Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Grin

There are a lot of movies I like, but very few about which I can say I grinned almost the entire time (if not the entire time) I was watching them. Neither of them were ones I would have expected to feel this way about. The first one was Hairspray. Tonight it was Romancing the Stone.

When I was in high school, my youth group had an all-nighter at our youth leaders' house once, and we watched bunches of movies ranging from Joni to The Empire Strikes Back. Oh, and some episodes of Miami Vice, I think. At some point someone put in Romancing the Stone. I remember thinking I wasn't going to like it, but actually finding it kind of funny, but other people must have had different opinions, because the only part I remember is them staying in the fusillage of the crashed drug-running airplane.

Ever since then, I've sort of thought vaguely that I might like to see the whole thing sometime. And then I got Netflix. I know. It might have to go, given the whole budget thing (October starts tomorrow, people!) but anyway, I have it right now, and discovered that I could watch the movie streaming to my computer from the internet.

I don't really know what it was about this movie that I liked so much. The crazy-lonely-single-female-writer stereotype? The fact that she knew how to deal with traumatic situations because of what the characters in her books had done? The fact that people knew how to thwart her because they had all read her books? The totally inappropriate muzak during one of the chase scenes? Michael Douglas' mullet? A fun, light-hearted romance, where two totally mismatched people end up living happily ever after because they can because it's a movie?

Yeah. All that. Grin.

There's just one thing that's bothering me. Some time within the last six or seven years, I read a book by a Christian author who used this movie to illustrate some deep relational/theological point. It was someone famous in the evangelical world--someone like Philip Yancey or Donald Miller or John Eldridge. One of them. This has now turned into one of those things that is likely to bug me for at least a month now. So, kudos (and, if I know you and can think of something to send, a small prize) to anyone who can tell me who it was and what they were trying to illustrate through it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fuss-Budget

So . . . not everything in life has come to me easily, but I have to say I feel like I've been able to "get away with" an awful lot from time to time. For example, until my surgery last year, I was essentially unable to gain weight--or at least, to gain it and keep it on. One of my friends in London used to joke with me that I had a tapeworm. Occasionally I had to ingest kind of nasty things like "Ensure" to . . . ensure I didn't waste away to nothing, but I've never had to go on a diet to lose weight. I'm not saying this to brag (although I'm sorry if it sounds like it, because it probably does)--I'm saying it to make a point.

Likewise, I've managed to live my entire life to this point without a formal budget. I've never made much money, and so I've never had anything left over, really (this means saving for things like Getting Old hasn't really gone too well), but I always have enough for "my daily bread," as it were. And even to do fun stuff. Like travel around the world, for example. Sometimes things get a little tight, or I get a little nervous, but it always works out.

Recently, however, I've decided that maybe it's time I put myself on a budget. I wouldn't call myself a frivolous spender for the most part, and now that I am working full-time at the church instead of at Starbucks, I have a little more settled income. However, I also have a few new expenses that I didn't have before, and I've noticed, too, that maybe subconsciously I've been imagining more of a pay increase than I've actually received, because when I go out with friends, I'm likely to be a little less thrifty with what I order than I used to be.

Thinking about this, I've decided I feel sort of like someone must who goes on a diet and wishes they didn't have to, and is maybe still not fully convinced that they do. Complete with the rationalisations and excuses, I mean. You know the kind I'm talking about. "Do calories count on weekends? Isn't it true that if the cookie is broken, all the calories fell out? Can I eat this bag of potato chips and skip two meals?" That kind. For a budget, for me, they're sounding like this:

"Okay, so I'm putting myself on a budget. But it's almost the end of the month, so I won't start until it's officially October. It'll be easier to keep track of that way." (Implication being I'd better get any splurging in between now and Thursday.)

"Does petrol, to get me to and from non-work-related events with friends, count as an entertainment expense, or can I just make a separate category for petrol? You have to have it, right?"

"If I'm hanging out with people who don't go to my church but with whom I once talked about having a Bible study, can I call it a 'ministry expense' and get the church to reimburse it? Even if the 'ministry' was guacamole and a margarita?" (Don't worry--I won't actually do that . . . next Friday . . . when my friends and I go out for "guacaritas" . . . but I'd be lying if I said the thought didn't cross my mind.)

