Monday, December 24, 2012

This Christmas: Unanticipated

I've been caught up this season in the idea of how Christ was expected and received. The Israelites had been expecting and hoping for a messiah to save them from their enemies, but the idea that this savior would come in the manner that he did was a surpise to those who believed what they were shown (Mary, Joseph, the wise men) and impossible to those who did not. As I wrote several days ago, the shepherds seem included only because "a vast host of other [angels]--the armies of heaven (Luke 2:13, NLT) had nobody else they were permitted to tell, and they had to tell somebody. Only the most marginalized, those who were looking in from outside, could fathom that God's savior and the heir of David would emerge from anywhere but a palace.

I've been reminded in several ways this week that this messiah was not only known but eagerly anticipated, even by those who would ultimately play a roll in the story of his arrival. While I have a couple issues with "The Nativity Story" (2006), it does nice work in demnostrating how Mary, Zechariah, and others knew this should be happening, but could not easily grasp the logisitics. Jason Gray's beautiful song "Rest (The Song of the Innkeeper)"* speaks from a heart tired of waiting, desperate to be saved, and unaware that salvation is just outside his door. We are so often so certain that we will recognize what we are waiting for, and miss it because we're focused on the logistics--what is and isn't possible, when Jesus himself was pretty clear about the impotence of that word.

So as all this was rolling around in my brain, I wrote this out in the quiet early morning yesterday. It came both from biblical reading and personal experience, and so its voice is somewhere in between the two. It's already taken some revisions and will likely take a few more, but this blog doesn't advertise the polished, only the drafts...


So many beacons--like stars,
like voices shouting in the wilderness--
and still we did not know you.
Expecting, anticipating, we looked to lords and kings
but found only men.
We were waiting for a prince to lift us 
over enemies and empires
and so we did not see the poor--
the eagerly, desperatey faithful--
who you saw with favor and pleasure.
Shepherds dancing in the street we dismissed as drunk,
astronomers from far away as academic.
We were so sure we knew where to look.

Within our own empires we waited,
in our own calendars we planned,
never understanding that a true savior 
must come from something else
and take apart the world before saving it,
humbling our enemies but also ourselves.
That's why we were so angry:
you were supposed to show us favor,
to take our faults from us without making mention of them.
You and the men we hung beside you
were all rebels, and we were waiting for
a quieter messiah, a restful king. 

[A note: the idea that "the men we hung beside you / were all rebels" is one that has stayed with me since the first time I read it, in a high school English class dissecting Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail."
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Read the whole thing here.]

I hope you and your family--be they biological or adopted--have been renewed in thi holiday season. If you read that sentence with an eyeroll or a sigh, I hope you take a moment to stop and ask for that very thing, as that's the point of everything we celebrate: not to make us better, but to remake us entirely.

Merry Christmas.


* Listen to "Rest" here. And while we're on the subject, I cannot say enough good things about Jason's Christmas album, Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy (or, ya know, Jason in general). "Rest" and "Man of Mercy" are my favorites, but his youngest son, Gus, taking lead vocals on "Christmas for Jesus" ("Is my heart the present He put on His list?") is the one that chokes me up every time. $9.99 on iTunes, people. Make it happen.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Book Review: Keeping the Feast

It is with great relief that I report completely loving Keeping the Feast: Metaphors for the Meal by Milton Brasher-Cunningham.  At first glance the book seems flippant--a lightweight paperback clocking in at 120 pages, broken down into vignette-like chapters and interspersed with recipes and poetry. But like any good cook, Milton* is an expert in balance and nuance, and as he blends story with insight and faith with food he neither moves too hastily nor dwells too long on an idea before moving along. (There is, perhaps, credit due to editorial here--it might have been tempting to push for a more solid book length by sacrificing this struck balance. They chose wisely.) He also strikes a casual, heartfelt tone, being clear and convincing without coming off as pushy. "The metaphors that follow are invitations to supper, if you will," he writes in closing the introduction. "I intend them as poetry more than prescription: jumping off places for further conversation. Hopefully, over dinner" (5). This is carried throughout the book--I don't feel shoved in any particular direction, I only want to lend the book to several friends and then invite them over for dinner to talk about it.

Now, full disclosure, if I was ever going to love a book it would be one that ties together faith and food, and views them through the lens of community and hospitality. It's even well copyedited. Milton brings universality to what would otherwise be a narrow focus, tying in his experiences in family and professional kitchens and addressing the continued importance of sharing a meal (Communion, as well as less ritualistic means) as personal ministry.

One of Milton's strongest points--or possibly his overarching point amidst the story and poetry--is his highlight on the idea of ritual, emphasizing importance and purpose. He effectively draws the point that if something is repeated as habit, it loses meaning, but if something is remembered and chosen and reshaped as we change, its meaning grows in power and effect over our lives. "We keep repeating any number of little sayings and actions that remind us of the promises we are committed to keeping, transforming daily doings into something sacred... Where habits grow like kudzu, rituals have to be cultivated and nourished" (11). He dwells on, rather than dismisses, the symbolic importance of ritual, and carries that through in his investigation into the Eucharist.

Milton hits on a point I've heard before, though I don't recall the specifics: that when Jesus called his disciples to "do this in remembrance of me" (Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-19), he perhaps meant the gathering together and sharing of a (lowercase) meal as much as the symbolic and specific Passover/Eucharist ceremony. Milton frequently referenced this by hyphenating "re-member" in his point that cultivating community is hard work in a world that tries to pull us apart, and part of our call as Christ followers is to bring each other back together, personally and corporately--to member ourselves again among our brothers and sisters. "When we gather together at the table whether in the Upper Room or an evening meal, sharing food is an act of solidarity, a chance to find and share comfort. Life, whether in Palestine or Pittsburgh, is a dismembering proposition" (103-104).

Perhaps my only complaint for the book is an academic fine point--there are a few places where a Scriptural reference is lacking. A story is summarized or Jesus is paraphrased, but no direct reference is made. There is such care taken elsewhere in the book in citing sources that I think this is purposeful choice rather than oversight, but there were a few times where a direct citation would have been helpful.

Milton has written a beautiful book, inviting us to the table of conversation and encouraging us to open our tables to those around us. He draws a picture of a legacy of community that anyone would long to be a part of: where brokenness is understood and commiserated with; where joys are joined and celebrated; where there is always plenty for everyone and leftovers besides.

* I can't call Milton by his last name--I feel too much like we're friends.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

This Christmas: You Can Wish Me, "Happy Holidays."

[Drafter’s Note: I’ve tried 3 times to make this blog post work. It’s weird to defend why you don’t get defensive about something. You’re almost certain to put someone--likely starting with yourself--on the offensive. But tonight is Grinch night--just watched Boris, and Carrey is waiting for me--and it got me thinking about how we celebrate a holiday, and how we can make it something it’s not.]

