Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good Tolerance/Bad Tolerance

Back in January when our Teen Girl Squad started, we were talking about the charge to love God and love people, and some question came up--maybe one about how to do that, exactly. And somebody mentioned tolerance.

Tolerance is (and has been for a while) the big-word-on-campus. The "secular world" loves to exhort us to exhibit it, and, by and large, the Christian subculture like to tut about it and talk about how it's all well and good, but What About Relativism, and Humans Do Sin, You Know.

All of that is as may be, but I have a sort of tenuous relationship with the concept of tolerance myself--partly because I grew up as a self-righteous twit for some reason, and partly because my own encounters with tolerance have left me a little jaded. So I told the girls about this jading experience:

Back in the day ("the day" always being a different point in time depending on my story, in case you hadn't noticed), I had this group of about six friends. We were a mixed group both in terms of gender and in terms of culture, so this led to some interesting dynamics and also a lot of talks at McDonalds. McDonalds was the place where any two of us would meet to "have it out" if we were experiencing, shall we say, communication difficulties, and because of this we ended up avoiding it most of the rest of the time. (Well, also because, you know, it was McDonalds.)

Everybody has their own personal failings, and mine were, perhaps, a little more glaring or culturally inappropriate in this group or something, and so eventually things broke down pretty badly, and I had to meet up with one of the guys in the group--at McDonalds--to have things out for the last time. The conversation (which is a polite word for what actually went down) was summed up when the guy made this statement: "Jenn, for as long as I've known you, you've been [this particular personal failing]. I've tolerated you for four years and I can't take it anymore. I'm not speaking to you again."

We ended up speaking again (though we're not in touch now), through a long and painful and healing process, but it was in that one instant that I decided I don't have much use for tolerance. It sounds all nice and innocuous when someone says, "We should just tolerate everybody," but when someone tells you they are, or have been, tolerating you, it's like they just slapped you in the face.

I don't, I realised, want to be tolerated. Ideally, I would like to be understood, but I'll go for being challenged if understanding isn't a possibility. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the opposite of love isn't hate but indifference (quote, anybody?), and I think that's true. Love and hate at least both dignify their object with some sort of value. Indifference is complete and utter disregard. Indifference and tolerance, in my experience, end up being just about the same thing.

My McDonalds friend was right about my personal failing. I can see how it could have become unbearable. But I wish these friends would have told me ahead of time how unbearable it was, and would have tried to help me through it, instead of tolerating it up to the point where they couldn't take it anymore and just slammed the door in my face. I realise they might not have known how to do that, or furthermore that I might not have been as willing or able to change if I had been coaxed instead of being outright rejected. Sometimes it takes a shock to make a change. But I'd still like to make the argument that love of any variety, and tolerance, don't really go together very well.

But, we asked in our girls' group, aren't there ever times when tolerance is good? The girls talked about their younger siblings, and how they would stand up for them if it came down to it because they love them and they're their siblings, even if they drive them crazy. We tried to define this and didn't really come up with anything more definite than "good tolerance" versus "bad tolerance." But upon further reflection, I have started to wonder if maybe the name that distinguishes "good tolerance" is grace.

Anybody have any thoughts on this?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Teen Girl Squad

The Teen Girl Squad (not to be confused with the virtual but original Teen Girl Squad) has a concluding party here at my house tonight. This was a group of girls (it ended up being just me, a co-leader, and two high-school girls) who got together to study the Bible on Tuesday nights. There were a lot of interruptions. It took us about three months to get through six studies. But we did it, and we have bonded. I'm going on vacation for two weeks, but then we need to talk about whether we're going to keep doing this.

I was going to talk about one of our "deep topics" of conversation that came up fairly early on in our meetings, and I think I still am. But it suddenly feels daunting, and I really do need to make some chocolate chip cookies for this party . . .


Photos: Jenn, Tisha, Julia, Sarah. April 2008.

Monday, April 28, 2008

I'm Not Lying

In case you were doubting my freelance writing claims, the publishers who print New England Condominium magazine have finally posted online the issue with my first article. It is, I admit, the March issue. And it is, I acknowledge, almost May. But never mind.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

St. George's Day

Hat tip to my father for reminding me of this.

Apparently today is St. George's Day. I knew that once--back when I lived in England. You would think that, having lived in England, I would maybe remember this better, since I'm all about little-known reasons to celebrate. (I forgot No-Ruz this year, too, and I never forget that.) I rarely have trouble remembering St. David's Day (1 March) for Wales, or St. Patrick's Day (17 March) for Ireland--although I nearly forgot that one this year, too--what is it with this year?--or even St. Andrew's Day (30 November) for Scotland (although with that one, sometimes I only remember the month). But St. George?

