Friday, May 21, 2010

Alone

On Earth Day I took the train into Boston to go to a free Earth Day concert near the New England Aquarium, and this lady on the T (the Boston-area commuter train/subway, to the uninitiated) started talking to me. The bulk of our conversation was about faith and God--turns out she lives in the environs of the City, is Jewish and goes to a Unitarian Universalist church. It was pretty interesting, and I haven't had one of those random chats with someone I didn't already know, in a long time, so I enjoyed it. But that isn't actually the topic of this post. Along with this woman's curiosity about my "religion," she was fascinated and impressed that I would go to a concert by myself. She was middle-middle-aged, had been married before but had been single for quite some time, but she confessed she never went and did anything unless she had a group of friends to go do it with.

It wasn't that I hadn't invited other people to go, of course, but when everyone declined (or just ignored the invite) I still wanted to go to it, so I just went. Sometime around that time I got together one evening with a friend from church and told her that I'm going to Quebec on vacation. I had wanted to visit Dave and Sister-in-Lu and TWCN and Patrick in Jerusalem, but finances and timing and other logistics weren't lining up right, so I googled "pet-friendly hotels," found an adorable-looking and affordable one in Baie St. Paul, Quebec, and booked myself (and Oscar) in for four nights.

"Who are you going with?" my friend asked.

"Oscar," I said.

"You're going by yourself?" she exclaimed. "I don't think I could ever do that!" At present, she is single, too.

I admit, most of the time when I travel, I go where I know someone, stay with them and get to know their area from a local's-eye view. This suits me very well. I get to see people I care about and I get to see a place from a slightly different angle than the normal tourist traps. Hopefully my hosts find this arrangement acceptable, too. If they don't, they're all very good liars.

But there have still been times when I've struck off on my own. It isn't, in any case, something I think twice about anymore. I remember having recently moved to London and first visiting Oxford. I did have a friend there to go see, but she was a student and so she had classes and appointments and things, and I was taking a day off, which meant I had a lot of solo-wandering time. At first I didn't like that; I kept fantasising about a nonexistent "special someone" to wander along Addison's Walk with me . . . or at least my family of origin to enjoy the C.S. Lewis haunts with.

But they weren't there, and the special someone continued not to exist, and eventually, starting that day and spanning across my time of living in the UK, I discovered that there is something truly enjoyable about traveling by myself. I can meander as slowly or march as quickly as I want. There's no one else around to get bored or to tell me I'm walking too fast for them (something I get a lot . . . it's a height thing). I can keep company with my own thoughts . . . and actually do some praying, too. I can go into a shop that "becuriouses" me and not worry about someone else thinking it looks weird or dumb or just hating shopping.

It's not to say I wouldn't enjoy having a travel partner. I had actually invited Dear Friend Paulina on this trip, and would have liked having her company. But I think I'm equally happy having the time and the auberge and the exploring to myself. I guess what I'm saying is that I like that I like going off and doing these things by myself as well as with people. I have spent most of my adult life wishing to be married and actually being single, but there are times, like right now, when I'm really happy that I've been single this long so that I've learned not to be afraid to go off and do what I feel like doing, instead of waiting around and wishing I had someone else around to validate my expeditions and interests.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

. . . it Happens

Bryancti told me to post this story. I do have a filter, believe it or not. Possibly not a very fine one, but there are things I will not post. Also, long ago the Milk Guy said in no uncertain terms and with a look on his face that presaged vomiting, "No more poopy stories!" But the Milk Guy no longer reads this blog I think, and anyway, when I was talking to Bryancti about it, I got this deep spiritual insight (for real) and then I felt like I had to post it. Please don't read this if you're faint of stomach and can't handle fairly graphic descriptions of dogs' bodily functions. I would censor it if I could, but then the point will be lost, so . . . just don't say I didn't warn you.