I’m not going to get offended when you wish me “Happy Holidays” this year. I just wanted to let you know that ahead of time, because I feel like in some circles this has become an offensive phrase, one to be corrected with a harrumph and rolled eyes--the true spirit of any good holiday. And I’ll wish the same back to you, unless I know what you celebrate, because it would be weird for me if you wished me a Happy Bodhi Day on the basis that you’re Hindu. I wouldn’t be offended, I suppose, but it wouldn’t mean much. So I won’t wish you what I’m celebrating, because it might not be yours to celebrate. (Don’t get me wrong--you’re welcome to join me. SPCN has a great Christmas Eve service, and I make some awesome gingerbread.) 

What I may do, if I’m bold enough, is apologize to you on behalf of people I’d otherwise call brothers and sisters, who may have replied to your greeting in frustration or correction. It turns my stomach to hear the name of this holiday I love--the celebration of the birth of my savior, no less--spoken in that tone of aggression, and I hope you realize it wasn’t really directed toward you. After centuries of being the clear favorite, a push for diversity acceptance can sometimes feel like we’re being tossed onto the street, when in fact it’s just a matter of making room for other people at the table. 

So I’ll wish you, “Happy Holidays,” or perhaps even better, I’ll pause in the race and rush and ask you what you celebrate, how you celebrate, what you’re looking forward to. Because odds are, even if we share the same phrase, we celebrate differently. I hope your celebration is true and real for you, that it brings you to a place of peace and community, that it is more than motions and sayings but that it binds you and changes you a little every year, that it makes you a better you and draws you to the divine. 

In an unbroken world, we would sit and talk about our hopes and expectations and frustrations with our respective holidays. We would laugh and tear up, nod enthusiastically or raise an eyebrow in question, but leave the conversation knowing each other better. But there’s a line behind me and a traffic jam in front of you and if we’re not careful, we’ll each wind up only wishing each other a good holiday and not actually having one. So peace be with you. May you know you are not alone, and know that you are loved. May you celebrate. May you have laughter. And may you be happy, whatever your holiday.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

This Christmas: The Elements

[Drafter's Note: Point A: I am officially terrible at discipline. Onward and upward. Point B: For the last two years, I've needed to spend a good chunk of November traveling for work, which has resulted in me coming back home to a changed place: pumpkins and the last of falling leaves are exchanged for Christmas decorations and, this year, a thin covering of snow. The lurch in time last year had me scrambling, and even weeks later I hadn't recovered. Christmas didn't feel like Christmas. So this year, I  prepared myself to come back to Advent season, and part of my plan was to be more reflective. Part of that plan was to blog about it. A later start than I'd hoped, and no promises as to how often I'll write, but I want to snag some thoughts and reflections for the next 13+ days about this holiday that can too easily become about stress and consumption. I choose promise and hope, even if I have to scrabble to find it.]

Setting up my nativity has been The Thing Which Determines It's Christmas since 1989 when my mom bought my brother and I each a ceramic set. There's nothing overtly special about it--your basic Mary-Joseph-Baby-Shepherd-Wise-Men-Sheep-Cow-Donkey setup--but it is mine, and as a child it was what set Christmas in motion. I'd strive to set it up better each year: first on the highboy, then on top of the television; one year the angel dangled precariously from a string fixed to the ceiling; the year I learned the wise men weren't present at the birth, they were removed to a nearby windowsill, en route. I think I like that these simple building blocks--a kneeling woman, a sleeping child, a shepherd with a sheep at his feet--come together to speak a story.

A few years ago I had one of my most memorable Bible study nights with a small group of teenage girls. We wrote out a list of everything we thought we remembered from the Christmas story, and then went to the biblical accounts, and talked about how we have fleshed them out. Sarah misspoke and said she remembered the wise men brought gold and incest, Hannah was scandalized when I implied that camels might not have been present at the birth, and we unpacked the story and put it back together again, each of us coming away with a new perspective. 

Since then, I've frequently found myself paring down the nativity to just the actual birth--a young woman, a faithful husband, and a newborn child that was only partly theirs. But as I've thought about it this year, I've found myself drawn to the other pieces, the other elements of this story. In looking for simple decorations to make, I saw an idea for three silhouettes on a wall--Mary, Joseph, and Jesus; the shepherds; the wise men. And the more I thought about it, the more that resonated. As with most great stories, this is not a single snapshot, but a collision of multiple storylines, not at one moment but as part of a greater plot. A faithful woman is chosen, a priest is struck mute, a man plans separation, a cousin celebrates, astronomers find a sign, the man makes a selfless choice, a census is ordered, a king schemes, an innkeeper refuses, angels sing, shepherds shudder, and a baby is born. The shepherds and astronomers find him, the king does not. This is a story about Jesus, but it is really a half dozen stories of dozens of people, all pointing toward but not neatly meeting at a cave of a stable in Bethlehem. Each individual had their story to tell; we just get a bird's-eye view.

A last piece that caught me a few days ago: the whole of Israel was waiting for a Messiah to rescue them and rule over the earth, but none knew to go looking to a homeless couple on the road. In listening to some Christmas standards the other night, I found myself feeling some of the frustration of Heaven--such a huge, history-changing moment, and nobody knew to come celebrate. And I wonder if that's why the shepherds got their invitation. Heaven had some major rejoicing to do, and so they took the party to a nearly-deserted field outside a small town in Roman-occupied Israel and scared the crap out of some shepherds. It was all they could do to keep it corralled even that much. They went to a few nobodies and sent them so that somebody, at least, could stand in witness and agreement as Mary and Joseph stared into Heaven's own eyes. It was a story too good not to share.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012


This is, as usual, a draft. I wasn't feeling poetry tonight, so for now this sits in prose. 

I found myself picturing you as we sat at my mother's table. Your daughters laughed and shared stories in a dimly-lit kitchen, the summer wind early in its sweep through the window. There was an empty chair at the table--not purposefully vacant, but as I looked between the women you walked into the world I could nearly see you. Aged nearly 20 years from when my child-eyes last saw you, quieted by the loss of another wife, but comfortably at rest at the head of the table, and a wink as our eyes caught. I found myself picturing a different world, where you weren't smoking in the hospital room and your hair didn't need to rebloom a rich brown when the treatments were done. 

You wouldn't have appreciated the store-bought wine, but there was too much food for the four of us, so elements of you remain even at a casual meal. Your old phrases slip easily into conversation, a vernacular both natural and acknowledged. I cannot stitch the picture complete--my pieces of you are too thin, and I don't have enough of the restorer in me to maintain integrity. Between the panels of memory I sketch daydream and imagining, glazing it over so that in the convenient candlelight of the table you seem almost fully there. 
You have lost some weight--from the disease or age?--but still take up more than your physical space. Even silent, you occupy the conversation, each relation feeling more than seeing the smile, the raised brow. And it is your judgment--the pushed-back chair, the effortless break--that signals the rest of us to rise, clearing the ends of sentences with our dishes. And here is where my restoration glares in the light, shows itself as falsity, because I do not know how this ends. I have not known a grandfather save as a child knows him, and the motions I assume--a small laugh, a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the arm--are too fabricated and the vision fades. I try to turn it back, but what spell I'd cast is lost. 

