Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Answers

The World's Cutest Niece (now to be abbreviated "Twcn"--or possibly "Toucan") likes maps. Evidently. The second-to-last time I skyped with her and her parents, she spent much of the time saying "Camel! Camel!" while her parents recounted their trip to the environs of the Dead Sea. She had gotten to ride a camel with her daddy on the trip and was still very excited about it. Much of the rest of the time, she marched smilingly in front of the webcam with a book of Israeli maps. Then she climbed up between them on the couch and gave the book to one of them to "read" to her. Did I mention she's not even two yet?

The three adults (her parents, on one side of the globe, and me on the other) all laughed indulgently at this, and then Sister-in-Lu picked up one of those photo-illustrated guidebooks and waved it at me. "She also likes to look at this," she said. "She'll sit down and look through the whole thing." Apparently sometimes she makes her parents identify everything in the photos. Even the tiniest photos. Even if she couldn't possibly have any point of reference for the subject of the photos.

Dave describes it like this:

This happened again when Lu came back with a camera full of pictures from the City of David excavation south of the Old City of Jerusalem. The ruin is an archaeological mess of eras.

Hannah points at a specific feature of a picture. She says, “Bah-TANNN!” (or some combination of syllables we can’t agree on). Emmylou says, “Hannah, that’s a stepped stone structure (Hannah says, “Steps!”) that supported the fortifications of the ancient city.” (Hannah points at it again, saying “Bah-TANN!”) Lu: “It might have been from the Jebusite period, or maybe from when David was king.” Hannah points at something else in the picture. “The tower on the left is Hasmonean.” Something else is pointed at. “Bah-TANN!” Lu: “See that house in the middle with the four columns? (Hannah says “Co-UMs!”) That’s from the seventh century [BCE]. It was built right into the stepped stones! And see, those are steps going to the roof! (Hannah: “Steps!”) And that room over there? It still has a toilet seat in it! That’s where they put their stinkies.” Satisfied, Hannah is ready for the next picture. The next picture appears, and Hannah points to a specific feature and says, “Bah-TANNN!”

She did this for the whole photo shoot, which was around 45 pictures. She’s gone through up to 60 pages at a time of the pictorial travel guide this way too.

We were marveling over this together--the brilliance of TWCN and the mystery that is the mind of a small child. "Maybe," I said, "she just needs to know that you know the answers. She doesn't need to understand them. She just needs to know there are some, and that you, her parents, know them."

Life would be so much easier if I could just relax in knowing that Someone--my adoptive divine Parent--knows the answers. I have some other allegorical and analogous thoughts about this facet of my niece, but, as I am wont to do, I shall discuss them at another time.

Underwater Observatory Marine Park, Eilat. Photo presumably taken by Sister-in-Lu. Stolen from Facebook by jennwith2ns. 2010.


I think I might have mentioned that Oscar is a quiet dog. I have only heard him bark in my house twice. The first time was when he was still kind of new here and he caught the distorted reflection of himself in the glass front of the woodstove. His bark ricocheted off said glass front, echoing into his face and startling him so much that he never tried it again. The second time I heard him bark here was a few weeks ago when the Other Jenn came over for dinner and let herself in. We were both startled and impressed.

But usually, he just doesn't say much. He might whine a little, but that's about it. His tummy, on the other hand? Well, let's just say that if he doesn't eat his evening meal, I am bound to wake up once or twice in the middle of the night, because his stomach has a voice of its own. The first time this happened, I thought I was having some kind of supernatural, audibly-manifested, spiritual attack, the sounds were so weird. (I've never had one of those--nor do I want one--but these were my immediate thoughts upon waking up from a sound sleep at 3 a.m. with the bizarre utterances his stomach was making.)

Last night, Oscar for some reason declined his dinner again, though he had ample opportunity to eat it (we went to my friend Mom-Elizabeth's for dinner, but I actually remembered to bring his food along), but at least this time I had a fairly good idea what was coming. The sounds don't get any less weird, and when you have dreams like I have, the noises still sound like someone or something is trying to say something when you wake up to them, but at least I was a little quicker on the uptake this time.