Poor St. George.

Probably why I usually forget him completely is no one likes to celebrate the oppressor. To these other places, that's what England was, at least at one time. (I suppose some might say still is, but I'm not convinced they really have a case.) Apparently even the English had kind of forgotten to celebrate him--or were too embarrassed to. Now, however, it seems, the holiday is reviving. I'm not certain that St. George really embodies all of the things that people would like to pin on him, but maybe some of them. So sure--let's celebrate him.

Happy St. George's Day, everybody! What's left of it, I mean.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Being Glad

That Barrington day? I was walking back to my car after the breeze got too much, and found myself absolutely riveted by the sight of a dead tree. I couldn't stop looking at it--or taking photos of it. An older couple walked by and the man said, "Pretty wood, isn't it?"

It was a relief to know that someone else got it, even though I'm quite sure "pretty wood" didn't encapsulate it. I don't know how old that tree was, or what killed it, but there was that pretty wood, rising sinuously out of the ground, as if the tree had spent its life pouring itself upward.

I know I keep going on and on about trees. I just can't get enough of them. They make me think of God for some reason, but it isn't a consciously unpackable reason. I mean, sure, there's lots of tree imagery in the Bible--the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, the Cross of Christ, the Tree of Life, and even the trees of the fields clapping their hands. But I don't usually look at a tree and think, "This reminds me of a cross" (it very rarely does) or, "This makes me think of the Tree of Life in Ezekiel." Even though I appreciate all that imagery, of course.

I'm a great one for analogies and allegories, but I just don't think there is one to sum up why trees remind me of God. They just do. They remind me of God in a glad way--even if I'm mad at Him or something (which I'm not, currently, but I have been a fair bit), if I look a tree it calms me right down and makes me feel like thanking Him anyway.

Oh. And I didn't do this on purpose, but . . . Happy Earth Day, everybody!

Monday, April 21, 2008


I went to Barrington this weekend.

It turns out there are quite a lot of Barringtons out there, but the one I went to is in Rhode Island, and is where my mother grew up. I kind of grew up there, too, because we visited my grandparents a lot, and also I spent eight weeks each of five summers living with them while I worked at a daycamp at the church they helped plant a long time ago. I didn't have a car at the time, so I guess Grandpa must have driven me to camp when it rained, but for some reason I can only remember the sunny days, when I would ride his ancient brown bike (which I still have but haven't ridden since that last summer at camp) to the church, and then in the afternoon take myself on leisurely bike rides around the local neighbourhoods.

Nobody I am related to currently lives in Barrington, but I have some friends there still, so I stayed with them. I thought I was going to feel all nostalgic, and I drove past the house where my grandparents had lived for decades. It is now yellow and not green, but there's a baby-swing hanging from a tree in the front yard, and the house looks cared for but lived in, so I'm going to trust that the people in it are the kind of people who should live in your grandparents' house if your grandparents can't and you can't. I did sort of wish I could park my car in the driveway and go for a walk in Haines Park and then walk back and have tea and danish puff pastry with my grandmother, but other than that I felt more happy than wistful about my memories and the fact that that's all they were.

Unable to park in the driveway, I drove to Haines Park instead, left my car in one of the many intermittent car-spots, and walked down to the water. Then I sat on a picnic bench under a tree, facing the water and the boats and the wind. I journaled until the breeze got too bracing, and then I walked back and drove to my friends' and had a nice time with them, too.

I like weekends like this.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Time to Rejoice and a Time to Whinge

And now is the time to whinge. Well. Actually. I suppose that really it's always time to rejoice. I further suppose that, even if that were not the case, I should really rejoice a whole lot more than I do. But . . . right now I'm going to whinge anyway.

Getting old is really annoying:

For as long as I have had teeth, not one of them has had a cavity. Today I went to the dentist and found out that . . . one of them has a cavity. I really can't take any credit for my previously cavity-free teeth (can you say "cavity free"? is there such thing as an absence of a hole?)--it's heredity and early and regular fluoride treatments and such. But I feel somewhat affronted regardless. The dentist is calling it a "pit," which I guess is not as deep as a "cavity" and is somewhat less invasive and painful to treat, but whatever. There is something wrong with my tooth. I am not pleased.

Probably the reason there is something wrong with my tooth is that I have taken to drinking milk steamers with honey syrup in them at work, and this is because of getting old, too. No, no--I don't think old people drink milk all the time. But, because of getting old I guess, I have some other physical health concerns which are soon to be checked out. The presence of caffeine affects these tests, and so I have not been drinking anything caffeinated, formerly caffeinated, chocolate, anything, for three weeks. Me. Let me remind you I work at Starbucks. I really only like my brewed coffee with milk, or maybe black tea--but those are off-limits. Herbal teas are getting on my nerves. So I'm drinking steamed milk with syrup, and I just bet that stupid syrup made that "pit."

