Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Family at Christmas

My family's all getting together for New Year's and Cousin Dave's wedding, so I got to have Christmas a little differently than I have ever had it on this side of the Pond before. I went to work.

I worked with two Starbucks partners from other stores, one of whom is apparently disaffected from all religions except maybe Buddhism (if you feel like calling that a religion). He spent the morning saying pointedly to people who wished him a merry Christmas, "Enjoy your holiday." (Last post notwithstanding, I do think such corrections are annoying and unnecessary.) I was actually interested in the number of people who said "Merry Christmas," sort of quietly taking a deep breath, bracing themselves, and uttering it with a strange sort of tentative defiance. If people actually said it, I made sure I confidently wished them a happy one back. The other "borrowed partner," as we call them, is a Jewish girl who wanted to wish people a merry Christmas simply because that is indeed the holiday that was being celebrated on this particular day. But every time she said it, they said, "Same to you!" and she said that wasn't quite right, either.

Most of the customers were in good moods, particularly because we were open and they wanted their coffee. The tips were, I think, well-nigh phenomenal. Lots of our favourite customers came in to wish us a happy . . . something, anyway. I kind of got a stomach ache, though, when one guy came in who was spending this holiday on his own yet again. He's divorced, and he has kids, but he's never had them on any holiday that I can remember. He was, as usual and understandably, glum. Maybe more than that. I has nothing to do with me, but I felt almost gut-wrenchingly sad about it.

I was finished with work by noon, at which point I headed off to some friends' from church. They are an unusually hospitable couple. The surface of the table was crammed with food and the perimeter was nearly as crammed with people, some of whom were also divorced without their children in attendance. Personal circumstances aside, everybody still seemed genuinely to be enjoying themselves. We laughed and talked and ate a lot. I thought about the customer and thought he needed something like this.

I'm not going to idealise the Church here, or say that this kind of warm happy-family-like community is a given among believers and doesn't happen anywhere else. But the contrast was stark enough to remind me of Jesus and the reconciliation and hope and community that He came to bring--first with God, and then with each other--whether we always actually get it or not. I still feel sorry for the lack of it. But I am also thankful for the warmth I experienced today. I'm thankful for this on-line community, too. It's a little weird. (I'm not saying you are. I'm saying it is.) But there's warmth here as well. Thank you. And merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Holidays

Having said that, here are some thoughts I've been thinking about the declawing of Christmas:

1. You didn't know it had claws, did you? Maybe it doesn't. (But it is the celebration of the human birth of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.) I'm pretty sure there was blood, at least. In spite of having some Roman Catholic sympathies, I'm not one, and I really think that Mary had a normal labour and there was blood. Although I have always enjoyed and probably always will enjoy Christmas trees and wreaths and pepparkakor, they don't particularly point to the reality of road-trips-via-donkey (or foot) and blood and dirt and naturally-scented animals. People get a little bent out of shape about the growing insipidity of Christmas, but it seems to me that, without the grit, it's always had the trappings to be insipid if we let it.

2. One day on one of my breaks I got in line to order and "mark out" a drink, and I asked for a "tall Christmas blend."

"A tall Xmas blend?" asked Kiran with a subtle tone of irony in his voice. (Yes, this is the same Kiran I drove home the other day. Please do not hold this against him. We actually had a chat in the car that day about whether I was "religious." It was interesting, but I don't feel I was particularly articulate.)

"No," I said. "Christmas blend."

I'm not really one to quibble about the whole "Xmas" thing. If people want to think they're neutralising the word, I can content myself with thinking about how "X" is the first Greek letter in "Christ." I don't feel like I need to argue about it, and frankly, if they're not celebrating Christ, why should they call it "Christmas"? However, I am celebrating Christ (or at least, I mean to--and I hope that's what I'm ultimately doing), and so I do not wish to be corrected for my use of the term--even when it's only in regard to coffee.

3. I also do not feel that I am selling out if I tell customers to "enjoy the holidays." Why would I wish someone a "Merry Christmas" if they don't celebrate it and/or celebrate something else? I do not suppose that by saying the words, "Merry Christmas" at someone I am magically converting them. And, as I have said before, if I wish to offend them, I'd rather do it in a context where we can discuss or argue about it almost immediately.

4. Christians in my neck of the woods seem to feel threatened by the fact that the big censorship trend now is to call Christmas trees "holiday trees." I join in the concern based on the fact that I do think it's censorship (I also think taking Oscar the Grouch off Sesame Street is censorship, though. Someone told me this was happening, although I have yet to find any documentation).

As I have said, I like Christmas trees. I have one, and I intend to keep having one. I also intend to keep calling it a Christmas tree. However, I would just like to throw this out there: it doesn't really have much to do with Christmas. And maybe, if we stop being allowed to slap the "Christ Mass" label on all the extraneous stuff that has come to be associated with the holiday, maybe we'll start to get the real holiday back. I'm not convinced that being able to keep calling public coniferous decorations "Christmas trees" is the way for Christians to keep their holiday.

Sometimes, for example, I wonder if calling the-obligatory-mass-purchasing-of-more-or-less-useful-material-possessions-for-other-people "Christmas shopping" is a little bit like taking the Lord's name in vain. I'm not saying it is. But I think it might be. If we separate things into "Christmas" versus "holiday" categories, we might just end up with unhelpful dichotomies, I suppose. We might compound our propensity to compartmentalise Jesus. On the other hand, if we actually started thinking about what we're calling stuff, we might start thinking about what we're doing. And then we might be able to be more intentional about how we celebrate Christmas--and really celebrate it.

In the meantime, I don't think people should call their winter holidays "Christmas" if they are in no other way acknowledging Christ. I wish everyone was celebrating that Jesus is God's Son, come to earth to set us free from ourselves. But if they're not yet, please, let's let them call their holiday something else. So that when they do meet the Incarnate God, they have a special name to call a special time of year that really has a lot more depth and meaning than tradition and nostalgia and presents and glitter and even family.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Take Back the Holiday

Denver Seminary Bookstore had this sale just before I quit my degree programme there. I bought a bunch of cheap books I had never heard of, realised some time later that I was probably never going to read them, and put them up for sale on half.com. Then someone actually bought one, and I thought, "Rats, I should've read it first!" So before shoving it in an envelope and a mailbox, I perused a quick chapter.

It was a book by Rodney Clapp and the thing I remember about this one chapter I read in it was his saying that Christians would never regain Christmas if they didn't regain Easter first.

I actually think this is true, although I can't remember how he unpacked his idea. I think Easter is our true holiday (although obviously if God hadn't become a real human being, it wouldn't be such a big deal). There's so much crammed into Easter: love and forgiveness and grace and hope and life and death--but not in the fluffy-chick-and-bunny sense of those words. (I'm not sure if there's a fluffy-chick-and-bunny sense of the word "death"--but I'm not sure there isn't, either, frankly.) The sort of bracing, scary, hard-to-come-by sense, instead, maybe.

I think if we had a better awareness of what we were celebrating at Easter and why it's so exciting and worth getting crazily celebratory about, we would probably have a little better handle on what we're celebrating at this time of year, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Winter Wonderland

The snow began softly falling on schedule today at 1 p.m. I say softly, but there was sure a lot of it softly falling at once. My shift ended right around then, and so did Kiran's; he didn't have his car, so I offered to give him a ride home.

Here's the thing. This part of the world gets snow. Sometimes a lot of it. We scoff at Southerners who shut down entire cities when one flake of the stuff falls from the sky. But if the truth were known, we don't really handle it too well either. Here we have been hearing warnings about this snowstorm (and the one coming up later this weekend) for the last two or three days. So you would think that all these seasoned snow warriors would just hunker down wherever they were for a couple of hours and wait until a few plows had been through, and then head home after that. Leaving the roads clear so those of us who had already worked a full eight hours and had stuff to do in the afternoon could head home among the first couple of flakes. Er, snowdrifts.

