Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Praise of the Praiseworthy: A Tribute to Roger Lundin

Last Wednesday pastor Tim Keller spoke in chapel at Wheaton about the formation of identity, and the way self esteem is created. He reminded us of a quote from J. R. R. Tolkien: "The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards.”

On Friday, those words took on new meaning for me when I heard that Dr. Roger Lundin had passed into the presence of God, and left so many heartbroken by his leaving.

Like so many other former students of Dr. Lundin's, I was swept up in the energy and passion he brought to the study of literature. I was a sponge during his classes, soaking up every word of beauty, pathos, pain, and wisdom. His insights and ideas washed over me, making sense of things that were previously obscured to my young mind. His sense of humor and almost childlike delight at the good (and oftentimes silly) things of life were infectious. The honest, vulnerable way he described his own journey through loss, grief, and loneliness into the the hope of faith was refreshing. At times the thoughts and experiences he shared were so personal, it felt like he was entrusting us with a precious gift. At times the truths he helped us uncover together through great works of literature were so achingly beautiful, I felt like my heart and mind were going to explode with the weight of it all. It truly was the weight of glory.

I remember he would walk restlessly around the room while lecturing, always moving, pacing up and down the aisles. Sometimes he would take an empty seat next to a student for a moment, or crouch down and look directly in a student's eyes, drawing in a long, deep breath while a thought was brewing. Then he'd leap up and run to the front of the room as a beloved truth began issuing from somewhere deep inside, sometimes playfully patting students' heads on the way. Once I remember he stood on a large table in a classroom in Jenks hall, and at the crescendo of the lecture he took a flying leap out onto the floor in front of us. The building shook, and for a moment I thought the whole thing was going to crash down around us. O captain, my captain! He was a giant.

But it wasn't just Roger's teaching style or his passion for literature that connected to me so deeply. I have known many wonderful, passionate teachers. But few are as dedicated to knowing -- really knowing -- their students as Roger was. He noticed his students. He noticed me. In 1994, a few weeks into his literature of the western world course, he stopped me after class to say, "Rebecca, your writing is strong, and you're doing well in this class. Have you ever considered majoring in English?" There were other encouragements. Notes on papers and tests. Affirming conversations when I gathered the courage to speak up in class. And after I'd decided to become an English major, an invitation to leave the curmudgeonly advisor to whom I'd been assigned and work with Dr. Lundin as my advisor instead.

Years later, his memory of details about my life still astounded me. At my ten year college reunion, he still remembered what year I graduated, where I was from, the fact that I was an only child, the year and semester of the first course I took with him, and even the exact seat I sat in during that class. And it certainly wasn't just me who he treated with this much careful attention. This was his way with people.

Dr. Lundin gave me (and I suspect a great many other students) a great gift: he gave me the praise of the praiseworthy. And it transformed me. Because of his confidence in me, I began to have new confidence in myself. And I worked hard because I wanted to live up to what he saw in me.

The lecture from Dr. Lundin I remember most vividly was about the "fortunate fall." He explained that much of American literature is about the mistaken belief that we can, and should, find our way back to innocence. But the message of Christianity is that redemption after the fall is better than innocence. Death is the ugliest consequence of the fall. I long for the time before death. But there is no going back. Christ, through his work on the cross, has redeemed even death. There is only going forward into redemption -- and a better new life.

I know that Roger Lundin is among those now who have already tasted the fulfillment of God's redemption promises. And I know that he is receiving the praise of the One who is most praiseworthy. We who knew and loved him do well to offer our tributes to Roger, but hearing those words, "well done good, and faithful servant," from His King is already his greatest reward.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Itunes Challenge

Oh my, I've been tagged by my friend Jack Lumanog for an itunes challenge that sounds like a great opportunity to embarrass myself, and you all know I never like to miss one of those.

Here are the rules:

1. grab your preferred digital media player.
2. push play in shuffle mode.
3. report … the first 10 tunes that pop up.