"Can french fries count as groceries?"

There's a lot about discipline and integrity here, and both of those things are important values to me. On some level, I think I've generally exhibited them in my dealings with money. But as I start thinking about an actual budget, I'm starting to notice some chinks in the fence . . .

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Decide

I live about 12 miles away from where I work, which isn't all that far, I guess, really, but because of everything that is between Home and Church, it is very rare for me to get to work in less than half an hour. And then there's this five-minute block of time when, if I hit it just wrong, I end up behind all the school buses and all the other commuters such that if I would have left six minutes later, I probably would've gotten to work sooner.

Can you tell that happened to me today? Fortunately, I wasn't in a tearing hurry or anything. As I was not hurrying, and at the first intersection which is where all the cars get in front of me in the first place, this car . . . got in front of me. On the license plate was one word: Decide.

First I did that thing you do, you know, when you're an evangelical, and tried to figure out if there was some major life decision I was supposed to be making right then, and this was God's way of speaking to me through somebody's vanity plate.

I guess there are some things I could be deciding right now, but I honestly don't think the timing's right, and if I had taken that license plate too seriously, I would be making snap decisions which would probably have deleterious effects in the future. (Ooh--cool. I spelled deleterious right! I'm pretty sure I've never used it in a written sentence. And maybe not in a spoken one, either.)

So after convincing myself that it wasn't a personal message to me, I started wondering what it meant. Why would someone put the word Decide on their license plate? What are they trying to achieve? What kind of person puts a word like that on the back of their car with no explanation?

I actually have a whole bunch of ideas about this, and am now planning on putting some such person in a novel (if I ever get another idea for a novel besides the one I'm trying to get an agent for, which I think might be a lost cause). Look, I called it, okay?

All the same, it would be kind of fun to make a game out of it, too, and you could tell me what kind of character does this. I know, it's pure speculation, and I don't know anything really about the actual person who did this, but . . . that just means we aren't really talking about them. It's not character defamation because we're just imagining. And besides, I think if I were the type of person to put the word Decide on my license plate, I would also be the type of person who, if I somehow managed to stumble across this blog, would be pretty amused to see what kind of person people thought I might be. But you know . . . maybe I'm just making that up.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Defacing Public Property

I go through phases . . . with pretty much everything. Including the library. I will go the library religiously for a year or so, and then suddenly I don't feel like looking through the stacks for books I've never heard of that I might or might not like, and so I return whatever I had out last, and don't go back for another year or two.

Seriously, I don't think I've been to the library since sometime in the middle of 2008. But then the other week I was looking for a book to read in my mom's bookshelves, and I realised that I am no longer really into most of the types of books that she's into. She likes mysteries and historical novels, and I like . . . I don't know, really. What do I like? All the stuff listed in my blog profile, I guess. I read one of her historical novels anyway, out of desperation, and I ended up liking it more than I expected . . . or at least wanting to know what was going to happen. But I took today off from work and all of a sudden decided it might be a good idea to visit the library again.

Last time I visited there, they didn't have Trees in the Pavement in their stacks, even though I had told them about it. I suppose it would have been classier of me to donate them a copy, but frankly, I wanted as many sales as I could get. Anyway, I had this idea that they had quietly decided not to purchase it, and since I'm rarely very pushy about things, I could hardly blame them.

Today I found about four books that I thought I might like to read, with little effort, which was nice. I checked them out. Then, as an afterthought, I decided to search my book on the library computer. What do you know? They have it! In the children's section . . . so I went down to the children's section just to see my book on a library shelf. There it was, next to the Raggedy Ann stories (which, if you know me really well, you may realise is sort of apropos). It doesn't look like anybody has read it. Which--why would they, since they've never heard of me. Still, there it was.

I thought about going up to the librarian and thanking her for having my book on her shelves, and asking if I should autograph it. It seemed like a weird question to ask, though. What was she going to say? No? Besides, she was clearly more than occupied with a family who seemed to have very complicated things going on with their library cards. I went back to the shelves. I knelt on the floor and took a pen out of my pocketbook. I looked around, opened the book to the front page . . . and scrawled my name across it. I suppose I was defacing someone else's property. But it's still my book.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Speaking of Camp . . .