Also, my metabolism has finally slowed down, I think. I am finally my optimal weight--instead of dangerously below it. This is cause for rejoicing indeed--except that now that I'm there, and my metabolism is slowing, I feel that I actually have to make conscious choices about whether or not I eat french fries (a long-standing weakness) or stuff with whipped cream. And sometimes those choices have to be "no." Sheesh.

Okay--so I guess I don't have so much to whinge about after all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


It has been brought to my attention that the Milk Guy actually puts half-and-half, and not milk, in his coffee. Perhaps we should call him the Half-and-Half Guy. I think that this makes it sound like he's sitting on the fence about something, but he doesn't seem to feel this is a problem, so, if he manages to come up in conversation again, I suppose we could call him that. Or we could call him the Guy Formerly Known as the Milk Guy.

Also, there is some concern that I was unclear about the nature or the tenor or the something of the email in which he objected to certain implications of arrogance in Christian assertions. I thought I was clear that it was the assertions he was objecting to, not to all Christians, and also that we only had this discussion once. But looking back over it all, I suppose I did say things like "the Milk Guy's charge of arrogance" kind of a lot, which could make it sound like he just kept harping on how arrogant Christians are, or something. Plus I kept talking about it. I hope everybody knows that was me talking to you about it, and not a conversation I actually had with him.

But if you missed that, I apologise. Let it also be known that he did not require me to write this. I did it myself.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Reflections on a Saturday Afternoon

Stuff That's Too Big for My (Even MY) Head

I feel like I should be continuing the discussion started by the Milk Guy (who, to my knowledge, doesn't even read this blog, although he's welcome to) and continued by some of you. But I suddenly feel like I'm in the middle of this idea that's so big that not only can I not get my head around it, but I can't find a piece to grab onto and start talking about. Or keep talking about. Or whatever.

So, while I'm trying to figure that out, here is a blog my brother just alerted me to. (I'm a little annoyed at him for this; as if I didn't have enough internet reasons to procrastinate! So . . . I'm just going to take out that annoyance by recommending it to all of you.) It is kind of like this site (or, as its author says, "a direct rip-off"). And here is a post that kind of reminds me of what we've been talking about lately. Which I alert you to because, tongue-in-cheek regardless, I like the point he makes at the end--and the way he makes it.

Monday, April 07, 2008

For Future Use

If I ever decide to write a novel about the city in which I work, I would like to incorporate the following sentence:

It was spring, and the tax-help businesses in Webster Square were proliferating again, like mushrooms after several days of rain.

I'm not sure exactly in what context I would use this, but it just sort of came to me this evening as I was driving home from work . . .

Saturday, April 05, 2008

My Next Point

Jeff, who, one might say, has some personal knowledge of these matters, left a comment on my second-to-last-post that set things up well for what I was going to say next about the Milk Guy's charge of arrogance. I don't know how to link to comments, and he delineated the argument better (or more concisely) than I was going to, so I'm just going to quote him here. He said:
It might not be thought out in this way, but I think the "arrogant" argument goes like this:
A) There are many people who are in circumstances that make it easy for them to know Jesus.
B) There are many people who are in circumstances that it literally (or atleast nearly) impossible to know Jesus.
C) Many of the determining factors of A. and B. above have nothing to do with the actions of the person.
This seems to leave open only the following conclusions:
1. Somebody who is in circumstance A. is more loved by God than somebody in circumstance B: If God loved them both the same he would have put everybody in circumstance A. This is where the claims of arrogance come in: it can be said that if you're in circumstance A, in some sense you're claiming to be better, or more loved than circumstance B.
2. The alternative is God is quite random and capricious about who is in A. or B.; if this is the case his love, fairness, and wisdom are all called into question.
I do think that, really, this is what the Milk Guy was talking about. And, as Jeff further says, I don't know exactly how to tease all this out. I mean, I believe God really loves everybody, so I don't understand why some people are in situations where they get to hear about Jesus easily and others don't. But I will say this (and this, and this).

First, just because you live in a place where it's easy to hear about Jesus, doesn't mean you'll accept him. Clearly. So something else has to be in play here, too. Also, there are all sorts of evidences that God has made Jesus known even in places where it should be impossible. I think that (for reasons I still can't get my head around) God would rather use His Church to communicate Jesus' love. But I personally know people from ideologically closed countries who have had visions and dreams of Jesus, and I've read plenty of other historical accountings of other supernatural communications to tribal peoples or individuals, which were only interpreted later. I guess I imagine that God judges us on the information (or relationship) we're granted, and it's His business how much information He chooses to give, though I don't really understand all that.