Yesterday during my lunch break at work, I took Oscar for a walk, as is my wont. Oscar, as is his wont, began to relieve himself. Only . . . he got stuck. I'm not entirely sure why he gets constipated when he does, except that he's an intense little guy . . . Anyway, so we're standing out there for quite some time, poor little dog struggling away, and then finally he produces something. Yay for him! Sometimes, after he goes, Oscar does that doggy butt-dragging thing to wipe himself on the pavement, and it's fine, only this time when he did it, there was still a big ol' poop dangling from his rear end. It got all over the sidewalk and all over his hindquarters. Disgusting!

I knew that if I brought him back into the church and he sat down anywhere, soon poop was going to get all over that "anywhere," and so my brain started churning as I tried to figure out how and where I was going to clean him up. I finally settled on the Sunday school bathroom in the basement, which is where we immediately marched as soon as we got back inside. I hoisted him onto the counter with his hindquarters over the sink and turned on the water.

Paper towels only went so far. He's got tons of really curly fur (this was, of course, the day before his annual grooming/shaving), and his waste products had gotten all stuck in this, so eventually I had to use my bare hand. It took about half an hour to forty-five minutes to get him all cleaned up, and then clean the bathroom, and then wash my hands about twelve times, and I really just didn't want to touch anything for a while, let alone my lunch, which was a bagel and really familiar-looking sunflower-seed butter. (Looks like peanut butter, only goopier. You get the idea, I think.)

After telling him this story, Bryancti said, "I hope Oscar appreciates all you do for him." I would hope so, too. But of course he doesn't. He hasn't a clue. He wasn't enjoying the process much either, and when we got back to my office, all cleaned up, he went straight over to the table where I keep his cookies, sat down expectantly and looked at me as if to say, "Sheesh! I need a treat after all that!" I thought to myself, "Dude. I'm the one who needs a treat."

After Bryan said that thing about Oscar's appreciation, though, a lightbulb went on in my head. I thought . . . this must be a little bit like what it's like for God to take care of us. We go along our way, doing our thing, and then suddenly, somehow, we get poop all over ourselves. I really don't think the analogy is going to far. Life's sometimes like that. We might want to blame God for the poop, but it isn't actually His fault. We digest, sometimes better than others, our live experiences and then, uh, poop happens, as the bumper sticker likes to remind us. I suspect most of us are fairly talented in somehow wallowing in it when it does, even if we think we're trying to get out of it.

Then God, because He loves us even when we're poopy, and also possibly because He'd really prefer not to get poop all over the Kingdom of Heaven, mercifully picks us up and begins the process of cleaning us up . . . by hand. The cleansing process is usually less comfortable and less fun than getting poop-covered was in the first place, and we think God is so mean, and after we're through it we think, "Man. God owes me!"

I don't think I ever realised in quite this way how much God Himself goes through to clean me up. I mean, it's the Incarnation, and the Cross, and the Resurrection, but sometimes those words just sound like theology and it just sounds general . . . for all the world (which it is) and for all sin (which it is), and I forget to think how God is personally involved in my personal and individual processes, and that maybe He feels stuff about it, and that maybe we still get Him messy. He's the one, of course, who we owe, but he doesn't ask for us to pay Him back, just like I wouldn't ask Oscar to.

God knows we're never going to fully appreciate what He has done and keeps on doing for us; I suspect He knows we can't fully appreciate it. But when Oscar comes over with his tail wagging and wants to play or licks my face or snuggles up next to my shin on the bed, it's worth it to me, just as God delights in our enjoyment of Him. I'll never realise what God goes through to put me right, I don't think. But having washed Oscar's poopy butt, I think I have a slightly better idea.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Wedding

When I was around 22 and living and working in Nannyfield, my employers (Terry-and-Karin-the-Great--they really were awesome) were kind of concerned about the fact that I had never had a boyfriend. Terry-the-Great knew this guy from work that he wanted to set me up with. Said Guy was somewhat older than I (at that point, such a feat--being older than me--was not difficult to manage), and Terry thought he was a little weird, but that we'd be good together because we were both "religious." The Guy invited me to go with him to a Star Trek convention or something once, but I declined, and never met him in person. Sometimes I wonder what would've happened if we had met. Frankly, I don't think I became proper girlfriend material until I met the Milk Guy, and now I don't care anymore (maybe that's the difference), so probably nothing would've happened, but these are still things you think about sometimes.