As I have sat picturing, this original meal has broken, a signal I did not catch, and my uncle leans in a pushed-back chair--an effortless break. The world has pushed on from you, and I did not notice until now. A child mourns over things differently--I cried then, but not for you. 
I raise my glass toward your chair--it is yours, I realize, and always has been--and smile for you. It is as much as I can offer--a kiss on the cheek, a squeeze of the arm?--but I find myself answered in the stillness as you see it for all that it is.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Narcissus & Co.

[Drafter's Note: I spent my lunch hour and another chunk this evening reading my blog--everything from the beginning through this month. This resulted in A) realizing how ridiculously little I've written in over a year, B) restarting my drive to write every day--or, at least, as frequently as I can manage--and C) the title of this post. Gazing at yourself--err, your words--for hours on end tends to do that.]

I love Greek mythology. I have since I was a kid--I'm not sure when it started. In seventh grade, social studies was Greek and Roman history, a large part of which (or, at least, a large part of what I've remembered) was mythology. It was my first (realized) brush with my tendency to over-prepare: as I sojourned through my 5-10 minute presentation on Odysseus, Mr. Bednarsky cut me off at the 35-minute mark. (It's ODYSSEUS, for crying out loud! How do you do that in 5 minutes? Something awesome might have been left out.)

Sometime shortly after this I found a small tome of Bulfinch's Greek Mythology, likely a remnant from my brother's education, and was hooked. Some stories (like Narcissus) I read and moved past; others have never left me. The boy I was in love with at 15 was long-since interwoven to Icarus, and to separate them now would be impossible. Even then, I longed to be a Penelope: waiting, strong, resistant. I never tired of the endless travels of Odysseus, or of Perseus or Jason. I didn't know what to do with myself, crying silently from the edges of the frame as Orpheus turned around, as Psyche lit her lamp, as Persephone stood caught between mother and lover. I was in love and never looked back.

My love for fairy tales and folk tales and mythologies are all tied together. It would be needlessly cruel to ask me to pick favorites. In part, I suppose, I love the idea that these same stories were told hundreds, thousands of years ago to little girls who became women and who, too, remained strangely tied to them. I love that there is truth and heroism and sacrifice and loss and everything else human, even punctuated by three-headed dogs and lovers who become reeds and then pipes.

And all this writing about them has made me want to tuck back into them. I think that's part of the love, too--there's always a new one I'd somehow missed, and an old dozen I happily snuggle back into.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: Alone with a Jihadist by Aaron D. Taylor

In 2002, Aaron Taylor, a young pastor and missionary, answers an ad to take part in a documentary concerning Christianity and Islam in the post-9/11 world. (That documentary, "Holy Wars," is available here -- though, fair warning, I haven't watched it yet, as I didn't want it affecting this review.) In the ensuing years, Aaron wrote a book about the experience: his conversation with Khalid, a Muslim fundamentalist, and the ensuing shift in his own doctrinal thinking. Published in 2009, Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War sets out to address questions of nationalism and nonviolence in regards to Muslim/Christian relations and beliefs, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy.

The book opens with an introduction of how Taylor started in ministry, and how he got involved with the "Holy Wars" project. He gives a brief look into his conversation with Khalid, giving the reader a sense of its tone without, I trust, spoiling the work of the documentary. Entering the interview especially mindful of non-Christian viewers, Taylor is hopeful only to represent Christ well and, perhaps, bring Khalid to--as he facetiously puts it in retrospect--"a Dr. Phil moment." Khalid, however, ends up directing the conversation to places Taylor is not prepared to defend, and he leaves with more questions than he anticipated. Much of the next several chapters are devoted to Taylor's pursuit of answers, describing how he dug through the Bible to justify all that he had for so long taken as gospel: in short, the basic pillars of the Religious Right. He examines the nonviolent, service-based, counter-governmental words and actions of Jesus and His followers, pitting all this against the current American Christian political stance. Taylor then shifts his focus for a few chapters to examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, both as it's playing out in Israel and how it's seen by the typical American Christian. Wrapping up his argument with a nod toward peaceful anarchism (Thoreau, Chomsky), Taylor envisions a new Christianity, known for its self-sacrifice, service, and peaceful disassociation from positions of power and government.

For a little over half the book, I was thoroughly a fan. Sure, his argument isn't perfect, and the book is in desperate need of a copyedit (in addition to the usual minor offenses and a much-overused italic emphasis, my personal favorites were "the Iron/Contra scandal" and "the Lord Jesus Chris"). But he's admirably vulnerable and confessional with how deeply rooted his beliefs were, and how poorly they lined up with the Jesus he claimed to follow. He does an excellent job of gently bringing examples straight from Scripture of Jesus and his followers avoiding opportunities to wield power in earthly ways (politics, violence, oppression), and drawing the stark parallel to the modern American Christian's zeal for war and political advantage. Often pulling his points from familiar passages, Taylor strikes a balance of asking a leading question without falling into patronizing or condemning language:

Some say that the only reason Jesus stopped Peter [from using his sword when soldiers came to take Jesus to trial] is because He knew He had to go to the cross to die for the sins of the world, but notice that Jesus did not say, "I appreciate the thought, Peter, but I'm doing this for the sins of the world, so save your sword for another occasion." Instead He said, "Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." The question is simple. Is Jesus our moral example or not?      (115)

Taylor's strongest arguments come through in Chapter 4, "Is Democracy the New Crusade?", where he examines the interconnectedness of American and Christian ideals. He questions how much the Church has backed military action in the name of democracy and freedom--which is to say, conforming other nations to the sociopolitical structure of the U.S. Taylor is still careful with his words, but here he finds his confidence with a solid and succinct argument. "I believe that for too long the word 'evangelical' has been synonymous with hyper-nationalism. We've turned the Lord Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, into a tribal deity who fights for the U.S. flag" (56). In addition to referencing general feeling and belief, Taylor also cites wartime speeches from President George W. Bush and does nice work drawing out the problems of unifying American nationalism with the Gospel.

Though he never references the book, this is in some ways a toned-down version of Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw'Jesus for President--and I say that not as a slight to either title. JfP, while very well done, would be off-putting for some in its unapologetic charges; Taylor is much more cautious and tempering with his arguments.