But no. Instead, everyone completely freaked out (or took advantage of the situation) and left work/school/the gym early, so that probably the entire county (minus the four people who were still working at Starbucks) decided to converge on Park Ave and Main Street all at the same time.

It was nice having someone to talk to in the car for the first two hours. Unfortunately, I was on my own for the last three. I'm not going to go into the part about how when I finally got home, I had no place to park and got stuck in a drift twice and had to dig myself out both times--and then dig myself in, as it were. And how that was kind of upsetting. (Or at least, I was kind of upset.)

But I do have a theory about why "my people" up here are so silly about snow. This batch of snow really is quite beautiful. It's soft. It actually shovels pretty well, yet it's also not too bad for making snowballs. (The best part of the commute today was when a car-full of college students scraped some snow off their own car and pelted it at mine.) But here we all are--poor us--having spent our childhoods making snowmen and going sledding and having snowball fights in our ill-fitting snowpants. And then we grow up and suddenly all we have time for is shoveling and trying not to skid into somebody else's car on the way to work. It's a let-down. Snow wasn't meant to be so mundane, I don't think. It certainly wasn't meant to take five hours to go ten miles in it. I think we were all just supposed to stay home and enjoy it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Redirected

There's too much going on around here these days for me to have much time to post, and, in spite of that, not much to talk about. If you're dying for intelligent discourse . . . I don't know why you're here, but . . . here's a link to an interview with Philip Pullman, author of The Golden Compass. Thanks to Chris for the inadvertent (or at most semi-advertent) heads-up.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Unpatriotic?

On Friday I made ghormeh sabzi for the first time. This is a Persian dish I have not had since I lived in London, mainly as all of my Persian friends still live in London. On Friday I decided that if I couldn't mooch any off anybody else, I could at the very least make it myself.

My mother quipped, "That's not very patriotic." I don't suppose I could really be considered overly patriotic, I'm afraid, although I certainly wasn't trying to make a political religious statement. So I continued chopping parsley.

I had pulled some meat out of the freezer the night before, and I cut that up and put it in the pot, only then realising that what I had thought it was beef was really pork. I don't think I know any Iranians--not even non-Muslim ones--who would put pork in ghormeh sabzi. I feel that I have now sufficiently flaunted the culture and nationality of two opposing countries, in which case, there shouldn't be a problem.

It tasted good anyway, by the way.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Name-Dropping

I think name-dropping is irritating. Unless, of course, I'm doing it. That doesn't irritate me at all. (Actually, maybe it does a little, come to think of it. Whatever. I'm still going to.)

On Tuesday I went with Rebecca to hear Rob Bell speak. I . . . don't actually know Rob Bell. But he was two years ahead of me at Wheaton, and he used to be in a college band called __ton bundle. College-Roommate-Jenne and I had a crush on everybody in the band. I was a little belated with mine--those guys kind of scared me freshman year, with their peroxide-blonde hair and their overalls. Sophomore year I got me a couple of artsy skateboarder friends and then I realised how cool they were.

At the end of that year, they did a concert over the road from my dorm. Jenne and I went and swooned. That might, however, just have been 'cause they were dancing on the stage. Dancing was not allowed at Wheaton at the time. I would just like to say that "Velvet Elvis" was the name of a song before it was the name of a book. I could probably sing it to you without having to refresh my memory. (I should also probably say, though, that I have yet to read the book.) Jenne and I both wanted a copy of their album "Taking My Donkey to Town," but we hated spending money on ourselves, so we each bought one and gave it to each other, which somehow seemed more justifiable.

The next year I wrote Rob and asked him how I could get a hold of more of their albums. He actually sent me a postcard back, saying he didn't know. I can still visualise his handwriting, but I didn't save the postcard, because I was a little freaked out he had written me at all. Apparently I have some trouble hanging onto the very evidence that would prove my right to drop names . . .

I didn't find out Rob was famous in Christian circles until my brief stint at seminary, when I was researching something and discovered an article of his in Leadership magazine. I thought it was pretty cool--not so much that I used to serve a now-famous person lasagna at the dining hall, but that the rather edgy college kid had become a rather edgy pastor.

I still think it's cool, but the talk I went to on Tuesday seemed a little like it was missing something. The edge, maybe. I felt as if everything he had said was true, but not the whole truth. I thought the missing bits were probably important--to the extent, maybe, that the Good News he was presenting was less Good because it seemed to take little account of our own sin. I think that grace would be less gracious if the only thing we had got wrong was our perception of God. Also, there were all these people in the audience going on and on about Rob Bell and how great he is, and all that. I'm no longer a college sophomore with a crush on him, and cult-of-personality makes me skittish. Or just kind of grumpy. Rebel that I think I am.

Cult-of-personality is something that can happen with Rob Bell, I guess. I mean, as far as I can tell, he's always been that kind of person. He's still an entertainer. On the other hand, I also think he's genuine. He did have some good things to say. He did have grace to offer, even though, as I say, I think it was missing something. I get the feeling that he is truly a pastor, in the sense of compassion and his desire for people to relate to God. I think he loves Him. I think he loves the Bible, too. I think he loves teaching. So yeah. I guess mostly I still think it's pretty cool that Rob Bell is getting up on stage and people are listening.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Paradigm Shift

A couple of weeks ago I went to a party where I know the hosts pretty well, and had only met some of the guests once, at another party earlier this year. One of the guys who had come alone last time was now there with a partner--a young man from out of state.

The partner and I were probably the two guests who knew the fewest people, so we had a pleasant chat together about travel in Europe, and then when we ran out of things to say about that, we noticed that all the rest of the assembled guests had, indeed, assembled--around his boyfriend.

The boyfriend was recounting how his younger sister is now engaged, and how everyone in his family has been acting happy for her, but how he just can't because he doesn't think it's right for her. Apparently she started going to Bible studies with this guy, and now she shares his faith and they are talking about going on the mission field. They also, evidently, are not living together, because they believe in waiting to have sex until marriage.

This revelation was met with gasps and snickers somewhere in between horror and scorn, and that was when it hit me: virginity is the new homosexuality. To the majority, it's scandalous. What person in his or her right mind would wait around and just hope all aspects of a relationship were going to be okay without checking it out first? Not to mention that the drive for sex is natural and surely depriving oneself of it is unhealthy on a whole lot of levels.

The entire scenario suddenly seemed utterly familiar--and yet utterly surreal. It was like going to a party full of evangelicals, where one of them, with deep sorrow and genuine concern, related that their younger sibling had come out of the closet and was now living with a partner of the same sex. The reactions from the listeners were identical. The story was almost identical. It was only the roles that were reversed. No one was trying to be unkind. They were sympathising with their friend, who clearly was both distraught over and resigned to what he saw as his sister's poor decisions. Some allusion was made to a parent's unwise decisions, too. I imagine most of the people thought how fortunate it was that at least one of the kids had turned out okay.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Winter

Announcement from the Little Room Weather Station: it is snowing. Snowing.

I have mixed feelings about this. For now, I feel that I should get ready for work in about two seconds and hie myself out of here while I can still make it up the driveway . . .

Monday, November 19, 2007

Classy


Every so often I go through a phase where I feel like being cultured. These never last very long. But when such humours strike, they make me do wild and crazy things like go to art museums or listen to National Public Radio. (Apparently they also make me say, "National Public Radio," instead of just "NPR." But that might have had something to do with sentence cadence, too.)

I am currently in one of these phases, and what it's making me do this time is listen to classical music stations and practice my flute. (My mother is now weeping with joy. Aren't you, Mom?) It started about two weeks ago when it hit me for the millionth time how I used to be able to play fairly complex classical pieces on my flute and now I can scarcely read music. This time I decided I was fed up with the idea. So I've pulled out some more or less simple things that I used to play and am working my way up. (We'll see how long this lasts. It helps that Former-Roommate-Sarah is now giving me voice lessons, too, which means that I have to practice something anyway.)