I figured Oscar would run to his bowl first thing after our Walk this morning, but he didn't. He didn't drink any water, either. He's spent the entire morning so far either hiding under my bed, or snoring on the floor next to the couch. And while he always sleeps a lot, there's something about the quality of this sleep and the fact that he's missed two meals that is making me wonder if there's something a little more wrong with him than just funny tummy-noises. I'm hoping he'll recover and we won't need to visit the vet, come Monday. But mostly I just hope he'll recover. I'd rather he barked than starved.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Isn't It Ironic?

The first time I ever heard anyone go on a rant about Alanis Morissette's song's use of the word "ironic," I was still living in England. The ranter was this somewhat arrogant young British chap whose British manner of self-expression made the rant funny even though he was arrogant and he was using his diatribe as a a sort of "proof" that Americans have no idea what irony is. I think he meant people from the United States. (Isn't it ironic that she's Canadian?)

Since that time, however, I have heard a few North American rants about this very same thing, except they specify the artist herself as the one who doesn't know what irony is. These rants are actually kind of trendy, as a quick perusal of the comment section under the YouTube video makes evident. I confess that I have ranted similarly before . . . when I didn't realise just how many people were experts on the meaning of the word ironic.

The latest rant I heard on this topic, however, came from Dave and was directed at me. I had used the term to describe a series of coincidentally badly-timed real-life events which were in nature not unlike Morissette's vignettes. It was at this point that I got both snippy and embarrassed, because I had to admit that, even though I have a B.A. in English Literature and am continually correcting people's grammar and spelling in my head (if not aloud), I myself am probably not overly clear on the meaning of the word irony. Dave, who has a B.A. in Philosophy which requires better-than-average language skills as well, became very intent on trying to tease out the knots of this issue for me. However, because the examples at hand were Morissette's lyrics and my bad luck, the explanation fell a little short of a language lesson. It may not be ironic, but it's kind of a bummer when your life is getting moderately sucky and you are wrong about the word you want to use to describe it.

We managed to agree that a more accurate adjective for the situations posited by Morissette and actually being lived through by me is annoying. But last night another such episode transpired, and I would just like to say, in both my and Alanis' defense, that the reason we want to use the word ironic for these kinds of situations is because annoying doesn't cut it. That word is too broad. Lots of things are annoying and don't incorporate these weird little twists of what-have-you. There isn't a word for these scenarios, is the problem, see. There are combinations of words, but nothing nice and concise like the word ironic.

"Who woulda thought--it figures," is Alanis' more accurate summing up of both her and my scenarios, but you can't go around saying that all the time. Even "doesn't it suck?" or "isn't your luck terrible?" or "isn't it bad timing?" doesn't really do it, even though all of those things do, in fact, describe the situations in question. None of them touch on that thing inherent to these situations that Alanis is calling irony--maybe it isn't, but it's something beyond suckiness and bad luck and bad timing. I think we need a new word, guys. Right now, I'm calling it "go-figure timing," but don't try to make a song out of it, because it's still really unwieldy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

You Learn Something New . . .

I have enrolled in my first seminary course. It is "Church History to the Reformation," and I am finding myself surprisingly riveted. I've always had a sort of passive interest in church history (feed it to me and I'll gobble it up, but no hunting/gathering really happens here), but I think what surprises me most is that the main textbook for the class--naturally a weighty tome--is so well-written. I've never had a textbook, which wasn't a novel for a literature class, that I have looked forward to reading so much. (Well, except for maybe Dr. Blomberg's Jesus and the Gospels.)

As I'm reading it, I'm finding lots of thoughts entering my head, not to mention information I never knew before. Like this: in 1975, when this book was written? The author thought that Gnosticism had totally died out. Huh. Maybe not.

Here's something else. It is impossible, in a post-DaVinci Code world, not to have heard about the bad, bad, misogynisitc, racist, close-minded clerics who gave Gnostics and other heretics a run for their money . . . or tried to get them to totally die out. Said clerics may in fact have been misogyinistic and/or racist--or they may have been products of their time and not been thinking about those issues because they were thinking of whether or not Jesus was both fully God and fully human and what that meant. There were some less-than-pleasant characters among them. I'm just saying, they might not be the villains it is currently fashionable to paint them as.

Among the lesser-known details about these accounts is that on occasion, the heretics won out--at least temporarily. Arius, for example, was sent into exile, but for some time later his doctrine almost completely triumphed, dying out mainly because divisions within the group's own ranks.