But about halfway through the book, those arguments begin to slip. He starts repeating them (the quote above regarding Peter is the third time he's referenced the same passage and point) and starts drawing on looser threads. He is, at times, so careful to not offend that he is nearly unintelligible, shifting into a passive tone that can't be read without picturing his arms upraised in dramatized innocence. As he shifts his view to Israel and later to anarchism, he seems to lose his footing more, like he couldn't remember where he had started this conversation. And wrapping up the book with a chapter entitled "Powerless Prophets" does seem somewhat fitting, as the strong arguments of the early chapters seem less convicting after his pitfalls. Taylor ends the book with an imagined conversation describing a hoped-for future American Church, but it's a bit too sugary-sweet and idealized to ring true. 

I'm looking forward to the documentary, and I think Taylor did some admirable soul- and Scripture-searching to find truth and relevance in his faith. If it were possible to recommend half a book, I would. In looking back through my notes and brackets, I really did appreciate much of what he had to say, but the last chapters' wandering and disconnectedness left a bad taste in the mouth, and I can't help but point interested readers toward those whose arguments stand a book’s duration.

Alone with a Jihadist: A Biblical Response to Holy War is published by Foghorn Publishers © 2008. For more information, check out it's product page on Amazon. And for more information on Taylor, his blog is here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Ever-Faithful & the Following

I'm studying the Book of Ruth these days, which, if you're unfamiliar, is a pretty killer short story. It's got everything you need: tragedy, romance, heroism, big speeches, and a happy ending. I recommend it.

I read it through before we started, but now I'm in the midst of a six-week Bible study on it (6 weeks to cover 4 chapters subdivided by the study writer and 8 women thinking & discussing = we're not missing much). To cap things off, I started listening to Mark Driscoll's sermon series on it today. I'm a fan of overkill, maybe, but I'm enjoying digging into it from a few different angles.

As Driscoll was reading the text and I was washing the dishes, something caught my attention. Switching between translations, the same English phrase pops up twice in Chapter 1. (To recap, Naomi, who has recently lost her husband and two grown sons, is leaving Moab to return to Israel, and she encourages her Moabite daughters-in-law to return to their families.) After Naomi tells them to go, she says, "'The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me'" (v. 8, NKJV); the repetition of the phrase is from Ruth as she insists that she will remain with her mother-in-law: "'May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me'" (v. 17, NIV).

I'm not going to go off on the original Hebrew or anything--in fact, I am admittedly pulling this out of its context, and am referencing it only because it presented itself in my head, just as I'd been searching for a way to explain this very concept. Call it divine inception. (ba dum chhh)

Naomi and Ruth are both referring to the same God, and for all we can tell, have very similar faiths. But they are framing God's response to the same action--Ruth leaving Naomi--in opposite terms. Naomi says leave, go home, and the Lord will deal kindly with you; Ruth says, in effect, Au contraire. If I let even death separate us, the Lord should punish me. This isn't a doctrinal debate. This is life. This is looking at a huge expanse of gray area and deciding where to put your foot. Reality, for lack of a more poetical term.

See, the reason this caught my attention is that I've been puzzling over how to frame this very idea, both in my own head and in talking with my best friend. How do you frame, "We're both right"? She and I had a chat last weekend about some stuff in my life, and she has a very definite--and very sensible--plan of action that she suggested. I told her I would think about it, which I have, in great depth. I spent a good part of Sunday in some combination of conversation (read: frustrated irkings) and tears with God. I stayed home and took a mental health day on Monday, trying to puzzle through what was sensible, what was responsible, what was right. My best friend is smarter than me--this is not self-deprecation, but fact--and she generally sees the world in a more head-on way than I do, and so is innately good at cutting through the crap, in general and in me. And so when she starts a conversation with, "I may deny this later, but we're talking about it. What's the deal with..." I have a reaction not unlike an ostrich on an iceberg. Where did they put the sand?

That's not to say I'm ungrateful--if you don't have someone who can slice through the crap and get to the center of you, you're doing life wrong. And it's essential to hear alternate points of view, as I, at least, am often too much in my own head to see straight (doubters, keep reading). But, though beneficial, it is hardly enjoyable. I sat and listened, countered occasionally, but mostly watched as she expertly flayed open an aspect of my life that I'm used to skimming over, fully knowing the potential for good or ill that particular can of worms has. But like a good surgeon, she didn't open indelicately, or without purpose. She saw a problem, and she was out to fix it as directly as possible: Chandra doesn't meet single men. How, then, can she marry one?

(One of these days, Sydney will ask a hard question for which I have an answer ready, and THEN, my friends... Watch out! This was not one of those days.)

It's a fair question, and we talked about it a bit that night, and I went home pondering it. I spent the next three days pondering, and getting increasingly frustrated with God. Where was this awesome guy I'm supposed to be marrying? And even removing imminent marriage from the table, where were some possibilities, some somebodies who might be a Somebody? Hadn't I waited? Hadn't I done everything right? But it was true: unless my mailman is my man, I don't stand much chance of meeting this guy right now. What am I saying--I've never even met my mailman.

This aforementioned Bible study didn't help much, either--at least it didn't feel helpful at the time. All it wanted to do was talk about the provision of God, and how Ruth just so happened to return to Israel at the barley harvest and just so happened to go collect grain in this one certain field and just so happened to meet this guy named Boaz. (Hint: he might be significant to that happy ending I mentioned.) Yes, yes, I understood that it wasn't luck, but divine providence. But my notes in the margins of the book might indicate my frame of mind: "What the heck?!?" "UGH." "But what does this actually LOOK LIKE?!"

I kept insisting to God that the timing really couldn't be beat. How much better could a deity show off his perfect plan of "happenstance" than to present my husband in the midst of trying to figure out a game plan? God could come up with no answer, apparently, because He remained silent on the subject.

It took a good chunk of the next couple days for my head to start wrapping around some ideas. (This, by the way, is how God typically deals with me. No booming voice, no casting lots, just gradual feelings and inclinations that you might choose to attribute to positive thinking or something, which, while I accept the compliment, only proves how well I've fooled you into believing that I think well.)

Firstly, I'm actually, genuinely content being single right now. And by "right now," I mean for the last 8 months. God got a hold of me with some underlying issues I was holding on to back in February, and we dealt with them, and really, honestly, I haven't obsessed about it since. Do I still want to get married? Absatively. Do I still have the occasional feeling of, "Man, a boyfriend would be really swell right now?" Of course. But those are passing moments over the course of eight months. I'm happy single. And so, while meeting single guys with possibility would be nice and all, it's not really necessary--or even, once I started digging into it--desirable for me right now.

Secondly, I not only believe in but base my life on the belief that God is both sovereign and good. (This was occurring to me, for the record, before I listened to Driscoll's sermon--the first in that series--where he slams on this very idea.) I believe that there is no part of my life that He is not aware of, and I believe that He has things orchestrated such that as long as I'm tied close with Him, being where I need to be and doing what I need to do, He will take care of me. And because He knows who I am, that means not only bread and water and a roof but also my husband, and whoever I may date before finding him. I trust this, not out of fear or desperation but out of the knowledge--the beautiful-but-still-shocking truth--that He has taken care of me for this long, and has done a far better job than I could have done alone. I want no man in my life but that man He wants for me--be that a friendship, dating relationship, or husband. And so I rest in that.