At about the time I made this decision in self-discipline, I was listening to one of the insipid pop-stations-which-claim-to-be-alternative that I usually listen to because they don't actually require listening, and I realised that James Blunt was singing, but that I had spent the whole first half of the song thinking it was a woman. And then I switched the station to another of the same ilk . . . and he was still singing. It was really dreadful.

When I first started practicing my flute again (instead of dragging it out every couple of weeks for church and irresponsibly winging it), I thought, "The problem with this whole thing is that I don't actually like the flute." It's not really very cool, you know. Also, when my brother was in junior high and learning the trombone, if he got mad at someone in the family, he could go in his room and let out a long and satisfying blat on it. Whereas, if I attempt something similar with the flute, all I get is "shrill," and there is nothing satisfying about shrill at all.

I was thinking this, somewhat discontentedly, when the classical station I had just started listening to played something by Faure. Gabriel Faure single-handedly makes flute cool, I decided. I think he might have been the only person who really got it. Well, and maybe Poulenc. Anyway. I'm thankful for Gabriel Faure. I'm also grateful that this radio station seems to like him, too.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sock Update

Shall I tell you how many socks the Dryer took today? Three. Three. I ask you. (Two of them were blue, but their counterparts are . . . not the same blue as each other.) I feel that perhaps I am being punished for something--but I have no idea the something is.

Sigh.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Crystal Ball

I don't actually wish I knew the future. But sometimes I think I wish I believed horoscopes were an okay decision-making tool. I'm probably inherently superstitious enough to believe one if I read it. Note: if you remember when my birthday is, this is not an invitation for you to read my horoscope for me and tell me what it says. I will be truly put out if you do. Truly.

But . . . this is why sometimes I wish I were okay with horoscopes:

How do you know when to take what's there, and when to wait for something better to come along? Particularly if there is a distinct "something better" in your sights, but you don't know if it's going to be offered to you?

You think I'm talking about dating, don't you?

Nope! I'm talking about jobs. On Thursday I interviewed with the SAT tutoring company. The guy who interviewed me looked like Matt Damon, which was a little unsettling, but apparently Matt Damon thinks I should work out just fine as a tutor. (I'm still not talking about dating. This Matt Damon, like the real one, is married.) The one thing he did keep going on about, though, was the fact that they "have very few students in [my] area." This did not surprise me at all, but given the fact that he told me this about six times, I am translating it as, "We currently have no students in your area." I said that was okay, but keeping in mind the price of petrol and the fact that apparently I am the type of person who might drive three hours on a flat tyre, I should possibly be having second thoughts about this.

In the meantime, just this week a friend of mine alerted me to an ESL tutoring position open at a local college. I applied there, too, and didn't hear anything back so, in the interest of decision-making, I sent the contact a little e-nudge this afternoon. Astonishingly, she wrote back at once--to tell me that they would hire when the semester is over, and that the job would start in January.

I don't know what the pay rate is for the ESL job. I do know the pay rate for the SAT job is pretty good, but I dare say my car will get half of it. Also, the SAT job requires signing a non-compete clause, believe it or not. On the other hand, that job has actually been offered to me. I have no idea if Ms. ESL is going to want to talk to me when the semester is over.

Thus the wish for some horoscopic guidance. Something like, "You will receive a tempting offer, but resist--something better is around the corner." Or, "The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence, but don't take risks this month--hang on to what you have." (Wow. Maybe I should just write horoscopes for extra money.)

Since I'm not consulting horoscopes, however, I'm left with the prayer option, which usually at least feels less clear and more frustrating. (Horoscopes are, of course, deliberately vague, but they sound like they're telling you something, so you feel like you can make some sort of choice.) God is sovereign, but I'm not, and I have no idea what He wants me to be doing these days. He knows my financial needs, and it seems like it would make sense for Him to provide for me by providing another source of income. (Then again, I have discovered God often doesn't do what I think would make sense.) I've been casting about for such another source of income since the beginning of the summer, and this SAT tutoring programme is the first thing in all that time to have materialised. So do I accept it as His answer and provision? Or do I trust that He has something even better for me which requires a leap of faith to relinquish the certainty for the not-so-certain?

I'm left back at James 1.5-8, I suppose, asking for wisdom and trusting that, since he said it will be granted, it will be. In the meantime, maybe I'd better stop thinking about horoscopes. It might be considered "wavering." So yeah. Don't check my horoscope for me. But if you think of praying for me instead, I'd really appreciate it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Tire-d

Last night I drove for almost two hours through rush-hour traffic in a suspiciously wobbly car in order to retake the SAT. Yes, that would be the standardised college entrance exam. I am not going back to college. And actually, I only had to take part of it. And actually, I only had to take part of that. This was the second step in the application process toward a part-time job tutoring high school students who are preparing for the SAT. The pay is pretty good, and at least hypothetically, I should be able to maintain my hours at Starbucks. This would be an amazing provision in a lot of different ways, so I'm hoping it works out.

I wobbled back home in my wobbly car after acing the part of the part of the test that I took (actual interview next week). Then I made a few phone calls and went to bed. At 3.45 a.m., I arose, made myself presentable enough to serve early-morning coffee, got into my car, and headed for work.

That only took about two seconds. The heading, I mean. "Hillarie," I said into my cell phone to my groggy manager, "I'm so sorry. I'm going to be late. I have a flat tire. I've never changed a tire before." (We're talking about tyres here, British readers.)

If my parents have to live in another country, it's really cool that they live in a time zone which allows me to call them at 4.30 a.m. without waking them up. (This was good that other time, too, when the furnace internally combusted and all the fire alarms went off and the house almost burnt down.) So, in the cold and the dark, on my hands and knees on the driveway, phone precariously tucked between my ear and my shoulder, I listened to my dad talk me through changing a tire. He had told me how once before, and Former-Roommate-Sarah's now-husband Stephen changed a tire for me once, too. But I never learn how to do anything until I actually do it.

Guess what? I actually did it!

I was so proud of myself, I had to tell all the customers, "I learned how to change a tire today, at 4.30 in the morning!" They all groaned and congratulated me at the appropriate moments. The UPS guys who brought us our paychecks (cheques) today were particularly affirming.

Only problem with this that I feel I have lost the last bargaining chip I had with God in regards to His ever allowing me to get married. You know. No more, "Dear God, you do realise I don't know how to change a tire? Don't you think I need a husband to help me with that?" Sigh. Totally independent now. It's over.

It's okay, though. I was never very good with that damsel in distress thing, anyway. (I mean--I can get kind of distressed. I'm just not good with waiting around for someone to help me.) Today as I was taking the trash out of the store, this older gentleman said, "Oh my goodness! Can I help you?" and moved to open the door. It wasn't very convenient for him, though, and I said, "Oh that's okay, thanks. I changed a tire today at 4.30 in the morning. I can do anything!"

This is probably inaccurate. But it felt true at the time.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Sudden Beauty

I'm sitting in the Little Room. There is a couch in it, and Tony Little's Gazelle Freestyle glider (bequeathed to me by Former-Roommate-Sarah and used about four times since then). There are a TV and VCR perched on an old-fashioned school desk, and some hand-weights next to them. There is a bookshelf. Also, there are two windows.

Apart from when I was running errands this morning and actually getting a little rained on, I have been sitting indoors, feeling cozy and autumnal and listening to the rain pelt down. It's not a bad feeling, but I guess the weather would not have typically been described as pleasant. After lunch I settled down here in the Little Room to read and talk to my parents on the phone and work on this novel I'm trying to write.

But a moment ago I looked up and realised that the sun has come out, just before going down, and it is absolutely stunning outside. Late afternoon autumnal lighting is so enthralling to me that I feel I should almost be able to hear it, smell it, taste it. That same lighting translated through the last golden remains of leaves, and through still-pendulous water-droplets on grass and pine needles, is enough to take my breath away. I'd run upstairs for the camera, but I don't think it would do it justice, and it would probably take just enough time that the angle of the light would be off by the time I got back down here. But I did want to tell you about it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

How 'Bout Them Socks?

