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.
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