But anyway, the other irony of this version of the arrogance argument is that it's always linked with what we were talking about before. So . . . people get upset that not everyone has an equal chance to hear about Jesus . . . but then they also get upset when we try to tell them? I'm sorry. This makes no sense.

I wonder if the Milk Guy would be appalled to know that this discussion with him is making me consider going back into traditional missions overseas . . . ?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Caahffee and Tauwlk

I'm not done with the previous discussion, but I would just like to interrupt the thought process for these totally unrelated little asides.

So, you know how I've been writing community profiles for New England Condominium? (You only know because I've told you, because so far, their website still only carries the February issue, as far as I can tell.) The community profile for the June issue is on Providence, Rhode Island. Today I had to call the Providence tax assessor's office for some information. I've lived in New England for a significant part of my existence, and I've heard Rhode Island accents for a significant part of that. But today's experience seemed notable for some reason.

The actual people I talked to had their own version of Rhode Island, of course, and it was noticeable. But the woman they used to record the message telling you which number to push in order to be directed to certain departments could seriously be considered for Ms. Providence-Accent 2008. Most of the words that you would spell with an "o" were pronounced with a flat "ah" sound. ("Plot"--this is a tax assessor kind of plot, not a book publisher kind--sounded almost like "plat"). Meanwhile, the words spelled with "a" were pronounced with that "auw" kind of sound that sounds almost New York--"If you're cauwlling about . . . " It was an interesting linguistic experience.

Furthermore, wikipedia has this interesting little tidbit:

"Providence also shares Rhode Island's propensity for coffee, as the former has the most coffee/doughnut shops per capita of any city in the country."

Take THAT, Seattle!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Today in the coffee mayhem (and was it ever mayhem), the Milk Guy handed me his copy of Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground, whether because I mentioned I love Dostoevsky, or because he can't bear to pollute my ostensibly pristine and faith-filled mind with the likes of Nietzsche, which is what I actually asked to borrow, I don't really know. I shall ask him about that presently.

Anyway, I'm still trying to gauge his openness to actual discourse about things of faith. It might be kind of "safer" and easier and nicer just to keep lobbing books back and forth at each other without actually talking. But I'm still thinking about the charge of arrogance, so, as promised, here are some of the thoughts.

First I would like to admit that I think there is often a fair amount of arrogance communicated (whether or not it's actually felt by the communicator) through proselytisation. There are a lot of angles from which the arrogance could come and I don't want to diminish that fact, but, since this is my blog and everything, I am going to ignore it for a minute and take another tack.

The tack is this: the Milk Guy said that the idea that there are consequences for not getting to know Jesus means that "most of humanity is condemned." Which isn't funny at all, obviously, except in an ironic sort of way, because I actually agree with him. Only I would say all of humanity is condemned.

And see, here's the thing I find even more interesting: to me that sounds about as un-arrogant as it can get. It's only arrogant if the person saying it (me, for example) is putting herself outside of the premise. But I'm not. So instead of arrogance being at the root of that premise, I see it as extremely equalising. We're all in the same boat, and we might be bailing water, but it would appear that the combined weight is driving us under. The only way we can be saved is if someone pulls us out. I believe that there is someone to do it, and that it's Jesus, but that He's the only one who can.

The thing I find arrogant, conversely, is the idea that some people are better or can make themselves better. I mean, the premise that we're not all in the same boat. Who decides? Who says what's better? Why do we have to compete or compare at all? It's Survival-of-the-Fittest, Level 3--the Spiritual Level. Or something like that. I happen to know I'm not the fittest.

And if the Milk Guy were to argue (which he might) that it isn't survival of the fittest, and that everyone's okay, well then, what's the point of living an exemplary life (which he has, at some point, cited as a value) at all? I mean really--who cares? Or maybe I mean someone like me on a lower level, who is more selfish (but why is that of lesser value, in this system of arbitrary inequality?), surely wouldn't care.

How could this system not be survival of the fittest, in the end? That's a basic premise of the natural world which is, according to some, all there is. I'm not trying to be stupid, and I'm not trying to be offensive or mocking--and certainly not arrogant. I just really truly genuinely feel and see and believe that when you take Jesus out of it, the entire system falls apart. It's futile, and plus it's exhausting. It wears me out just thinking about it. I don't want to have anything to prove. I don't want it to be just me, trying hard to do something I'm not quite clear about. I'm not a very relaxed person, but at bottom, I'd rather just rest and allow the Person I'm often so at odds with to lift me to safety anyway.