Like, when you're studying about the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Long before the Star Trek invite, The Guy invited me to go with him to a celebration of the anniversary of "his church." He sent me, via TtG, a whole lot of literature about it--the Eastern Orthodox church. I'm not sure if this celebration was of the anniversary of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic split, which I would think would be a little tricky to pin down, since there was tension between them for quite a while before they actually divided, or of his own branch in New York City. The latter is more likely, I think. I just learned that US Eastern Orthodox churches do not have patriarchates in this country, but are linked to other ones in the Old Country. (Which old country? It depends, probably.)

I remember reading everything This Guy sent me, and wondering if it would constitute being unequally yoked if I ended up with an Eastern Orthodox guy. (Everybody that has been reading this blog for the last two years is free to guffaw loudly at this point.)

So, today, going over my notes about Eastern Orthodoxy, I thought about this again, and you know what? There are actually things I like about the Eastern Orthodox church--at least in theory. Apparently during the time of Constantine at least, the Eastern church believed that there should be a sort of seamless union between church and state, and so Constantine was allowed to perform some of the duties at religious functions, and the average Joe was so interested in theology that Constantinople was full of people debating the nature of Christ and stuff. Given what small talk has devolved to, I kind of like that picture. I like the understanding of the Church--that it reflects the Trinity (unity in diversity), is the Body of Christ (an extension of the Incarnation) and is itself the continued Pentecost (implying centrality of the Holy Spirit). I like the concept that the Church exists both visibly and invisibly and is both human and divine. I am definitely a fan of the understanding that doctrinal assertions act as a fence to keep heresy out, but don't (and shouldn't) fully explain or exhaust the mysteries of our faith. I also like that at least ostensibly, the line between clergy and laity is more blurred than in Western churches.

Here's what I think I'd have a hard time with, though. I don't like the concept (found also in the Roman Catholic church and plenty of others) that salvation is impossible outside the church. It kind of reminds me of that baptism scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which is supposed to be funny, but always makes me uncomfortable, because clearly this guy is "converting" for a person and not because he met a Person. But in this tradition, his entering the church and having undergone baptism (which supposedly brings the new birth itself), would be what saves him. I like what it says in the story about his love for the girl. That's all very noble and everything. But I don't like stories of forced or false conversions. Also what is the point of Chrismation (which is kind of a cool word if you think of it like "clay-mation"--does it mean animated by Christ?)? It's confirmation . . . of the children of believing parents. Why would you baptise a baby and then confirm a kid. When does anyone get to decide if they believe or care or not? I guess you don't, because you need to stay in the church, so you can stay saved. I'm a little uneasy about the idea of God the Father as the fountainhead from which the Son and the Spirit proceed, because it makes Him seem superior to them, and I really disagree that sin is a result of death instead of the other way around.

So yeah. While I think it would be fun to stumble across more people debating theology in random conversation (kind of like the third conversation I ever had with the Item, when, over the counter at Starbucks, he told me his background was Catholic but he was first alienated from the church over the doctrine of transubstantiation because it wouldn't allow his non-Catholic father to partake of the Eucharist), and while I like allowing the mysteries to be mysteries, in most other respects, I don't think I'd make a very good Eastern Orthodox. Good thing I never met That Guy.

P.S. I got all that info? from my professor's lecture outline. He is Dr. Garth M. Rosell. I would like to give him the credit, and not be guilty of plagiarism. Thank you.

Communes

Someone, somewhere (like probably Pastor Marty, to whom I just intimated I might not be going to Life Group tonight since I'm studying for my final tomorrow), is going to think I'm slacking off from my studies just to blog. But I'm actually hoping this will be part of the studying process--I'm not even making an excuse.

So here are the first musings of the day. (That you get to know about, anyway!)

Remember that time I said I wanted to be a non-pot-smoking, non-promiscuous hippie? (Remember when I spelled "hippie" with a "y"?) So that little dream was kind of the hermit-hippie version, but for a long time--like, probably since college--I've also had this dream of living in a commune. Which might be why the discussion of monasticism in class kind of draws me.

