myself can attest to certain relational dynamics that can sometimes come into play and sometimes undermine the good that is meant to be accomplished when I’m talking to a guy about something as intensely personal as my relationship with Jesus—or as Jesus’ desire to have a relationship with him. But those are reasons of chemistry, not authority.

I also still staunchly and whole-heartedly believe that the Bible is very clear about the husband being the head of the household (though equally clear that it isn’t an indication of value, and that such headship had sure better not be domineering and overbearing). I have pretty strong opinions about marriage, and that it’s supposed to be the primary demonstration of what Jesus’ relationship with His Bride, the Church, is supposed to look like. (This is also why I have such strong views about sex being kept only within marriage.) Christ is obviously the head of the Church. But I don’t think a husband’s loving leadership in a family is any reason why women shouldn’t have roles of authority, with men, in a church. If Christ is the head, the Church is still the Bride, no matter who’s leading the local expression of it.

It seems to me that drawing lines about where women can lead (in evangelism, in children’s Sunday school—‘cause all those little boys aren’t men yet) gets pretty arbitrary. And sometimes racist. Why can women be missionaries in countries that aren’t the USA and lead men of another race, but they couldn’t serve as elders in their sending church?

Furthermore, I think it completely belies Paul’s paean about equality in Christ that comes blazing out of Galatians 3 (as quoted in the previous post). If we say a woman can evangelise but can’t preach to Christians, then it sounds an awful lot like we’re saying just the opposite of what Paul is saying there: that it’s only apart from Christ that everyone is equal, but that with Him there are levels of value. But that’s not what that verse says, and it’s not how Jesus treated women, and it makes it pretty hard to explain the women mentioned as being in leadership in the early Church. I still don’t totally understand the verses in Timothy and Corinthians about women not having authority. I still think that explaining them away with plausible scenarios is—well, plausible, but not necessarily the reason those verses are in there. But those are two passages against the rest of what I see in the New Testament—and the Old, too. It seems like traditionally, the Church has tried to rigidly keep two passages few people even claim to understand very well, while explaining away Galatians 3 and the entire rest of Scripture.

I guess I still wouldn’t say I understand this issue very well. But I’m no longer abdicating from it. And I’m willing to err on the side of women in leadership because I think there’s more evidence for it than against it.

None of this has anything to do with the trip I just took to Costa Rica (except for the fact that my aunt Susan and her friend Sarita have been stalwart women of leadership in Christ down there for decades), but I’ll tell you about that soon enough.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

WiM

I should never say I'm going to write here "tomorrow." It is now tomorrow (from yesterday’s perspective), and I’m too tired. I don’t really have anything to say. Whatever I do say is going to be unwieldy and will either make readers say, "Well, duh, Jenn—finally!" or "Let's have nothing more to do with that godless woman." Or maybe just, “Huh?”

But I promised. It’s just probably not going to sound as much like an epiphany to you as it did to me. What the sudden brightening of the ideological (or whatever) lights-formerly-known-as-dim revealed, was that I think women can pretty much fill any role in the church that God calls them to. And that might just be leadership.

You might think that the reason I have come to this conclusion is because I want to become a pastor or something myself. The thing is, I kind of think I already am one. I don’t know that I’m necessarily very good at it, but I might be better at it than I am at most things. If “pastor” means “shepherd” and implies someone who cares for and tries to encourage the spiritual well-being of a group of people, then I’ve been doing that for years.

So maybe I’m just trying to make excuses for something I’m already doing, that I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Well really. Maybe I am.

But here are some of the things which finally sank into my resistant, traditionalist skull. If God didn’t intend to involve women equally with men in bringing His goodness and His good news to the world:

1. Why, of the few women mentioned in the Old Testament, are they all portrayed as having some sort of authority? Deborah obviously comes to mind—she judged a whole nation. But the “fate” of Esther’s entire people was dependent on her taking charge in the way that she could. Even the slave girl who told Naaman that there was a prophet of the true God in Israel who could heal his leprosy, gave a man the amount of good news she was privy to.

2. Why did Jesus treat all the women He interacted with, with tremendous, culture-bending respect? Why did He let Mary sit at His feet and listen to His teaching? Why did He bother transforming an entire Samaritan village by using a (rather dubious) woman as the go-between? You could say, well, she happened to be there, and given the dynamics between Jews and Samaritans, it was probably unlikely He would, say, have managed to schedule a town meeting. But I don’t think Jesus is really the grasping-at-straws type, and if you want to talk about unlikeliness, what actually did happen in John 4 is right up there. If He really cared that much about not having women be His messengers, I’m guessing He would have found some other way to do that.

3. Why on earth did God make a woman be the first bringer of the complete Word of God to earth? Really, Mary was the first evangelist—the message just happened to be a whole lot more tangible in her case. And furthermore, why were women the first people who got to tell the story of the Resurrection?