And NO, that doesn't answer my fervent questions of "What does this look like?" Sydney's point remains: hiding away, either purposefully or incidentally, will not result in much of anything, romantically or otherwise. So I'll continue to look for ways of getting out more, and meeting new people, and maybe a few of them will even be dudes.

This all, somehow, circles back to Naomi and Ruth. Pulled out of context (forgive me, Old Testament professor), neither woman is wrong. They are looking at the same set of circumstances and making a judgment call. They are assembling what they know and believe and feel into a plan of action. They came up with two different answers. Ruth's answer back to Naomi is not a direct contradiction--she doesn't say that her mother-in-law is wrong because she isn't. Should God treat Ruth well for returning to her own family (and a hope for a future) after taking such good care of her mother-in-law and deceased husband? Certainly. It holds up to every imaginable plane of common sense and reasonable thinking. But Ruth is not going by what makes sense, but by what she's picking up from God. There are plenty of times when a leaning from God makes no kind of sense. That's part of this blind adventure we've labeled faith. Like calling freezing ocean water "refreshing," let's stick to calling it an adventure. :)

For every person who reads this, there will be another solution, another plan. That's okay. We can all be right--to a certain degree. But for me, I have this Ever-Faithful, this God who has saved me from so much already and continues to call me (coax me, drag me) toward a better way of living, a better version of myself. Like Ruth's road, following Him will rarely be easy or clear. It will not necessarily make sense to anyone watching. But it will lead me toward Him, and, less important but almost as thrilling, toward a time and place where I'll meet the man my Bible study group has affectionately named Beauregard, my husband. I hope it is not in a barley field--I don't look pretty in the midst of manual labor--but I'll take what I get.

Monday, October 1, 2012


Last Sunday, I actually got up a little early, and allowed for some time to read my Bible a bit before church.
"'I hate all your show and pretense—the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies... Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps. Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice, an endless river of righteous living.'" (Amos 5:21, 23-24)
Well, dang. That's not quite the reading you're going for as you're preparing to go to your religious assembly, wherein you will hopefully take part in some noisy praise. Where are all those "good onya for going to that there church, missy" verses? I swear, sometimes I think I got the wrong Bible. I can't find those pat-on-the-back verses anywhere.

I posted it on Facebook, I was so ticked. How's a girl supposed to start her Sabbath on that note? Stay home? Back to bed? Neither of those would set to rolling "an endless river of righteous living," though I can throw one heck of a pity party.

So I, err, pretty much ignored it. I got in the car with Julie like usual, and we drove to Dunkin Donuts like usual. I got my coffee like usual, and we pulled onto Broadway--only to see a woman standing in the median, tears streaming down her face. Julie was in control of the car as we stopped at the light, but both of us were arrested by her. Julie rolled down the window, and the woman asked if we were going toward the mall. "No, sorry," Julie said, real regret in her voice, and pointing to the next side street, "We're just going up to Highland." The woman broke down, and got only a half sentence into her story before Julie cut in. "Get on in, we'll take you."

For the sake of privacy, we'll call her Ariana. She got in the van and we rode the 15 minutes over to the mall to bring her to her clinic appointment. And along the way she shared some of her story with us. It's the kind of story that hurts just to listen to, both from it's emotional pain and the knowledge of how common it is. She still loves him, and that's the problem. It makes his eruptions of rage, his financial recklessness, his infidelity impossible to take on their own. It's easy to wish a Hollywood plot line on her--to picture a late-night car ride with the kids sleeping in the backseat, a cool welcome from estranged parents, a job at a diner to get her back on her feet. But life isn't that cut and dried. She can't leave him--not only from logistics (where does that car come from, or the gas money? and what about those kids that are legally his?), but because she loves him enough to choose to stay. She knows things would be better--for her, for her small children, for the third that's growing inside her--but she can't break from this thing that is still, in bits and broken-off pieces, occasionally good.

This post isn't about Ariana. Not really. We gave her a ride, and we dropped her off at her clinic. Julie says she's called the church and gotten help before, and will likely do so again. I've prayed for her often in the last week, knowing nothing else to do.

But what caught me in all of this--in the midst of my imaginings of diner jobs and new starts--was how very much this is all of our lives in the absence (or the less-than-complete lordship) of God. We convince ourselves that things, while not all good, are good enough to require our sticking to the status quo. We can justify and excuse everything from abusive relationships to financial hardship to general apathy, all because this is the life we've come to expect. To think there is more is childish naivete. We are people of the wider world, and we've heard the backstories on all the superheroes, and have come to know that there are no saviors. We save ourselves, or we continue to drown.

And all the while--even in the midst of our reasonings and hopelessness--there is a God who drew us together, who designed us and breathed life into us, who authored the miracle of creation, in the abyss of space and in our mothers' wombs, and He wanted so much more for us than what we've settled for. He wanted us to live with passion and abandon, to pursue worthwhile adventures and invest in healthy, restorative relationships. He listens as we list out everything that's wrong and every reason why it can't be fixed and His heart breaks at our blindness. He shows off in every way He reasonably can--through creation, through the love and compassion humanity is still capable of, through a book of poetry and story that doesn't settle for patting us on the back but cries out for us to live outside of normal and comfortable. He could step down from the clouds and show Himself as "real," but for what? Is it still love when a hand is forced? He calls us to a life of purpose and truth, but He asks that we choose it for Him, not just for what He can do for us. Like any lover, He longs to show love and grace and understanding, to improve and better and benefit His love, but in order to do those things He must be chosen for the sake of love alone. He alone can pull us out of the most complicated, entangling circumstances, but with our eyes on the tangles alone, we stand no chance of rescue. We are hopeless, we are caught in a pattern, we are certain that the bits of love we occasionally see make the rest worthwhile, and we wait it out, convinced that we have it the best that we can hope for.

I ache for Ariana, for the place that she has found herself in, for the trap she is caught in. I wish there were a way for me to step in and save her, but that is not--at least at the moment--the role God has for me. He may use me or someone else, but He alone will be her savior, as He alone was (and continues to be) mine. I pray for her as I pray for myself: that we would see not only what captures and ensnares us, but also--more than that--Who can set us free.

"I prayed to the LORD, and He answered me.
He freed me from all my fears.
Those who look to the Him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces...
No one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned."
- Psalm 34: 4-5 & 22

"'There is no other god who can rescue like this.'"
- Daniel 3:29

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


I tried really hard to make that review as un-negative as possible (yes, I know the word is "positive," but I was keeping my goals realistic). But despite my efforts and considering the radio silence on here for the last month, I thought I'd post some good old positivity.