Have any of you ever seen Jesus Camp? I just finished watching it five minutes ago and I feel . . . conflicted. Not about my own beliefs or relationship with Jesus. I didn't even find anything there all that surprising.

I guess I feel like what I know from personal experience about the American secular worldview and what I know in the same, but maybe even more personal, way about the American religious right both get plastered across the entire documentary, and I'm just as uncomfortable and unhappy with both as I usually am, only if I'm going to sit there and watch the whole thing, I have to face it. Admittedly, the views and behaviour of the religious right are the subject and focus of the movie, but the secular views opposing it seemed just as evident to me as the frame around the subject. Maybe you're not supposed to notice the frame, but sometimes they're a little more vivid than others.

I wanted to strangle (metaphorically speaking) the radio announcer who deplores what's being done among Evangelicals, because he was being at least as intolerant as the people he was aghast over. On the other hand, I think I got equally twitchy over the mother who was trying to teach her son a limited view of creationism, that global warming wasn't even a viable concern, and that science doesn't prove anything. (I agreed with the later points of view about abortion, though.) It was also rather striking to watch the segment featuring Ted Haggard . . . before his "fall from grace" . . . speaking specifically against homosexuality.

I get why people who don't have any moorings in this subculture--or who have been burned by it--find this kind of indoctrination of kids so alarming. A few times I could sit there and feel it. Personally, I found the kids themselves quite inspiring, and I was encouraged by their prayers. But I agreed with the documentary-makers, not, maybe, that one's faith should have no bearing on how one relates to one's country, but at least that the Republican agenda and the will of God are not (necessarily?) the same thing. I also cringed when the little girl talked so earnestly about the "kinds of churches God likes to go to" and how it's "all about the way the people invite Him."

I think that's what depressed and concerned me the most. It's one thing to teach your children truth . . . or even the truth as best you know it. But when they have questions and you're not willing to entertain them and give them some solid reasoning--or even some solid faith-filled doubt--how are they going to stand up to the questions later? Especially when they come in the form of hypocrisy or failure? Their own or someone else's? I imagine a follow-up documentary on these same kids done in a couple of years and seeing at least some of them running from Jesus as fast as they can, and I think . . . I just hate when we cloud the main Point so that we can't even get to Him.

Good for Animals, Too

We have Conference at Camp Selah, and this year, since I have Oscar, I brought Oscar. Most of the kids had already met him and knew him to be sweet but not very friendly. He'd never bite, but he might not come up and sniff your hand either, because of being shy. He wasn't as freaked out about being at camp this time, since he had spent two weeks there during day camp, but this time around the kids were a lot bigger . . . and a lot louder.

Consequently, he spent much more time hiding out in the back room of the Lodge which he had adopted last time. At first I thought the whole scenario was going to be a set-back for him, but it turned out to be just the opposite.

By Sunday he was doing such a good job following me and coming when called that I allowed him to run around the camp without a lead a number of times. He was delighted. He didn't go very far, but where he did go, he galloped. He leapt up and down hillocks like a rocking horse that had got free of its rocker . . . and was maybe a little off-balance; he kind of runs sideways, it turns out. But it's very cute.

On Sunday night we had a skit night, and I held him on my lap the whole time . . . and incorporated him into my cabin's skit . . . and he actually stayed there. He seemed to be watching the skits, too. After the skits, it turned out that there was at least one other person in New England is allowed to pick him up--that was Back-up Liz. Congratulations to her!

Then the next day he delighted me (and himself) by jumping up next to me on a sofa without any help. He didn't used to think he could do that. A lot of times he reminds me of me as a kid . . . I'd always watch the other kids doing stuff and assume I couldn't do it because I couldn't do it the first time. I missed out on a lot in that way. Oscar had kind of been like that about jumping up on the couch. True, he had finally figured stairs out, but the couch was just so much higher of a jump, and he couldn't figure out how to jump up there as opposed to trying (and failing) to climb up. But Labor Day morning . . . he did it!

You might think this would be a bad thing, but look--he doesn't shed, and I got him to keep me company, so I like having him sit with me on the couch in the evening. He was so proud of his new skill that later that day when I took him into one of the cabins with me so I could inspect it, he made a point of jumping up on each one of the lower bunks.