I have friends who promulgate something like the Arian heresy and although I disagree, I don't feel inclined to exile them or anything. If I get brave and motivated enough, there may come a post one of these days where I wrestle more with the question of heresy and orthodoxy in general. But right now, because I'm feeling a little fed up with fashionable conspiracy theories, I feel like telling some heretics to stop whining--they had their day, and they still have it . . . heresies come and go and come back, for goodness' sake (or something?), so stop making stuff up about the 2nd and 3rd century theologians (not to mention, say, the apostle Paul) and try to deal with orthodoxy. Accept it, reject it, whatever. Just . . . is it really necessary to make up stories about Paul being a Gnostic and Jesus marrying Mary Magdalene just because we're uncomfortable with Jesus' life and claims?

Okay. Enough soap-box. It's going to come back to bite me (if soap-boxes can bite), via my own words or someone else's--or both--soon enough.

But here's the other thing I just found out. Evidently, in the time of Tertullian, when people got baptised, there was a lot more to the ceremony than there is in most churches I've ever been in, but also, after the baptism, the one who had just been baptised "refrained from the daily bath for a week after having received the rite" (Latourette, p194). I'm glad that tradition didn't stick around . . . although it might explain why people hardly bathed at all during the Middle Ages . . .

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Don't Hate Me Because I'm . . . Complicated

I used to go to a church where I was more liberal than most of the members. Now I go to one where I'm more conservative . . . at least on some issues. For the last two or so years I've had an on-again, off-again complex friendship with the Milk Guy, a man with whom I think I have a moderately deep connexion, but with whom I share very little in terms of background or faith. I had cancer for a while but (fortunately) nothing much came of it. And, though I am not a really great cook on any terms, I tend to cook better Indian food than American. These are just some of the ways that I suspect I don't live up to expectations . . . and I'm okay with that. (Today, anyway!)

This afternoon I shall be adding to my resume of weirdness by going on video record with my views on marijuana. One of the young men who grew up in the church I work for, but who currently . . . well . . . doesn't, is going to film school and is doing a documentary about pot. "I already have people to interview who are for it," he said. "I thought you might have another perspective." He is undoubtedly right, although my perspective may still not be exactly what he (or anybody else) anticipates. In any case, in a weird sort of way I feel kind of pleased and honoured to have been asked. If this documentary ends up on Youtube and I end up not looking too stupid and/or reactionary, I'll share the link so you can find out what I said. In the meantime, I did talk about pot once at A Wandering Line . . .

Thursday, January 07, 2010


If you know me well, chances are you know I tend to have pretty vivid dreams. By this I mean that most times when I sleep, I wake up with at least a faint recollection of having dreamed, and often a pretty clear recollection of what I dreamed about. (I usually have to talk about it almost immediately to retain the recollections, though, which doesn't happen so often since I haven't got roommates anymore and my family lives on the other side of the Atlantic.)

I also have recurring dreams; when I was a kid I was forever dreaming I was being chased by tv or literary villains, whose identities changed as I aged (ranging from the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk through Looney Tunes through Gargamel all the way up to Darth Vader). When I hit my mid-twenties, I dreamt often about being forced to marry some smarmy older guy I had never met before and was repulsed by. In my thirties, for some reason, my most-recurring dream has been that one where I'm in college, have signed up for a course I promptly forget about, and then the week of exams I'm suddenly freaking out trying to prepare for an exam and make up all the credit I've lost by not attending the class. As Former-Roommate-Rachel says about this kind of dream, "It's always about math." Yes. Yes it is.

Anyway, ever since quitting Starbucks in June last year, that recurring dream seems to have shifted setting, because suddenly Starbucks is turning up a lot. Right before Christmas I dreamed that the newish manager there had scheduled me for a week. I think Matty and Mouse noticed and caught on to the fact that, since I no longer worked there, no one would actually be filling that slot, and so they started trying to get people to fill it for the week, but in the meantime, I came in to get a coffee. The manager was out, and the shift supervisor on duty was someone I had never met but who somehow knew me, and she started browbeating for not showing up for my shift.

"Yeah," I said, "but I don't work here anymore. I quit."