Uncle Phil was an actual hippie who did live in a commune once, and it was a "Christian" one supposedly, but it got very controlling and very dysfunctional and he has nothing good to say about it. I was a little kid living in Honduras at the time, so I don't know much about it other than dark looks and oblique intimations that it wasn't a good experience. And an LP that came out of it, which I actually liked a lot growing up. But--maybe because I was a little kid and don't know much about it--I still find the idea of communal, sort of monastic living appealing. Jesus and his disciples didn't live in a monastery or anything, and it was a mixed group--men and women--and some of them were married and some of them were single, but they lived together. Some monastic orders, though not "co-educational," really weren't separatists from the world, but actually reached directly into their surrounding culture or sent monks off in groups to travel about and evangelise and care for people's needs. I like that. I think there's something fortifying about belonging to a group like that, working through all the personality differences and stuff, and reaching out together for the common cause of Christ. I don't really think there's another common cause that would make working through the personality differences worth it, frankly--it's too much hard work to just do it for the heck of it, but it's a great exercise in becoming a stronger disciple of Jesus if He's the reason for it. (And help in it!) I like the idea of people belonging to each other because of Jesus, and each being able fully to exercise their gifts for the community--because they're together in life, and not just for Sunday mornings and specific churchy stuff during the week. I like that ancient and medieval monasteries set a rhythm of work and worship, and that their adherents were constantly being reminded to worship God in their work, and also to take time to pause to be with Him together. I think I would learn to pray better if someone told me that at such and such time a day, we were praying, and not doing anything else.

A few years ago the nearby Yankee Drummer Inn went out of business. For the last seven years I've had this back-of-the-mind idea that a group of Christians should buy it. We could all have lived in the rooms, and cooked in the kitchen, and worshiped together in the events hall. I thought we could all keep going to our regular jobs so that we could keep making inroads into the wider community, and maybe people would be drawn to our smaller community and we could disciple them there and stuff.

Sometime this year they tore the whole thing down. Now there's just a chain-link fence and a bunch of weeds. There isn't even a hole in the ground. So much for that idea.

But there still is that controlling thing. St. Benedict, who established that rule of monastic life that so many other monastic communities since then have either ascribed to or adapted, said that the most important thing in communal life was obedience. You had to have an abbot, and the brothers (because of course these were celibate communities) had to have the humility to obey the abbot without question. I kind of wonder if he's right. I wonder if, in order for a group of people to live together effectively, you have to have a sort of authoritarian organisation. I wonder if "controlling" is the nature of monasticism or communism. In that case, Uncle Phil's experience is probably less than unique and maybe there is nothing good to be said about monasticism. The best that could happen in this scenario would be for the person in charge to actually not be a control-freak, and be trustworthy, and for the people not-in-charge to be committed enough to the endeavour and humble enough to not assert their own opinions all the time.

Something in me recoils at that idea. I guess if you enter a monastery you take certain vows which aren't necessary for being a Christian, but are necessary for being in the kind of community you're joining. You voluntarily decide to set your individualism aside, at least in some respects, for the sake of the community. Is that what we're supposed to be doing as followers of Jesus, or isn't it? He came to bring us into unique community and reconciliation with Himself and others. He told us the best we could do was to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbours as ourselves. That doesn't leave much room for selfishness, and it's pretty clear that God doesn't want to leave us any room for selfishness. That's why He came down here in the first place. I think there's probably something bracing and freeing about living in community if it's done well, and something that forces us to die to ourselves in ways that we can't when we're living out "this American life" or whatever.

I don't live in community right now, though (unless you count Oscar). I've looked for roommates on and off since Roommate-Sarah, and I had the Sixes here for a while (they're coming back this summer!), but it seems like intermittent hermit-dom is my lot for now. So I'm glad Jesus came for individuals, too. I suppose the main thing is to be His disciple in whatever state He calls you. It says that in the Bible somewhere, I think . . .
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