I think part of the point of Conference is for the attendees to become more of who they really are--to grow in confidence. So, you know. It's kind of nice my dog got something out of it, too.
Photos by Joshua Schlegel: Joe Cool 2009; Paris Hilton's New BFFs 2009.
Photo by jennwith2ns: Liz and Oscar 2009.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Labor Weekend



So, no more Labor Days off for this chick. You should know I'm saying that with tongue-in-cheek . . . why would I have had Labor Day off when I worked at Starbucks? The way I have found myself employed during said weekend the last two years has been much more enjoyable and rewarding.

Last year was scarier, though. This year, though I can by no means call myself an old hand, I felt much more relaxed about my church's annual Labor Day youth retreat, affectionately (and oddly formally) known as "Conference." Which is good, since I was officially in charge this year.

This year we had a video curriculum, which the kids made no bones about making fun of, but I didn't really care, because they were still interacting with it and we still had some great discussions. The theme was "Friends," and we talked about loneliness, peer pressure, comparisons, and identity, while the kids solidified friendships with each other that I'm pretty sure some of them had forgotten about.

In the cabin of girls that I stayed with, we talked about Jesus' meeting the woman at the well, and how He might approach the situation if he were to go on the show Paris Hilton's My New BFF. (We talked about this because we were coming up with a skit.) Probably not too differently . . . although we hypothesized that Paris might not have given Him as warm a reception as the Samaritan woman ultimately did.

During a small-group Bible study group, one of the kids asked, "You say you believe the Bible is true and is from God and everything. But . . . isn't there ever anything in there that you disagree with?" Another kid said, "I know God is good and everything, but sometimes He seems really mean."

It may sound strange to say, but I love these questions. Not because they're easy--they're not. (If they were, a lot more of my friends would be on speaking terms with Jesus right now.) But I love that these kids are actually thinking about this stuff, daring to ask the questions--even of someone who might be, to their manner of thinking, a little obsessed about the whole thing.

The other great upshot of the weekend was that it seemed like everyone remembered how much they like being together. So that the following weekend, when, on a whim, I put out an invite to go to a Christian concert and ride the rides at Six Flags, 13 kids showed up instead of the 2 or 3 I was expecting. About that many came to our youth group kick-off meeting the next day, too. There is also a sudden influx of adults who want to help out.

I can't trace all the whys and wherefores of how this is all coming together, and I'm the kind of person that often looks around the happy stuff for the big crash that I always feel is sure to come around the bend, but I can't deny the good, either. So far the worst that's happened was that I had a headache for two days when I got back from Conference . . . but it was worth it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mornings

I am a morning person. Very rarely do I say bad things about mornings (although sometimes I used to faux-sympathise with Starbucks customers when they complained that 8 a.m. was "too early" and I had already been up for over four hours).

This morning, though? I would like to rewind and get a do-over, please.

It actually kind of set up last night. I'm trying to organise a group of youth to go to a Christian concert at Six Flags this Saturday (and we actually have a lot of interest, coming, as it does, on the heels of a youth retreat that everyone seemed to enjoy very much. More about that in a happier post after I get this out of my system). Although there is a lot of interest among the teens, I'm having a terrible time recruiting chaperones, and furthermore, logistics are proving challenging for more than one family involved. This has elicited some tense moments and is stressing me out a little.

Meanwhile, Oscar had a tummy ache again for some reason, and something even less pleasant than usual was issuing out of his hindquarters last night. I assumed, when I put him in his crate in the kitchen and went upstairs to bed myself, that if he were in distress and needed to go out urgently, he would whimper enough for me, a generally light sleeper, to wake up. This has happened in the past.

Evidently, however, I'm still catching up on the sleep I missed at "Conference." I slept through the whimpering. I spent most of the morning washing Oscar, washing his toys, washing his crate, using up rolls of paper towels (so much for being an environmentally conscious hippie), and then trying to clean up myself.

I'm still not sure I should've brought him to work with me today . . . but the alternative would have been to leave him in his crate all day and come home and repeat the whole wash cycle all over again. And he's doing okay right now. Which is good, because when I got to church I had a phone call from one of our Sunday school volunteers who isn't happy with her assignment and I had to try to convince her that she still wants to help out.

All of this pales in comparison with, say, being persecuted for one's faith in India, but it's still super-annoying, and I'd still like to be able to hit a restart button.
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