Well, yes, these Sox, naturally. (We shall refrain from discussing how silly it is to call the championship games of a sport that is played in very few other countries, the "World Series." We shall merely applaud and feel simultaneously smug and grateful that they won it again.)

But what I really wanted to talk about was socks. And dryers.

I have decided that doing the laundry is sort of like making a weekly sacrifice to a pagan household deity. You bring down a heaping load of textiles to the basement, and offer it, in turn, to a sloshing, churning creature, and then a gasping, hot-aired monster. In the end, you get most of it back . . . except for a sock.

Seriously. My dryer exacts a high toll, because I think I lose one sock every time I do laundry. Oh well, you say. One sock. But have you ever noticed: the Dryer only ever takes one sock of a pair? (I suppose this kind of makes sense, since after you've lost the one, there is very little reason that the other one, freshly cleaned, would ever get dirty again.) And it's always from a pair of socks you like the best.

I buy these boring pairs of "just to get by" socks--a couple of each pair. It would be okay to lose one of those, because I still have a few more pairs that are exactly the same, and if, for example, one sock ends up getting holes in it, I'd have a spare. But oh no. The Dryer only takes one sock from a one-of-a-kind pair--the pair with the stripes or flowers or obsolete London double-decker buses. (That's actually a pair I gave my sister-in-law--but if her dryer's anything like mine, she's probably missing one.) Or, you know, a sock from the pair that is exactly the right shade of . . . something . . . to match exactly this outfit that I have.

Sigh. Sock puppets, anyone?

Good thing I have boots.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Incidentally . . .

That last post? Was my 200th.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Plot Thickens

So, probably not more than two days after the Throwaway Theological Allusion, I was hanging out at Not My Starbucks with the Item. (Incidentally, you may have noticed the Item doesn't blog anymore. But I guess I can still link there if I want.)

We were talking, oddly enough, about predestination and other stuff. Some of the other stuff was writing, and the Item was telling me how he has taken to praying before he writes. He can correct me if I remember this wrong, but I think basically he prays that God will help him write something true, and something that He wants.

Earlier that day I had been reading a book by Walter Wangerin, in which he called us "sub-creators" with God. I like this, because I think it kind of gets at the fact that we are designed to create, being made in God's image--but that we aren't on the same level as He is. He is The Creator--we're simply creative creatures. We're designed to work with Him, but we're not in charge.

It felt like previously unrelated thoughts were starting to converge. I thought about the Item, who is a writer, asking The Author for guidance to write the book. I thought, the Item has to do the writing, and he might have an idea the direction he wants a story to go in, but he doesn't know for certain what will happen between the beginning and the end. His characters might surprise him. But God--well, God isn't the same kind of writer that we are. He is (as Christianne said in her comment on the last post) outside of time. He's outside of all of our limitations. We "write" the story with God--but He's the Author of the whole thing, knowing all the details, and we figure it out as we go along.

Parables never really do work point by point anyway. Neither do metaphors. The Bible often calls God "Father," for example. There are enough similarities to make the comparison meaningful. But there are plenty of fathers around who just make God look bad, and even the ones who don't, are too limited by their not-God-ness to show us exactly what He's like.

So, you know, the open theism thing makes sense. I can see why someone might come up with that idea, and why people would believe it. But it seems to me to leave out the possibility that, you know, God might be kind of different from us, even after our being made in His image and everything. It leaves out the possibility, too, that as His image-bearing creatures, we may have some fairly awesome capabilities, but we just might not ever truly get a handle on what happens outside the box. There are some things we may never be able to figure out--like how God chooses us so that we have a choice.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Plotlines

I'm afraid to write this post because I don't really know what I'm talking about. Let me just say, I'm not drawing any conclusions. Nope. No conclusions here. Mostly (because I think better this way, which is why I majored in English and not Philosophy), I'm just thinking of stories.

So the other week, Chris made this throwaway comment about openness theology. (How do you make throwaway theological comments? I have no idea. It takes great skill, I think.) Anyway, it got me thinking about the first time I was really confronted with that theology as such. Which was in London; my pastor was mulling it over. I mulled it over, too, because as best as I could work out, the basic idea was that God had an overall plotline for life and the universe, but none of the details were ironed out; thus, He could, potentially, be surprised by our actions.

I do really and honestly believe that God has dignified us with free will, somehow, but I also can't get rid of the idea that He knows and has planned out what's going to happen, and the idea that I could surprise Him kind of freaked me out. Still does. However, the thought kind of lodged, because at the time I was writing a novel. I ended up giving it up as a bad job (which I was just thinking I hope God never does, but you might, I suppose, say that the Noah and the Sodom and Gomorrah stories are kind of like that). However, I hadn't given it up before the characters in it had done some things that I wasn't expecting. You go along, and you write your novel, and your characters really do grow into themselves such that they might end up doing things you didn't expect, just because that's who they are. You designed them that way. You just didn't know how it was all going to play out--even if they manage to get to the end of the book and still bring about the desired ending.

I did not really want to think that the universe might run in just this way. On the other hand, I do have this theory that (sort of like a Platonic ideal, maybe, but not quite) most relationships in life can be turned into parables to reveal truths about the relationship of humans to God. It seemed not totally improbable, then, that the relation of author to character could also be put in this category. It's not like I was the first one to make the comparison or anything.

I have more to tell of this thought-process, and like I said, there are no conclusions. I just don't want to make this post so long that no one reads it, so I'll continue anon. But if anyone feels like reacting, or if any of you writers would like to confirm or deny that this happens to your characters, be my guest.

Photo by jennw2ns: Ladder of Fortune. 2007.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

For Sale

Recently, I have been entertaining thoughts larger than the 3% or whatever of my brain that I actually sometimes use. These are thoughts about which I would like to blog, but I'm feeling like as soon as I start talking about them, I shall be immediately out of my depth, so I'm stalling.

To keep you reading while I procrastinate, here's something else for you to think about, or maybe help me out with.

I have here a pile of leftover hand-made Christmas cards from the last four or so years. Clearly I can't send them to people, because I already did. Everyone will be like, "Oh yeah, I remember that one." (I have no leftover anthrax cards, although I would be happy to tell you the story about them if there is enough demand.) Anyway, I've been told that I could probably successfully sell these cards, but I haven't quite worked out how to go about this. I was thinking of posting on etsy, but, unless I am reading it wrong, it looks like I have to pay them something like 69 cents per individual item. I have a lot of individual items, and am not sure I want to pay them that much every month for something that may well not even sell. Also, I don't want to have to charge as much for the cards as I would need to, to make up for the 69 cents plus the postage.

So. Does anyone have any advice? Or, alternately, would anyone like to do their Christmas card shopping directly from me? Here are some images of the cards I have available; keep in mind that card background colour and format may differ slightly between cards.


(Text: "The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.")







(Inside text: "You make me know the path of life; In Your presence is unbounded joy, In Your right hand is eternal delight. Psalm 16.11, CJB")






(Image: Butterfly in cocoon.
Inside text: "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40.5, NKJV")


(Image: Revelation 12, more or less. For some reason I can't locate the verse I quoted in there. Mom? Dad? Dave? Do you still have your copies? Can you remind me?)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Questions

Here is something I have been wondering recently:

How is it that bleu cheese can get moldy? Isn't it already moldy? So . . . does mold grow mold? And if your already, intentionally, moldy bleu cheese starts to grow white fuzz, and the point of bleu cheese is its moldiness, can you still eat it?

Here is another question:

How is it that the packet of whole grain tortillas that my mother bought at the beginning of August is still not moldy?

Just wondering. You know.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Event

I spent most of my three-day visit to New York tromping around in a pair of boots that I really only needed for two hours on Tuesday night. Trouble was, most of the tromping was also done with a backpack on my back, and those boots wouldn't have fit in there with the clothes, toiletries, and books I had brought along. So I dispensed with the comfort of sneakers for those two hours of scuffed fashion. One more day of that would probably have made the tendons and muscles of my calves pop like too-tight guitar strings. Fortunately, there was not "one more day of that."