We compiled some quotes from our authors at work asking them why they teach, and we've designed a poster with some of their thoughts to give away at our conferences. I was proofing the poster today and came across this, and it got me thinking.

"I teach because I am deeply, unrepentantly grateful for life, and the most potent way I know to express that gratitude is to build a world worthy of the next generation, then give them the tools to make it their own." - Rick Wormeli

Before I start talking about me, I have to point out that this isn't just schtick for a poster, marketing fluff swiped from a fortune cookie. Rick is really like this--if not all the time, at least all the time I've been around him. He has incredible passion for teaching, and is a joy to be around. He is Steve Martin, or maybe the way we hope Steve Martin is in real life. And his words got me thinking about being "deeply, unrepentantly grateful." I love that word--unrepentant--and I love using it in this context. So on this rainy Tuesday, putting a negative review (and, moreover, a frustrating book) out of my mind, here are a few things I am unrepentantly grateful for. I have purposely not numbered or ordered them, and this is by no means exhaustive. Just what comes to mind as I let my soup cook on the stove.

- The change of seasons. This is most noted at this time of year. I hate to wish away summer (especially when Maine winters are as long as they are), but I have been completely in love with Fall for as long as I can remember. The cool mornings and the need to pull the quilt back onto the bed; the shift in produce at the farmer's market and the perfect leaves changing one by one. I am grateful that there is shift and change, death and rebirth in the very earth on which we walk.

- The company of pets. I have joked a lot at work this week about avoiding the moniker of Crazy Cat Lady, but I am unashamed at my love for animals, especially mine. I have been definitively less happy (and my house has been less homey) when I have had (by sheer necessity) to go pet-less. My house is mine now because it is also Addie's. I talk to (and on behalf of) my pets, and keenly feel their loss when I'm traveling (or--::sniff::--when I've lost one). I am grateful that even this single girl doesn't come home to an empty house, and has someone to narrate her cooking to and snuggle with at night.

- The camaraderie of stories. I love that we are drawn to good stories, in real life and in fiction. I love that we love not only to tell stories but to hear them, to be swept in and captured by them. I love sharing stories-- many of them from the BBC :) --with friends, and sinking into a story between the pages of a book all by myself. I love hearing a story drawn out by a good teller, or spinning my own. I am grateful that we are captivated by plot line and character growth, and that those stories then impact our own.

- The therapy of cooking. My kitchen is my shrink's couch. When I have any surfeit of emotion--frustration, stress, grief--but also joy, celebration, enthusiasm--the place I turn to is my kitchen. The act of cooking itself is a fair part of it, but it is mostly the presenting, hosting, sharing of food with those I love (and choose to show love to). This is something doubtless inherited from my mother, and I am grateful for it, and for those who understand and appreciate it.

- The love of God. That seems too simple or pat, but only because it's the best overarching way to put it. I am grateful for the mercy and grace that pulls me out of unhealthy mindsets and lifestyles; I am grateful for the love and compassion that seeks me out even when I am at my most unlovable and pathetic; I am grateful for the promise of a plan and a meaning for my life even when the everyday seems to be all there is; I am grateful for the community and understanding of those who believe what I believe and choose to follow the same Jesus, savior of the world; I am grateful for the promise of restoration and renewal, on both sides of Heaven. All of those things end up stemming from love, and I am unendingly, unutterably, unrepentantly grateful for it.

My soup is done, and I need to go read a book for a work meeting. (This may necessitate another positive blog post soon, so stay tuned...)

(Addie taking a snooze.)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Book Review: Steeple Envy by Vic Cuccia

It’s a difficult thing to write a book. I’ve tried, and I work with published authors at my 9-to-5. It is less difficult to critique a book, and even less so to criticize one. This has been my mantra as I’ve worked on this review, through edits and reboots and a week of dormancy--during which my brother, a frequent reviewer for academic journals, helped with editing. Through the wonder that is Speakeasy, a free e-book arrived in my inbox about three weeks ago: Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion & Rediscovering Jesus by Vic Cuccia had piqued my interest, and I was ready to dive in. I grew still more eager when I read Cuccia’s listing of his inspirations: Don Miller, Rob Bell, Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll... These are my BOYS. I was excited. But it didn’t take Cuccia long to move me from “interest piqued” to simply “piqued.”

Cuccia opens the book with his recent background: leaving a cushy pastorate at a mega-church, he started Journey Church, a spiritual community born of basic fellowship and Bible study. He’s founded the 12x12 Love Project, and now works through both organizations to rediscover what, exactly, Christians are called to practice as “church.” From there, he moves into the current state of the modern American church, how it differs from the community and lifestyle that Jesus encouraged and from the early church detailed in Acts. He peppers his thoughts with frequent anecdotes of churches’ failures to meet various people in need, and segues to describing Journey Church, how it began and grew, as well as its present interconnectedness with the 12x12 Love Project. One chapter is written by Brock Johnson, who is currently working with poverty-stricken families in Guatemala, giving a more personal account of the receiving end of Journey’s contributions to 12x12.

The strongest moments of the book come in Chapter 6 (which shares the book’s title), where Cuccia clearly hits his stride--The Thing He Wanted to Write a Book About. Taken on its own, this is a strong and well-presented argument on the hang-ups churches (which is to say, American Christians and particularly church leadership) can get caught on: 

How crazy it is that in church, we judge success to a large degree by bodies and buildings. Jesus didn’t seem too concerned about how many people were following Him. What He was concerned about was doing what pleased His Father... We have come to a place where we assume God’s desires for us: a big church with all the programs that people think they need and a big building to house it all. (62)
Cuccia's arguments are not brand-new (he freely admits elsewhere that even his titular phrase is borrowed from Rob Bell) but for this chapter, his argument is solid and his tone is well-balanced. Sadly, had I been reading the book for a reason other than review, I would likely have set it aside before this point. And to my disappointment, problems that had bothered me in the book’s first half quickly returned.

Before tackling the content issues, I should say that Steeple Envy is in serious need of more careful copy-editing. In addition to the small but constant typos and errors (to say nothing of “Jesus literally flipped-out,” p. 15), the editorial issues sometimes get in the way of understanding. Cuccia uses capitalization or quotation marks to differentiate between biblical and modern definitions of church, as his main point through the book hangs on this distinction. This would be a helpful system if it was in any way consistent.

From there, we move to three more significant issues: Tone, Audience, and Big Ideas.