4. What about the women mentioned in Acts and some of the letters who were clearly leaders in their local congregations? What about Philip’s four prophet-daughters? (How, exactly, is prophesying different from preaching? If you want to get nit-picky, you could maybe say that one is more spur-of-the-moment and intuitive, and the other involves study, but the function is still basically the same.) Why do these women get considered exceptions? And if there really is something wrong with women teaching and leading, why were there any exceptions at all?

5. What about this: “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3.26-29, NKJV)?

My guess is someone could say that passage is about spiritual and relational status with God, not about roles. But if we’re all equal in relationship to God, and in value, and in standing—if we’re all equal heirs—why should we not all be equal participants? It seems like if the above is really true, we absolutely should be. It would be disobedient not to.

There’s more I want to say, and I don’t promise to say it tomorrow, but I do promise to say it one of these days. But you didn’t really want to read more than this tonight anyway.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Dimmer Switch

What would have been my latest post, had I not been so rudely interrupted by credit card theft, was very instructional. For me, I mean. (Given that this whole blog undertaking is an essentially self-centered one, I guess that’s all that matters, right?) I forgot that I kind of like to pick fights, and that, although I still hate it when other people act entitled, I have a strong sense of entitlement-that-shall-remain-nameless (meaning, I rarely call it entitlement) myself. Probably as a function of these propensities, I found that post very entertaining to write. What it failed to do was give me the disclaimer/platform I was hoping to employ for this current one. Oh well.

I’ll just go with this:

About a week after starting to blog for the first time, I had a moment of epiphany. I can’t exactly describe what brought it on or how, but the overall feeling left in its wake was that I had been standing in a room. The lights in this room were controlled by a dimmer switch, and for the last ten years or so, someone has gradually been turning the switch up. Then finally, on September 1st or some such date, whoever has been dawdling with the light fixtures cranked them up the rest of the way.

This probably isn’t a tremendously accurate assessment of what has happened, because I daresay the lights could keep getting brighter and I could think differently about this again in a couple of years than I do now. But that’s what it felt like. And for now, I will say that I think my views on “women in ministry” (hereafter acronym-ized as WiM) have changed.

At some point shortly after college, I was involved in a Christian singles group in Nannyfield, New England (seriously, everyone there was a nanny or a teacher; I was the former), and at one point the topic of WiM came up for discussion and debate for a couple of weeks. I don’t really remember what the prevailing views were in the group at large. All I do remember about it was actually thinking about the topic in some depth for the first time in my life, and deciding I was more conservative about it than I had been acting for the previous, unstudied part of my existence.

Only then I moved to the UK for five years, and the church there was very insistent that women could serve in any role in the church that men could. I didn’t agree, but I was forced to think about it some more, because one of my best friends there got ordained and is now one of the pastors, and I felt very uncomfortable about it. She and I were able to discuss my misgivings once, early on, and then after that we pretty much avoided the issue, because neither of us was going to convince the other and we valued our friendship too much to want to argue about it. Or something like that.

Actually, after that I essentially abdicated my voice in the discussion at all. I didn’t like the idea of women as senior pastors. And I thought the passages in the Epistles where Paul makes pretty strident comments that women shouldn’t teach or have authority over a man were too direct (albeit confusing) to ignore. I thought the usual arguments—that those instructions were directed at specific congregations containing unruly women—were sort of cop-out excuses. I mean, really. How can you ignore something as blatant as “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent” (1 Timothy 2.12)? He doesn’t say, “those trouble-making women you’ve got over there,” or anything. It’s not like I like those words. But I had no intention of ignoring them or sugar-coating them.

On the other hand, even I could see that Jesus upgraded women’s status in society—at least in His society. And I could see from the book of Acts and even some of the Epistles that women did stuff at church besides just be quiet and listen. I couldn’t ignore or manure-coat that, either.

The whole thing has left me very confused for the better part of a decade, and I finally decided that I just wouldn’t voice an opinion or a belief at all. And when it actually came down to practical life-application, I just voiced and lived by my preferences. At least I was honest enough with myself (and usually, I think, with anybody asking) to know these were just my preferences. I wasn’t claiming I was actually doing or thinking things biblically. But “biblically” wasn’t helping me very much, because I couldn’t work out what it was, so I just wimped out.

And then . . . I decided my blogpost was too long and to tell you about the actual epiphany tomorrow. Are you in suspense?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Entitlement

Speaking of entitlement (see previous post), I think probably people should be entitled to look after their own money (or credit) and not have to worry about other people trying to mess around with it. I think I am entitled to such respect. But I don't feel overly entitled right now. What I am feeling is unsettled. Apparently someone, somewhere, somehow, got hold of my credit card info, and in the past week and a half used it to charge about $1500 worth of who knows what.