In the meantime, the tromping was sort of fun. On Monday I went with Marianne to the Museum of Natural History, because when I was providing the links to this post, I discovered they were having an exhibit about Mythic Creatures. It cost a little extra to get in, but it was pretty fun to read about creatures with which I feel familiar, and others I had never heard of before. It was more interesting to see mythic synchronicity across cultures. I love that stuff.

On Tuesday, I went with Seren to the Cloisters. Here we saw things like the Chamber of Smirking Marys and the Painting of the Blood-Gushing Jesus. ("Gushing" may not be the right word, exactly, because, according to the painting, the icon of Jesus managed to aim the blood right out of his ribcage into the waiting chalice of the priest who was worshiping there.) Medieval art is Really Weird a lot of the time. Small American museums instituted by millionaires are often a bit weird as well. But I kind of like those things, too.

After tea at the end of our Cloisters loitering, I got into the outfit that the boots were truly meant for and returned to Manhattan. The Yale Club is directly outside of Grand Central Station, and I got there just in time. The Lloyd Alexander memorial evening turned out to be another moment of mild weirdness, because I didn't know a single person there. I didn't even know who anyone was. It is kind of awkward, I realised, when the only person you know who is relevant to the event you are attending is dead.


This was how I rediscovered that I am a completely inept at conversing or networking with strangers unless there's a counter and a cup of coffee between us. I have no idea how to start a conversation with people I've never met. Apparently I don't know how to keep one going either, because at least three times that night, people introduced themselves to me, began to talk about Lloyd, and then, when I began to talk about my own (albeit minimal) experience as his friend, found someone else they urgently needed to talk to.

On the other hand, Sharyn November, editor of the Firebird imprint of the Penguin group, made a valiant effort to meet everyone in the room, and everyone did include me. Also, Jim Jacobs of Brigham Young University was cordial and friendly and even seemed genuinely interested in my experience of writing to Lloyd. Blouke and Marianne Carus of Cricket Magazine (etc.), who had spearheaded this event, were lovely. And I met one of Lloyd's granddaughters--the one who had taken greatest care of him at the end. Lloyd had one more book about to be published when he died, and all of us at the event got a free copy of it--as well as of his first published book, and some of the Carus magazines. This was generous and unexpected and delightful.

Besides, it was great to hear other people's stories. Some who had been particularly close to Lloyd were given the opportunity to speak to all of us, and it was fascinating to hear what other people had known of him more close at hand. I didn't feel the need to cry anymore. But I did still wish he had been there, to really talk to.

Photos by jennw2ns: Museum Unicorn 2007; The Cloisters 2007; Photo of Photo of Lloyd 2007.

Photo by J.S. Jacobs: Jennw2ns w2 Books and Illustration.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Grand Central Station

I drove to Anne's house on Sunday. She's a little less than halfway between here and New York, but I can get a train pretty inexpensively from her town. The day I left it was gorgeous and I put my camera on my dashboard and tried to get spontaneous brief videos of riotous colour along the highway, but I had a little trouble with camera angle, because, you know, I was driving and everything. And I was concentrating. I really was. The next morning, the trees around Anne's parking lot had left gifts on my car like this one. This was all very lovely, because I was pretty sure most of this mind-blowing colour would have fallen onto the ground by the time I got back from the city. (I was right.)

But cities are otherwise colourful. When I arrived at Grand Central Station, it was well after rush hour, which meant the place was empty enough for me not to feel overwhelmed, and so that I had time to gawk like what I was, which was a Tourist. I really think this is my favourite train station ever. I remember its being dirtier, with dark wood fixtures. It seems to have been spiffed up, which can, in some cases, turn toward architectural travesty (cf. Wheaton College dorms), but Grand Central Station is still magnificent.I had had breakfast before leaving Anne's, but I was a little hungry, so I went to the Dining Concourse, and bought myself a soft pretzel with nacho cheese to dip it in. I got the kind of pretzel with the enormous salt crystals on it because they look so cool, but this turned out to be a mistake, so I ended up flicking them all off. I sat in a molded plastic chair that was supposed to look like a big puffy armchair but was much harder, flicked salt off my pretzel, and people-watched.

There are the Nice Families. And the chic, suave, posh Urbanites. The respectable middle-aged, middle-class Couples, usually traveling in groups of four, whose fashion sense screams, "We're Americans! Check out our heinous accents!" when they go to places like London. The hopelessly attractive Hippie Couple and their long-haired love children. The Obligatory Lady in Magenta Sweater and Fuzzy Red Earmuffs, clutching a plastic bag and babbling to herself. This one's bag was from Macy's, and on it was scrawled in permanent marker a name, and the words "Midnight Run." I thought this was all very eccentrically charming and mysterious. It got a little creepier after she sat herself down next to one of the unsuspecting Nice Families and I realised she was babbling loudly about kidnapping.

Everyone in a train station is a caricature of themselves. Of course they're all much more complex in reality. Likely, if I got to know any of the people I was watching, I'd discover them to be both like their stereotypes, and altogether different. I myself was the semi-artsy writer-wannabe-chick with scuffed boots and a well-tailored coat, eating a soft pretzel and scrawling notes on a napkin. But of course you all know better.

Photos by jennw2ns: Golden Tree 2007. Leaf-Gift 2007. Grand Central Rush 2007.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

This Just In . . .

Apparently, New York is only a big city. I'm not sure what I thought would be worse. Or what I thought it was instead.

As it happens, I like big cities. Particularly (odd as it may sound) public transport. More on all this later. For now, suffice it to say, I did not visit the Delacorte Clock.



Photo by jennw2ns: Grand Central Station 2007.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Still Sovereign

So, these are the kinds of things that make me question--maybe not so much God's sovereignty, but His love. I don't know Charity, though I've visited her blog occasionally. I guess she's basically around my age. She's been diagnosed with cancer and had some very invasive surgery because of it. I don't understand why God allows these things. Really. And sometimes the doctrines I was just talking about the other day seem austere and uncompassionate.

But that doesn't mean they're not true, I guess. Charity herself says,

I am so thankful to have wrestled with the Lord all summer so he could remind me that he is NOT my adversary but my friend and comforter. He is for me and will guide me through these hard days too.

I don't think I would, at this point in my journey, have the fortitude to say something like that, having received news like that. But I'm inspired. And I have a hunch that she's right.

Hob-nobbing

It's a good thing I have friends all the way down to New York City, because I'm the kind of person that needs the moral support.

And because I'm going to New York City.

I grew up going to New York City. My dad's parents used to live in the part of New Jersey that's relatively close to that booming metropolis, and when we visited them they'd take us to places like the Central Park Zoo and the Bronx Zoo and the Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (This is the order in which our outings progressed--in maturity as we did.) I loved these visits. The Central Park Zoo had this great clock with dancing animals, and lots of pigeons. (I think everywhere in New York has lots of pigeons, but apparently when I was two, that was what I was most into when we went to the zoo.) The Bronx Zoo has this monorail thing and camels you can ride. The Museum of Natural History has the first T-rex skeleton I'd ever seen. And the Met is full of other people's stories, with some of the most beautiful illustrations (both literally and figuratively) I've ever encountered. Plus the city looks great at Christmas. And smells like roasting chestnuts.

When I was in high school, our choir toured in the NYC area. We had a day to explore downtown and three of my friends and I accidentally ended up in the "Combat Zone," because the maps we had told us where the streets were, but not which ones we shouldn't be on. We made it out unscathed, and I made it out almost oblivious (I was that kind of kid), but not entirely unfascinated.

When I was in college, the Gospel Choir toured to NYC, too, and we sang, among other places, at the Brooklyn Tabernacle--both with and without their well-renowned choir.