Now I warn you, this experiment could turn ugly. If you do not like random 60s folk music, Polish choral music, Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, children's songs about pasta or Dan Fogelberg, then I implore you, look away now. Not that my list is guaranteed to include any of the above, but it might, and when the stakes are this high, it's best to give out a warning before you proceed.

Okay everyone, hold on to your keyboards, cause here we go:

1) Young Anymore, David Baerwald, "Bedtime Stories"
2) Careless Love, Madeleine Peyroux, "Careless Love"
3) #253 In the Red Brook/Bridge, Sons of the Never Wrong, "Consequences of Speech"
4) Heaven Right Here, Jeb Loy Nichols, "Just What Time It Is"
5) Elijah Rock, Atlanta Chorale, "The Jericho Project"

oooh. . . just 5 more to go!

6) Beautiful World, Colin Hay, "Company of Strangers"
7) Days Go By, Duncan Sheik, "Duncan Sheik"
8) Interlude, eastmountainsouth, "eastmountainsouth"
9) Book of Poems, Old 97s, "Satellite Rides"
10) Flood (Live), Jars of Clay, "Furthermore"

Whew. And we're done. Hopefully you're all still conscious.

Now it's my turn to tag some other people and see what they come up with:


Have fun!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bored with God

I told God recently that I was bored with him. Pretty gutsy of me, eh? I couldn't believe my own audacity, and yet that was how I felt, and I figured I should at least be honest about my offensive feelings since God knows them anyhow. And I wondered, what would provoke me to tell the God of the universe that I was finding him uninteresting, ho hum, nothing to write home about? What brought me to this point? And did I really mean what I said?

After discussing it with my ever-lovin' husband, I realized that what I meant when I told God I was bored with him was that I was actually bored with the ways of knowing him that I have experienced thus far. 25 years of life in the evangelical world has filled my brain with tons of repeated words and ceremony. I'm bored with praise choruses. I'm bored with organ music. I'm bored with guitars and mediocre worship leaders. I'm bored with sermons, and psalms and phrases like "Blessed be the name of the Lord," and "God, we come before you today," and "Lord, we just want to praise you." I'm sick of the word praise. I'm tired of singing. I'm bored with quiet time. I'm tired of prayers that only seem like my own voice shuttling out into the void with no particular answer. All of it, the trappings, the language, the expectations, the experiences. Not that I'm planning to leave the church or something. I just wanted God to know that the sameness of it all is getting to me.

But I'm not bored with God himself. When I think of who God is and what it will be like some day to stand in his presence, I know I will be overcome. Boredom will not be a problem.

Sometimes when I think about Jesus in particular, I just see that famous painting of him with shoulder length blonde hair and blue eyes, and I see his mouth moving with some Monty-Pythonesque chin as he preaches. I pondered this image, and I wondered why it was there or what was causing my boredom overall. Part of it, I believe, is because I am not engaged actively right now in an activity that contributes to the kingdom. But a recent read with C. S. Lewis also revealed perhaps another problem--perhaps I was falling prey to images. Although it's a long quote, I'd like to post Lewis's thoughts here because what he said broke through to me and is helping me figure out how to pray about my little ennui period. So here goes, with short exposition to follow.

From C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed:

It doesn't matter that all the photographs of H. are bad.It doesn't matter—not much—if my memory of her is imperfect. Images, whether on paper or in the mind, are not important for themselves. Merely links. Take a parallel from infinitely higher sphere. Tomorrow morning a priest will give me a little round, thin, cold, tasteless wafer. Is it a disadvantage—is it not in some ways an advantage—that it can't pretend the least resemblance to that with which it unites me?

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him. I want H., not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle.

Images, I suppose, have their use or they would not have been so popular. (It makes little difference whether they are pictures and statues outside the mind or imaginative constructions within it.) To me, however, their danger is more obvious. Images of the Holy easily become holy images—sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of his presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are 'offended' by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.

All reality is iconoclastic. The earthly beloved even in this life, incessantly triumphs over your mere idea of her. And you want her to; you want her with all her resistances, all her faults, all her unexpectedness. That is, in her foursquare and independent reality. And this, not any image or memory, is what we are to love still, after she is dead.