"But you're on the schedule," she insisted. "You should at least have called around to get your shift covered."

"But I quit."

"But you're not working right now. Why don't you just come in and cover it? We need you."

"But . . . I'm not even on the payroll."

Fortunately at this point Matty the Hero came in and told her he had gotten all my other shifts covered. Some people are consistent to their characters even when they're in someone else's subconscious.

Then, about two nights ago, I dreamed that, because I'm so short on funds, I succumbed to working for Starbucks on Saturday nights only, just to get a little more income. They don't allow you to work one day a week anymore, but according to the Starbucks-in-my-sleep, because I was signing away every single Saturday night for, presumably, the rest of my life, they could make an exception.

I'm not even wondering what my subconscious is trying to work on right now. Are you?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Copy Cat

Today I am trying to register for a SemLink course at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I could probably do this pretty rapidly if I didn't have to wait 50 minutes for the registrar's office to re-open after lunch. As it is, I am finding all sorts of forms except the one that I'm looking for.

This one, though? Is my favourite:

Citing sources, folks, citing sources. No double-standards for these guys.

Friday, January 01, 2010


Happy New Year!

I was recently asked by a Facebook Friend how many New Year's resolutions I was planning on making for this year. I replied by saying I wasn't making any, and furthermore, I didn't, as a general rule.

He seemed enough taken aback by this to make me think that New Year's resolutions are standard practice for him, his family and the people he frequents. I'm not sure they are for mine. Then he said I should blog about this.

I'm a little nervous to do so, because I'm not sure it's possible to argue either side of this debate without sounding sanctimonious, especially if you have a faith tradition underpinning the whys and wherefores of your everyday (or every year) practice. In reality, I think the making or disdaining of New Year's resolutions has more to do with personality than divine or moral mandate, but I don't know if anyone can really talk about it from a purely detached point of view. (I think plenty of people, both the resolution-makers and those who don't, can not-care one way or other if other people make them or not, but I'm not sure, if asked to defend their reasons for one course of action or the other, they could be entirely dispassionate.)

As I say, I think the real reason I don't make resolutions is that I don't really have the personality for it. I don't actively resist it. I just don't think about it. Or, maybe, care about it. But, imagining this as a Christian-liberal-arts-college exam essay question ("Do you think Christians should make New Year's resolutions? Use Biblical evidence to support your conclusions"), I would have to say Micah 6.8.

Actually, first of all, I would say I don't see people making resolutions in the Bible. People repent and "rend their garments" and put on "sackcloth and ashes." People get talked to by blazing shrubbery and heavenly lights. People even get talked to by each other. I just don't see people making lists of long-term decisions of how to better their lives.

Don't get me wrong. I don't think I personally have achieved perfection. (You might be relieved to know that I am aware of this). And I think the "little" things (taking care of one's body by eating right and exercising, say) are important. But my greater discipline in exercising this year wasn't because I wrote down, "I will exercise more this year," or even because I clenched my fists, squinted my eyes shut, concentrated really hard and said, "I will exercise more this year!" (Trust me--I had kind of been doing the latter for about 7 years, with little effect.) It was because my job situation changed, my schedule stabilised, and I no longer had an excuse not to exercise.

Resolutions may not have this effect on everybody, but what they usually do to me is make me feel guilty and resentful, or even rebellious. They make me focus on a thing, an action, even a state of mind, when my focus should be on Jesus and letting Him make me the person He wants me to be. Even if the things themselves are godly, once I put them into a resolution, I end up focusing on the thing and on my own efforts to achieve it, when, if it's really valuable, I'm not going to be able to achieve it without Him. I'm not advocating sitting around and waiting for the Holy Spirit to zap me with "godly-juice." I do agree that we have to be cooperating with the Spirit's work in us. But Jesus, talking about His Spirit, said that the wind blows where it will, and I don't ever know what God's going to want to work on in me next.

This is what I do know, and this is what I want my life to do: in Micah 6.8, the prophet tells people that all God wants of us is to do what is right, to be merciful, and to walk humbly with Him. I'd say that pretty much covers all the bases. I'd say I have a long way to go to get anywhere near that standard. I could make some resolutions about how to get there, or I could not, but unless He's the one moving me, I don't think it matters much.