And then when I was a nanny, I went to NYC for the first time by myself, stayed with a friend in Queens and ate proper Chinese food in Chinatown. (The day I left, I came down with a stomach bug, which was utterly miserable (and not, I think, related to either the Chinese food or the Indian food I had had the rest of the time), but I still managed to navigate the subway and train system and get back to Nannyville, which might have been something of an accomplishment.)

Also, I might add, not entirely irrelevantly, that I once went to Turkey by myself and only stayed with people I knew for five out of the nine days I was there. Oh. Right. And I lived in London for over five years.

So it's not like I'm totally unadventurous or need constant hand-holding. But there's still something about New York City that, shall we say, makes me a little nervous. Maybe it's residual trauma from ending up in the combat zone by mistake. Or from the time my friend Nate passed out before my eyes in a food court on Gospel Choir tour. Or the high prices. Or the dirty looks that shopkeepers give you when you go into their shop and look around and don't buy anything. Or multiple times of almost getting run over by yellow cabs. Or the fact that it's the home of The Wrong Baseball Team (such that I shall not dignify them with a link).

Plus I'm meant to be hobnobbing. I'm going to this snooty- (I mean, classy-) looking place called the Yale Club on Tuesday, and I'm supposed to be hanging out with these publishers and other people who probably actually knew Lloyd Alexander. I don't know any of these people. I wish Lloyd himself were going to be there. This kind of situation makes me feel like one of those Jane Austen characters who the reader knows is inherently way cooler than all those high-brows she gets thrown in amongst, but who doesn't personally know how to navigate such refined waters. I revert to my high school mindset of, "These people have no reason to want to talk to me."

Let's just say I'm a little nervous. I'm heading down tomorrow afternoon, and I think all I really want to do when I get there is go to the Central Park Zoo and watch the Delacorte Clock go round.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Points

I grew up with fairly Reformed theology (though I am not prepared to define what that is any more than I am prepared to define racism). Then I got some friends who had a pretty tough time with life. Then I started to have some tough times myself.

In the tough times, pat answers don't work very well--either profferred or received--and the general tone of the Bible is that God and the other characters in there don't like them much more than I do. There are also lots of people in the Bible who got kind of upset at God about some things, and at some point in my life I began to feel that it was okay to do this, and so I did. Fairly often. Sometimes on behalf of other people, though usually, I confess, when things weren't going the way I wanted them to go for me.

Somewhere along this line of processing, I kind of lost the concept of the sovereignty of God. If you had asked me if I believed in it (and sometimes the Item does), I would have said yes, but I preferred to emphasise free will, because it's hard to get over some of the tough stuff when you think God made it happen, and didn't just allow it. I'd rather blame people, and human sin's infecting and breaking the world.

Well, I do think sin is the ultimate problem, and I do think there truly is human free will, even though I don't know how it fits into all this, but during the last few weeks, as I've been dealing with the latest stressors and reading through the lectionary and listening to the sermons, I've been thinking I should just go back to trusting God's sovereignty.

It's kind of hard and scary to trust, when you see that He, in His sovereignty, allows or even makes bad things happen. I still want to say He doesn't make them happen, but that's scary, too, because it implies He's disconnected, and I don't believe that, either.

Pat answers, it seems to me, are dishonest. But lately I've been thinking that sometimes my doubt is a little dishonest, too. Sometimes I doubt just for the sake of doubting; I feel simultaneously edgy and trendy. I'm kind of wondering, these days, if part of the exercises in frustration I've been going through lately are on purpose. I wonder if God is sending them so I can stop getting so all-in-a-wad about life. God doesn't always exact a reversal in circumstances. But sometimes He does, and if He's going to, I don't want to be whinging so much that I don't notice. I don't want to be surrounded by miracles and leave them standing out in the street. And if He doesn't reverse things, I don't want to miss out on what He's going to do instead.

I reckon it takes equal strength and obstinance to trust or to doubt. Lately it has occurred to me that all this doubting is making me tired, and also not very healthy. I've read lots of books on apologetics that satisfy my intellect at the time, but I know plenty of people who don't find that sort of arguments satisfying at all. I don't retain apologetic arguments well. Then there are experiences. My modus operandi of the last few years has been to see negative experiences as arguments against the Christian God, in the face of which I struggle with great fortitude to believe.

I don't think faith will ever be just a walk in the park for me (though it does often involve walking). I do think there's a point where eventually you realise that there are good logical and emotional arguments on either side of the faith issue, and you just have to come down on one. But I already know which side I come down on. It is almost, sometimes, like I don't, er, have a choice. So, if I'm going to be a follower of Jesus, it would probably be a lot pleasanter for both of us (not to mention all-y'all) if I spent some of my obstinance trying to see and bring about the glory God intends to come through the hard times, rather than getting distraught about them.

Yesterday, Pastor Steve talked about how God's sovereignty is, in the end, more comforting than not. It doesn't explain exactly why things happen, but it does mean things are not out of control as I feared. I mean, not if you look at it this way:
There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that sovereignty overrules them, and that sovereignty will sanctify them all. (Charles H. Spurgeon, attrib.)

Pop Racism Revisited

So, due to the slight flurry of discussion on my is-it-racist-(let-alone-true)-to-call-Annie-Lennox-the-greatest-white-soul-singer post, I feel it my duty to alert you to this article, about a young black woman trying to break into the country music scene. Maybe I partly feel it's my duty because I copped out when requested to provide my definition of racism. (I do want you to know, Jasdye, that I have been pondering this ever since; however, I still haven't come up with anything, er, definitive.)

Because I now feel somewhat intimidated by the topic, I guess I don't have much to say about this article, except that I think that Rissi Palmer has a remarkably positive attitude:
She's not looking for favors, she says, just a fair shot. She recalls how Nashville music executives would gush over her demos, then back off when they discovered she was black. Palmer doesn't blame racism, just the realities of the market.
I don't know. That's pretty nice of her. I think I would blame racism. I think that is what would make me say, if I were her, "I totally look forward to the day when it's, 'So Rissi, tell me about the album' as opposed to 'You're black. Tell me how that feels.'" Big kudos to her if she doesn't.

Too bad I'm not a big afficionado or connoisseuse of country music. I haven't heard any of her stuff, and if I had, I'm not sure how I would evaluate it. But if any of you have and are, please feel free to post a review.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Sometimes, the Bible is Just Funny

One of the Bible stories I think is the funniest is one I read last Sunday, right after I read the Hezekiah one. It's that story where all this miraculous stuff is going on and nobody--and I mean nobody--gets it.

So Peter--you know, St. Peter--has gotten arrested and put in jail. He's pretty well guarded. All his friends are meeting in this house and praying for him. Sometimes I wish I knew what, specifically, they were praying. Anyway, in the middle of the night, the 16 or so guards are all dozing, and this angel shows up in jail with Peter and lets him out. The whole time the angel is unlocking everything and opening doors, Peter thinks he's having this really cool vision or dream. Which would be, you know, really cool. But actually something even cooler is happening, which he doesn't realise until he's standing in the middle of the road and the angel is nowhere in sight.

So Peter trots off down the road until he gets to the house where all these people are praying for him. Remember. They're praying. For him.

He knocks on the door, and this girl named Rhoda goes to answer it. You have to give her a little credit. She was probably kind of nervous. The puppet king was on this search-and-destroy mission for Christian leaders right then (thus Peter's being in jail). So, she gets to the door all timidly and realises that Peter's out there. You know. Peter. The guy they were praying for.

In her utter astonishment, she goes running back into the prayer meeting (leaving him on the front step) and starts jumping up and down and telling everyone that Peter's out there. And they don't believe her.

It all gets sorted out, of course, and then the king dies a nasty, horrible death at the end, so there's poetic justice and everything. But I just think this story is hilarious. It gets me every time.