Tone. When writing any book, but particularly one about issues of faith and tradition, a delicate tone is imperative. A bit of humor goes a long way; a touch of friendly sarcasm can soften some blows. Several writers from Cuccia’s list of inspirations are masters of this. Cuccia, unfortunately, slams forward in a harsh, biting voice. (I’m no slouch at this myself, so if I recognize another’s tone as too strident... Yikes.) I think Cuccia really wants to strike the right tone--a third of the way through the book, he writes, “I sincerely love God, and I love His Church. My intention is not to point the finger and walk away. My hope is that what you read will begin a conversation that in turn may be used to bring about some much-needed change” (45). But a page later, he continues, “if at times my words seem harsh, insensitive or sarcastic, it’s probably because that’s their intention.” With insensitivity as the design, Cuccia chooses to trade effectiveness for alienation.
Audience. Assuming that Joel Osteen is not perusing Steeple Envy on his Kindle, I’m not sure who this book was written for. Certainly someone from a mega-church background, as that’s implied as the reader’s basis of understanding: 
           “Salaries and building projects dominate the majority of the budget, while helping relieve the suffering of the needy has become an afterthought... We’re hiring marketing consultants to help us brand and package the message in order to reach the masses.” (22)
          “What would [Jesus] say to the pastor that’s rolling phat in his Bentley? Would He appreciate the luxury of the ministry’s private jet so that He could be comfortable as He travels to His next stop?” (52)
This assumption about typical American Christian experience is off-putting at best (and at worst, encourages the very envy that the book decries). Cuccia makes a few comments that seem to be geared toward those who have walked away from the church, but his consistently disparaging, self-righteous tone makes me hope that those who have already been turned off would not find their way to Steeple Envy. Moreover, Cuccia frequently points out that he doesn’t have all the answers, that he’s just asking the questions. But asking them of whom? (More on this in a minute.)
Big Ideas. I haven’t moved forward with a book proposal of my own because I only have a few ideas--not enough to float a full manuscript yet. Unfortunately, Steeple Envy shares the same problem, as it boils down to just one less-than-original idea: the biblical idea of church and the modern American church are very different (i.e., community-based social movement vs. programs-based marketing machine). Don’t get me wrong--I don’t disagree. And there may be means of fleshing this out into a book, but that’s not what happens here. At no point does this feel like a book so much as one drawn-out blog post. 

It’s difficult to see how inspired Cuccia was by the emergent writers he listed with his acknowledgments, as the evidence of inspiration is lacking. “Surely I’m not the first to have these thoughts, although I may be one of the few to put these questions on the printed page” (73). No, he’s not. While I don’t insist on true uniqueness--what is original anymore, anyway?--a little awareness and acknowledgement of what’s come before would be helpful. As I finished the book, I found myself remembering something my brother said when he was leading a youth group several years ago. He said that teenagers’ job was to recognize and draw attention to the hypocrisy of their parents and society--though they’re often blind to their own. Overall, I found that Cuccia’s argument struck me as similarly, critically immature. In addition to believing he’s the first to ask provoking questions, he maintains a strong note of self-righteous authority, even as he tries to point out the self-righteousness of the modern American church and its leaders. If Cuccia were to take some responsibility (as a modern American Christian, if not as a former pastor of the very machine he’s arguing against) and approach the topic with humility, it would go a long way. Instead, he seems to seat himself on a pedestal from which he can point out how wrong everyone else is, without having to provide any ideas or methods by which we can change. (After all, he’s just asking the questions.)

I applaud Cuccia for the work he has done and the decisions he has made--in fact, I wish he had written a book about them. As it is, I can only say that a potential reader would do better skip Steeple Envy and stick with those who apparently inspired its author. 

Steeple Envy: Losing My Religion & Rediscovering Jesus is published by re:Think Publishing © 2011. For more information, visit And, of course, it's available on Amazon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Wisest Counselor

There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;        30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
- T.S. Eliot, "The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock

"People assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect. But actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey... stuff." - The Doctor, "Doctor Who" (Steven Moffat)

I've been thinking about time lately. Partly because of my recent fixation on certain BBC programs, and partly because after a more-humid-than-usual summer here in New England, I am urging away summer in antipication of fall. And despite my urging, we have another 5 weeks or so before than calendar claims a season change--whether or not the climate agrees will be another story.

And I decided to write about it, not because I have a definitie point to make, but because I need to write about something and I really wanted to use those quotes. So here we are.

We all know time is weird--we're aware that it drags impossibly once you're out of coffee at a staff meeting, and slips impossibly when you're putting off a goodbye. We know that the same seconds that tick on a clockface can thunderously punctuate or sail by unnoticed. But we run our lives by time as though it was a hard and fast rule. (Please don't get concerned--I really do know that DW is just a TV show, and I will continue to get up when my alarm clock tells me to. I'm just ruminating.)

Few of us can get through a day without using some version of, "I don't have time for this." We are impatient at delays, irritable in lines, psychotic in traffic. We twitch and convulse at the question of adding something to a full schedule; we are caught up in the lines that break a pie chart of 24 hours into so many wedges of sleep, email, food, car. Time can stress us out, especially when reminded of the aspects which are inescapably hard and fast: a friend was telling me about interpersonal issues at a family funeral this week, and I wondered how much of it could be boiled down to the fact that death reminds us there is only so much sand left in the hourglass, and we don't know when it will run out. Time is, sadly, not as wibbly-wobbly as The Doctor would have us believe. It is cold and shows no favoritism. There is no alternative but plodding forward, or being dragged.

We do or don't have time. We find it. Take it. Keep it. Make it. Pass it. Waste it. Kill it.
We bide our time. We occasionally get ourselves ahead of time, and even less occasionally are ahead of our own. As we age we find ourselves behind the times, and, of course, we eventually run out it.

It would seem counterproductive to go on too long about this--minutes have vanished since you started reading this--and it seems popular and convenient to end with a command to make the most of it: Carpe Diem, or YOLO for the in-crowd (though I prefer Jack Black's analysis). But I think that ends up stressing us out even more. Maybe just: Enjoy time. Who knows how much we have of it. Spend it wisely, and spend it well.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Going Public

So I found out that I got okayed by Speakeasy... which means I need to act like I'm really disciplined about writing on here. It may also mean that I WILL be more disciplined, as I have a direct incentive to do so: FREE BOOKS! Always a win. Much love to Jenny for the referral.

Of course I've sat here for a few minutes now, wondering what to write about, as I pretend that I write all the time. Two or three people this week have made some sort of, "Well, you're a writer, you know what I'm talking about..." comment, and I keep wanting to correct them. Being a writer isn't really very figurative--you either write or you don't, you either are or you aren't. And, when I get real about it, I don't. I'm not.

I used to write all the time. I couldn't stop. I wrote constantly for school, but would often need to backburner an assignment because my need to write--yeah, I said it--took me in a different direction, and I would scrawl out poetry or short prose from the front desk of the library until I got off from work. I would read what I'd written on my walk home, and then I'd burn the midnight oil to finish whatever actual, real assignment I had. I was a writer, above all other behavioral definitions. Third only to Christian and Romantic, I have always considered myself a writer foremost. But lately... Nothing. Why?