Thank God (by which I really mean thank God) for the fraudstoppers at the credit card company who figured out these sketchy transactions weren't mine. And for a system that doesn't require me to pay all that back. It would be impossible. Meanwhile, I could currently be described as mildly freaked out. The freaked-out-ness might justifiably be greater than mild if I were a little more awake to process all of this.
Attitude

I don’t think I’m a feminist. At least, I don’t like feminism as allegorized by the following illustrated attitude:

A Customer comes in and orders a quad venti three-pump percent with-whip white mocha. I make the drink per the specs written for me on the cup by the person expediting the line, except that I forget the customer only wanted three pumps of white mocha. I put it on the bar. I call out, “Quad venti percent with-whip white mocha!” (Actually, in real life, I’d say, “Your drink’s all set, Jerry”—but this isn’t actually Jerry I’m illustrating. It’s just that his drink is high-maintenance enough to be a good example, and plus, I miss him already.)

The Customer-who-isn’t-actually-Jerry comes over to the bar and grabs the drink. “Thank you,” I say. “Have a good day.” The Customer doesn’t say anything, doesn’t smile, takes a sip. “Ugh!” says The Customer. “You put in too much white mocha! Make it again!”

Now, see, I definitely think there’s such a thing as too much white mocha. As in, pretty much any white mocha is too much in my opinion (unless you combine a very small amount with an also small amount of peppermint, and then it tastes like a non-pareil, which I actually like, though probably more for nostalgia’s sake than for any other reason).

Besides, the mistake was mine. It’s not like The Customer had wanted an iced beverage and neglected to tell me and then said with disgust, after I had made it hot, “I wanted it iced.” (To Starbucks customers everywhere: Do not do this. Repeat: DO NOT do this. We cannot read your minds. Nor do we want to.)

This Customer is entitled to having their drink remade. They shouldn’t have to drink all that white mocha if they don’t want to and if (not surprisingly) it really doesn’t taste good to them. They just spent about five of their hard-earned dollars on the thing. But really, do they have to be so rude about it? If The Customer had instead smiled at me when I thanked them and wished them a nice day, then taken the sip, and finally asked politely if I had remembered they only wanted three pumps of white mocha, and if not, could I please make it again, I would have apologised. I would have thought what a nice person they were to have been so nice about a mistake which was not even their fault. I would have made the drink over in a heartbeat.

Given the example at hand, however, I would have remade the drink in a heartbeat just to get them out of my hair, and I would have thought (and probably muttered under my breath to the nearest barista) all sorts of uncharitable things about them. I would have internally blamed the customer for having a drink with so many stupid specifications, and come on, with a line like this, how could they expect me to remember everything when I’m trying to hurry to help them get to work in a timely fashion?

I’m not that kind of feminist. By which I mean, I really don’t like the kind of feminism that goes around acting all entitled (like The Customer), even if women are entitled to certain rights and treatment. The Customer was entitled to the right drink, but they didn’t have to be such a jerk about it. I don’t like any kind of “ism” very much, if the truth were known, because typically its adherents do act kind of entitled, and I think that attitude is one of the hardest on earth to stomach, no matter how worthy the cause is. I don’t want to go around picking fights because I think someone’s ill-treatment of me is based on my being a woman. It’s really their problem.

(Then again, you could probably make the case against me that at least internally I go around picking fights when people treat me like dirt because I work in a coffee shop. Maybe I’m a “barista-ist.” Maybe I act entitled when I think I should be treated better by the people who use me for coffee. Hmm. This is a new thought. I might have to consider this. But I’m still not deleting this post. Consider this a “Not It!” in the game of “Hypocrite Tag.” Even if I am it.)

On the other hand, maybe I kind of am a feminist. A couple weekends ago, I was saying something and friend John said, “Here speaks the feminist-Christian chick.” It was kind of startling nomenclature for me—it isn’t one of the things I call myself. But maybe he was right.

Why all this matters: to be revealed in a future episode of Jennwith2ns.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blog Neglect

Last week was pretty intense. I was trying telepathically to impress a guy I don't, in actual fact, know, and who lives on the other side of the continent. Not to mention conducting various send-off activities for a guy I actually do know, who is relocating to roughly the same spot in the universe. Not to mention welcoming one of my best friends into the Family of Christ, which is, essentially, the most exciting thing I've ever been able to do, given the fact that this is pretty much what I live for but don't actually get to see happen very often. Not to mention working on some copyediting projects.

(As an aside, if anybody knows anybody looking for a copyeditor, I'm open to more such projects.)

Each of these activities occupy varying degrees of reality, but they all took up pretty much all of my time and brainspace, leaving me with none for my blog. Poor blog. At any rate, I'm back, at least until Saturday, when I depart for a small, relatively peaceful, Latin American country where I will most likely not look at the Internet for a week and a half.

There. That told you precisely nothing, but at least I feel like I've written something.
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