The thing is, this time, thanks to the lectionary, I was reading it sandwiched in between the Hezekiah story and the story of the widow of Nain getting her son back from the dead. Those lectionary dudes were clearly trying to get a point across. I already mentioned (in my Hezekiah musings) some of the points I took from it. On Monday, I'll talk about them some more. Meanwhile, I'll just leave you chuckling.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Appointments

I am pleased to announce that I remembered to go to worship team practice this evening. All of us in the group were in sort of tough shape, so we decided to sit instead of standing to practice. It felt weird and sounded weird, but hey, at least we practiced and were all there. I was in the best condition. My only problem was having slammed my right index finger in my car door while jumping out of it to welcome Former-Roommate-Sarah back to the US from her honeymoon. The welcome came out a little pinched after that, kind of like my finger. (I'll let you know if the fingernail falls off.)

I also remembered to go to my dentist appointment. Two appointments in one day is kind of noteworthy, I think. Once again, I have no cavities. My teeth might be what's called "tetracycline yellow." (Apparently even if tetracycline doesn't do a thing to help your acne, it will still discolour your teeth.) But they're solid as rocks. Well, except the one I knocked out when I was seven. The dentist came in and said, "There's never any drilling with you. You don't eat enough sweets. That's your problem."

A compliment from a dentist if there ever was one.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Drought

Who knew drought conditions were conducive to great autumn foliage?

Well, I'm sure the people who look into these things did, but I am not much of a researcher, so I have to find out most things by experience. My experience right now is that I don't believe I have ever seen more brilliant colours on our trees around here at this time of year. Seriously, there's a tree on the way to work which I'm pretty sure has always turned yellow at this time of year, but this year it's scarlet. And it's not even peak season yet. And our trees are famous.

I think you (or at least I) might be able to draw some analogies about beauty coming after or through drought. But I don't feel there's any need to hammer the point home.

There's no way photos will do justice what I'm talking about. But disclaimers and analogies aside, here, still are more reasons to love trees:

Photos by jennw2ns, 2007. I think you can tell which ones I photo-enhanced. But I don't think it means I'm lying. I was just trying to get to the colour I'm actually seeing around here.

Whinging

Yesterday I was reading the three passages set forth in the daily lectionary, and one of them was the story about King Hezekiah falling ill.

I have read this story numerous times. Although I may have, on occasion, reminded myself that if I were told I was about to die, I would probably be upset, usually I just think, "What a whiner. He had led a good life and God had rescued the people from the Assyrians and everything, so what was his problem?" I'm not exactly sure what my problem is, to think such things about him, really. Because yesterday morning it hit me full in the eyes that I'm just like that guy.

When I was a kid, I listened with fascination to stories about missionaries going off to far-flung corners of the earth, and I wanted to join the ranks. And I guess I still do. But the thing is, back then I thought that if I were doing that, I would really be doing what God wanted, and then I wouldn't have any doubts about anything anymore, and I wouldn't ever be upset about anything because I would have reached total selflessness or something and everything would be caught up in the Grand Scheme of the Kingdom of God.

So . . . either I've never actually found what God wanted me to be doing at a given point in time (which may be arguable, but I have to disbelieve it just to maintain my sanity, I think), or that whole thing about "arriving" in this life is a bunch of hooey. Which doesn't really help me in the whole knowing-what-direction-to-go-in-next thing, but it does help me relate to Hezekiah a whole lot better. The dude was feeling terrible and plus he was going to die and he knew it, and he found that a little upsetting.

Hezekiah threw a fit, and then surprisingly (in my cynical view), God actually listened to him and gave him another fifteen years. He was probably okay with dying at that point, because by then he had undermined national security and the Bible makes it pretty clear that he didn't want to be in the vicinity when the whole thing fell down around everyone else's ears.

So yesterday when I read this story, I realised I've been getting all Hezekiah lately. I've been acting like (and therefore undoubtedly thinking like) this story's all about me, and it's turning out to be a tragedy. And there are things that are happening (or not happening) right now that are a little less than lovely. But the Story isn't about me, and it is about God, and whether He enacts a reversal or not, He cares in some way I probably don't understand. I will get through this time. None of the situations may actually change. But hopefully, if I'm open (and getting enough sleep), I will.

Meanwhile, there are lots of great things happening, too, if I'd just open my eyes to see them.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Adjusting for Accuracy

Actually, I still don't exactly remember what New-York-David initially called me yesterday, but Old-Timer-Ben (who's 23, by the way) reminded me that it had the word "democrat" in it. We think it was something like "left-wing hippie liberal Democrat." Yeah. He called me a Democrat.

(Well, I can't say I'm a Republican.)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

New Kids

Not the band. Yes, I am that old, but not the band.

At the end of the summer about six people (and I am not exaggerating) quit working at our store. This meant lots of work for the rest of us (and way fewer people among whom to share tips). Then we hired about twelve more, plus a couple of out-of-state transfers. (Now I am exaggerating--about the twelve, though, and not about the transfers or their locations of origin.) Most of these are college students, as usual, which is kind of nice because it makes for a ready-made conversation topic before you know them very well, i.e., "What's your major?"

If you have to have new kids (which we often do), it's really really helpful if they already kind of know how to do stuff, even if they don't know where everything goes. And even if they have Long Island accents. Yesterday on my break I ordered a decaf tall almond latte, just so I could hear New-York-David say all of those "a's." (I know. I'm kind of mean. But he says his college suite-mates pick on him all the time, so I figure he's used to it.)

Today I got a beverage I actually felt like drinking on my break, and I had New-Ricky make it in my travel mug. New-York-David, who took my order, wasn't quite getting the whole travel mug concept, so I told him I was trying to look after the environment in my own small little way by reusing a cup instead of wasting all those disposable ones every time I wanted to drink something.

He said, "That's because you're one of those left-wing hippie liberals."

I grinned and said, "Actually, I'm a conservative evangelical Christian, but you can think what you want."

After that I had to disclaim a little bit and say that I'm not quite as conservative as some of my brothers and sisters, but I was one, all the same. I love watching people's faces register this information.

When I came back from my break, New-York-David and I had to put our recently-arrived supply order away, so we got to talk a little more. New-York-David asked me questions about my voting habits and I brought up my racism question (he started out saying it wasn't racist but after I expounded, he changed his mind), and stuff like that. After we had cleared the back room of boxes, he said, "I started out trying to instigate a debate with you, but it didn't really work because you're . . . too open-minded."

I'm not sure this is necessarily true. I'm not sure, either, whether all conservative evangelical Christians would consider this a compliment, coming from a left-wing hippie liberal. But I have to tell you: I did.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Greatest

Since I got that unexpected CD last Friday, I decided to read up on Annie Lennox a little, and there are a few sites which quote VH1 which, I guess, called her "The Greatest White Soul Singer Alive." That's really cool and I'm sure she should be flattered. But it makes me ask questions.

The first question is, who's the greatest dead white soul singer?

The second question is, isn't such an attribution a little racist?

I refuse to say I'm not racist, because I think everyone is, in some way they're usually blind to, and plus, anytime I've ever heard anyone say, "I'm not racist . . . " the next thing to come out of their mouths is usually something that makes me want to push it back in there. I will say that the racism of which I am conscious drives me crazy and makes me really angry, but I don't usually find myself objecting anti-white racism because I don't usually notice it, and plus, I'd rather try to stick up for somebody else, I think. Maybe that's racist . . .

Anyway.

I guess I'm just asking. I'm not trying to dispute the veracity of the claim regarding Ms. Lennox. I'm just trying to unpack the implications. Which might be something like, "She's not quite as good as a black soul singer, because let's face it--she's not black. And she's unusual, because let's also face it--not many white people can sing soul."

This may or may not be true, but it seems to me that it would be better to be known as one of the greatest soul singers alive and skip the ethnicity part, than to be set apart because of skin colour. I'm pretty sure there are more white than black opera singers, but I'll bet no one says so-and-so is the greatest black opera singer alive. If they did, I think that person might be (and would have a right to be) offended, as if one's ethnicity should determine whether or not one can excel in a certain art--as if it should dictate whether or not we should be surprised that they did. It's just plain condescending. I'll bet no one set Seiji Ozawa apart for being Asian, but for being a great conductor, whether or not the music he was conducting originated in Europe or Asia or someplace else.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A Real Conversation

. . . on Friday went like this:

Me: Hi, what can we get for you today?