Sure, I "write" all the time: work emails, sales sheets, marketing copy. But that doesn't count and I know it. I've lost the habit, the discipline of it, and it seems oversimple to say that it's that easy but it is. When I do write now--writing for real, to borrow the title of a book from work--it takes an effort that it didn't before. There is no automatic flow, there is no surprise at the way words have flown from brain to paper or screen with a speed and subconscious grace that used to be normal. There is pondering now. Scratching out. Rethinking. Crumbling up and throwing away. There is expectation of excellence and a reality of... less than that. And it's all part of the process, and blah blah blah, but it's irksome--that's really the best word for it.

It's not painful, the way not-writing used to be painful. It doesn't build up as pressure in my head or a tremor in my hand. It can be backburnered now, with "real" work taking priority. It can be ignored and forgotten for weeks at a time. This is the thing that I thought would be my life's passion, my career and my calling, my bread on the table and my pat on the back. This thing, I can let die like the plants on my back step: shriveled and skinny and parched because I never look at them, let alone care for them.

I miss it. I miss having that Thing. The "Oh, I work in marketing, but my real passion is---" Thing. All the great characters have that line. And I used to. Don't get me wrong, there are benefits to this: I really do love my job, more than I ever expected to love the 9-5 thing. I expected--planned--to do something to earn the rent, and then hurry home to do what I love. And so when I thoroughly enjoy doing what I do at work, does that change what I can do at home? I would trust the answer is no--but my life says otherwise.

There are basic ways to shift this back into gear. Again, it's not complicated. More time reading and less on Netflix. More time sitting down in front of the blank page and pushing through the door of "that's not important enough." Getting plugged in to a group of writers. None of these things are hard, or expensive, or sacrificial.

So why don't I do them?

Step 1: Going public. Accountability--which is an awfully fancy word for requesting a guilt trip--can go a long way. So I'm publicizing this a little more than usual.

So if you're new to my bloggy-blog, HI. Welcome. Take a look around. Comment. And make me feel like a jerk if I haven't written in the next 3 days. (That goes for you, too, regulars.) Seriously. A jerk.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Discipline & Genetics

I am clearly a master of discipline. Not only did I not finish the SOLC challenge (8 days shy--feel the burn), but it's now taken me over TWO MONTHS to return to my poor abandoned blog. SIGH SIGH.

Anyway, onward and upward!

What spurred a glorious return? Cleaning my room, of course. (Procrastination from one task can be relieved by procrastinating from another. It's a fail-safe method.)

In cleaning my room, I cam across a little wooden box that floats around among my belongings, which I stumble upon every few months. And each time, I sit down and page through its contents to find and read a couple of selections. I found this box among my grandmother's jewelry shortly after her death, and it contains letters, cards, and poems from my grandfather, dating from their late courtship to early marriage.

This little treasure is particularly noteworthy (blogworthy, in fact) because my grandmother--and, I believe, my grandfather, though I never knew him--was a far cry from emotional or sentimental. She felt strongly about people and things, but rarely expressed herself outside of intellectual and (mostly, hehe) rational discussion. So it's strange and powerful to peer quietly into this layer of herself that she exposed to no one but her husband, and vice versa. (I often wonder where the other half of the correspondence is...) From what I've read thus far, he was equally surprised:

"Say then, my beloved,
'We are lucky that we love'
--that two such as we can
admit even briefly to something
irrational and inexplicable
that we have at last found
--or made--something much bigger
and better than we could ever hope for

When I first found the box, I sat down to read through everything, but that didn't happen. I don't remember why, but I probably got caught up with one piece in particular. But I think I prefer the way I've taken to reading these letters and poems--just two or three at a time, every once in a while. Sometimes I reread things I've already read, sometimes (like finding the piece above today), they're new.

Aside from the general romanticism, I love that I share this thing--this love of writing, and this love of intimate correspondence--with relations two generations away, one of whom I never met. Aside from some academic papers, I don't think my grandfather ever published anything, but he wrote beautifully and poetically, not out of an ivory tower but out of a heart that, perhaps, couldn't find a means of relaying such emotions in speech or action. Something else we have in common: no one could accuse me of being unemotional, but I can be much more transparent in writing than in person. (Why do you suppose I have this nifty blog?)

It's strange to have such a narrow but deep knowledge of someone. My grandfather died two years before I was born, and there is a good deal I don't know about him. My grandmother rarely talked about him--when she did, it was anecdotal and brief--and my father spoke of him even less. Some of what I know points to a man who was far from love letters and poetry, but this is the picture I have of him in this box. This is what has lasted: words of love and humor to his wife, a photograph of him laughing in the Cape Cod sunshine, a poem about the moon. This is not the whole man, but it is one that has survived now, thirty years after his death. Like the versions of my own father, it is not the only one--everyone who knew him has their own version, pieces of memories and scraps of stories--but this is mine. A fraction of an angle at best, but it is what I have, and what my children will know of him. When all is said and done, I don't think he'll mind that.

Friday, March 23, 2012

I Got Nothin' (Slice 23)

It's been a really long day--4:00am wakeup for a 4:45 taxi to the airport for my flight to Philly; then getting in and set at the hotel, 6+ hours putting together the booth, dinner with some high school friends--and I am super tired and achy (see reference to awake time and manual labor), so I really don't have it in me to blog tonight. This is my slice: I am exhausted, and hoping for my usual conference adrenaline infusion to get me going tomorrow.

Yup. That's it.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Famous (Slice 22)

I've lived on my own, as an adult, independent from my mother (inasmuch as daughters ever are) for 6 years now, but some things still catch me off guard. One is that I am "famous" among my friends and community here for being a good baker and cook. Certain things--cinnamon rolls, snickerdoodles--are known as "mine" (use it in a sentence: "Those snickerdoodles from Hannaford were terrible--since I've had Chandra's, I can't eat any other kind.").

When I was growing up, even once I was a teenager and could, generally speaking, cook and bake without burning the house down or measuring out three cups of eggs, I still wasn't known for it, because my mother was the famous one. So it was more of a, "Oh, Chandra, you bake, too--just like your mom! How sweet!"

It's strange to take ownership of things that you know aren't really yours, but for all intents and purposes are. If I tell people here that these recipes are really my mother's, that I learned baking from the middle of a kitchen floor, gazing upward toward flour-covered counters and a whirring KitchenAid, they nod and say that's nice, but the snickerdoodles remain mine.

This is, perhaps, a silly little example, but it's a tile in the larger mosaic of us growing into real people, becoming our parents (despite our best efforts), and becoming an ever-changing identity. And it's strange how little things like cinnamon rolls are pieces of lasting identity, even when much else changes. I could lose 100 pounds, be brought into the witness protection program, become a lawyer, move to Thailand, learn to like math--but Christmas morning, you would still find me getting up early to roll out risen dough. And maybe by then, as I place cross-sectioned spirals in greased pans, I'll finally think of them as mine.