Customer-lady: Um, do you guys make the pumpkin spice latte in a venti?

[I imagine most self-acknowledged readers of this site are at least nominally familiar with Starbucks size-names, but I guess even if you're not, you can understand why I would be puzzled as to someone's asking if we make the drink in a certain size. I would think most drinks could be made in any size you wanted, except for shots of espresso.]

Me: Uh . . . yes.

Customer-lady (pausing): Okay. Can I get a tall pumpkin spice latte?

Me (even more puzzled): Sure . . . but . . . did you want a venti or a tall?

Customer-lady (pausing again): Oh. Yeah, I see what you're saying. (Another pause.) Can I get a tall pumpkin spice latte?

I have no idea what the point of that conversation was. Maybe someone out there can interpret it for me . . .

Saturday, September 29, 2007

P.S.

You know that ring I was whining about losing the other day? It's been missing for a month, and yesterday, after whining, I found it! See? Whining really does work. Sometimes . . .

Surprise and Delight

If I told you how I am now the owner of the new Annie Lennox CD before its release date, I might have to kill you, but all the same, I feel somewhat smug about this and just wanted you to know that I am.

Starbucks likes to encourage its employees to "surprise and delight" the customers, and I'm afraid that's a little hard to do when you're working with a skeleton crew, all of whom have coughs and fevers, as I was yesterday. And I also feel that "surprising and delighting" might be overstating things a little here, but I still have to say that I usually am most enthusiastic about things I wasn't expecting or hadn't heard of before. This happened when I saw the Matrix (the FIRST one. I only mean the FIRST one!) and Pirates of the Caribbean (again, let me emphasise that I am referring to the FIRST movie in these trilogies). I felt this way about Blue Like Jazz. It happened with the latest OtR release. And, when I unexpectedly received Songs of Mass Destruction before the release date, I was, at least on some level, surprised and delighted.

The problem with this is that I enthuse about these things for a while and then I get embarrassed and think everyone will wonder what kind of pathetic sense of style and taste I have--and then after that the things become blockbuster hits or whatever and it's disappointing because there's nothing edgy about my liking them.

But anyway, I'm just going to put out there, before the release date, that I'm really enthusiastic about the new Annie Lennox CD. It's not like I've been an Annie Lennox fan before this, although based on the songs of hers I've heard before now, I had a hunch I might could be. ("Might could," incidentally, is a verb form I picked up from College-Roommmate-Jenne, who's originally from Alabama.) But it's nice to hear music sung by people who can actually sing. And I just like Gospel- and soul-influenced music. Even if the person singing it is kind of missing something when it comes to the Gospel. Which I think it might be accurate to say Annie Lennox is (though I'm not sure I really "get" the Gospel, either, exactly, when I think about it).

Actually, the CD is a real downer, but it's a heck of a fun downer to listen to. Wikipedia says, "The album addresses global warming, Iraq, Aids, religious conflict, global poverty and inequality." I'm afraid I'm not perceptive enough to get all that, although I do get some of it. I think mostly she just sounds really lonely and sad and sometimes angry about it, and she would like the world to be fixed.

As would I. I find the whole thing a little conflicting, because as I listen to her words I want to say, "I get what you're saying, but if you just knew Jesus . . . " And I really mean it, and I really believe it, but the fact is that I have raged with the same sentiment and almost the same words, sometimes, against that very Jesus. And I can't say that I usually feel Jesus any more than Mother Theresa did, probably. (I'm just less brave about it.) So I can't truly say why, exactly, I feel that it would make a difference to Annie Lennox in this life for her to, say, "put her faith in Him." But there is something bedrock and comforting and "nevertheless" about trusting Him anyway, or trying to. And there's something about her lyrics that remind me of Him, almost as if she were wishing He were true, but not quite willing to believe it.

Anyway. I found myself praying for her on the way home from dinner with the Molly Llama last night. And I really do like the CD.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Odds and Ends

Ex-Roommate-Sarah and her fiance Stephen are getting married this weekend. Congratulations to them!

I used to have this really cool ring made out of silver and mother-of-pearl, and shaped like a flower. It is now missing. I try not to become distraught over things, but I really did like this ring. Anyone seen it?

Today as I was driving home, I saw an SUV with a decal saying "Family" in very fancy lettering on the back window. Apart from the fact that an SUV would say "Family," and in a rather bling-ish style font at that, is funny--I almost couldn't read the first letter, and thought it said, "scamily." Then I thought that "scammily" might be a good new adjective. Then I thought that you could create some really great doggerel (if that's not an oxymoron, which of course it is) by rhyming "family" and "scammily." But I couldn't. If you're up to the challenge, go for it. Just make sure you post it in the comments here.

Oh. And. I find it bizarre that I live in the northeastern part of the United States and it's been 90 degrees all week, even though September is almost over. That, I think, is a very odd end, indeed.

(Sorry. I know. It wasn't funny. You didn't even know it was supposed to be funny until I started apologising. But look--I'm done now, see?)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Prayer Walking

I skipped church on Sunday.

I didn't actually mean to, although I have been meaning to visit different churches in the WC in my efforts to "seek the good of the city" and also to seek what good is already being done. I thought I'd visit a church I'd never been to, and then head out to the walk to sponsor a cancer cure that was happening downtown. Starbucks was helping to support it.

In the end, partly because I didn't make myself get up sooner, and partly because I got caught up praying about something (not to make myself sound super-spiritual . . . or . . . anything . . . ), I didn't get to whatever Unvisited Church I had been planning on going to. I thought about just going to my usual church after all. But then I thought some more, and it occurred to me that joining in this Cancer Walk was also a way to seek the good of the city. Besides, all my Starbucks friends already know I'm churchy. They know I "don't work on Sundays" (whatever that actually means). I'm not sure they know that I care about some of the same things they care about, or that I would do something about that caring if it conflicted with one of my "religious" activities.

So I ditched church and walked. (I will add here that I slapped sun-screen on myself. Skin cancer runs in my family. I didn't think the sponsors of this thing would be too keen on its becoming known as the Walk to Cause Cancer or anything.)

The Starbucks people I managed to connect with on-site weren't walking--they were handing out free coffee and hot chocolate, which was kind of funny, since it's been unseasonably hot for about a week and a half. I helped with that a bit, but then the walking started, and so I set out. I somehow missed the other Walking Baristas from the district, and I never did manage to find them until I got back, even though we were all wearing green aprons. But walking "alone" in a huge crowd of non-violent people, all of us united by the fact that each of us probably knew someone touched by cancer and wanted it to stop, was how I discovered that this was a really great way to pray.

I think it's been well-established by now that I have some issues with praying. One which I maybe haven't mentioned much is the whole paying-attention-and-focusing thing. I'm not too good at it.

But it was a glorious day, and it was a five-mile walk, so there was plenty of time to refocus if I got distracted. And I found that, surprisingly, I wasn't all that distracted. I think if I had been trying to pray at home, for example, I would have hashed over and over the thing I had been praying about (and late for) that morning. I probably wouldn't have prayed for anyone or anything else. But the purpose of this walk was loud and clear on most of the walkers' t-shirts, and I couldn't stop thinking about all the people I knew who had struggled or were struggling with cancer. My great-uncle. Team Leader Ray. The daughter of some missionaries my church supports, who's only my age. I think her father has/had it, too. And, though I didn't think of them at the time, Emmanuel and Lloyd also suffered. (Lloyd never told me. I only found out about it later in an article.)

I prayed and I prayed, and I thanked God for those people, and for my own health so far, and for the people I was walking with, and . . . There are things about going to a church building and worshiping with other Christians that are vital, but I'm thinking maybe I didn't really miss church that day after all.

Photo: Courtesy of http://www.walktocurecancer.org/Picture_Album_2006.html#PicPos
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