Ah ha! I had recognized my problem. I wasn't bored with God in reality. I was bored with God in the abstract. I was bored with my idea of him, and with my experience with him, often dictated by my image of him. Amazing. Revolutionary. I was bored with the part of church life that I was seeing, but not with the reality of the church in the world. Maybe i was bored with my own self-constructed images of God and his work in the world, forgetting that the reality of God and his amazing narrative of redemption has all the twists and turns and interest one could want--so much so that I can't begin to wrap my tiny little bored brain around it.

But how do I break through the icons to the reality? I don't think I can do it myself. I think God himself has to break through and triumph over my ideas of him.

That night as I lay in bed, the same old image of Christ with the blonde hair and the blue eyes and the Monty-Python mouth appeared in my mind. And suddenly, from behind, the image began to rip open. Something was alive behind it, pushing through with such power and light that I couldn't even see what it was. And then I fell asleep.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Well, I've been away from the blogging for a bit, but I thought I'd post something to let you all know I'm still alive.

Tomorrow is my 31st birthday. I can't believe 30 has already passed me by! However, as our pastor reminded us on Sunday, what's another birthday when we are immortals, destined to live on past this life. 30? That's a drop in the bucket. This life's just getting started!

I was reading over my journal (which apparently I only write in once every 6 or 7 months now) and found some questions I was struggling with last year. Sadly, I don't think I've found many answers to any of them. But maybe I'm just more comfortable letting them be there, unresolved for a while. Maybe some of you have struggled with similar questions? If you're interested, here are some of the ones rattling around in my brain:

"I wonder about so many things. Where am I going? What are my gifts, really? Should I pursue career advancement when we hope to start a family in a few years? Will I want to be home full time or work when we have children? Where will we live? Will we be far from Mom and Dad? How can I serve God with my gifts? How do my goals fit in with Jeff's? Why does my heart only palpitate when I'm in Michigan? How can I learn the truth about myself and my life? Do I really want to know the truth? Do I even really love God? If I did, wouldn't I want to pray and read his Word more often? Wouldn't I be more content with my life? What's this thing I have about hating routine, yet also craving it? How can I add more structure to my life? What am I trying to accomplish? Why? How do I do it? Am I really a being a good wife? Am I keeping the condo clean enough? Why do I hate cleaning the bathroom so much? Do I love Jeff enough, in the right way? Why do I sometimes despise myself for feeling dependent on him? What does it mean to love Jesus? What if Jeff loses his job? What do we have to do to keep our marriage strong? Do I want to be a parent--really? Why does God love me? Why is there so much suffering in the world? What's my responsibility in it all? When am I going to get a really good night's sleep???"

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Thank God for Myringotomies

Yesterday I had a procedure done on my ear that used to instill abject fear into me as a child. It's really quite a simple little operation if you watch it done (which you can here if you are interested in that sort of thing: Myringotomy Tube Surgery Video)

A myringotomy, for those of you who aren't up on popular ear surgery lingo, is when they cut a tiny incision in your eardrum and place in the hole a tiny metal or plastic tube, often with flanges on it. It's pretty much like inserting a button into a button hole. Not a huge deal. Unless you're a kid. And they have to knock you out at the hospital to do it. And you have to have it done 12 times by the time you're 10.

I remember hearing the news as a child at the doctor's office that I needed another tube put in because the previous set, as usual, had fallen out. My stomach would churn and my heart would race. And then I would dread the event for the whole time until we had to leave for the hospital. One time, after I'd had it done several times already, I apparently announced to my parents on the morning of the surgery that I had thought it over and I'd decided that I no longer wanted to go through with it, so I wasn't going. They could go to the hospital if they wanted to, but I'd be at home sleeping if they needed me.

I think as a kid what was so traumatic for me was not the operations themselves, but all the stuff leading up to them, including IVs, sitting in waiting rooms, drawing blood, getting your pulse taken, shots, and of course the final roll down the hall to the operating room. They put one of those little fabric hats with the elastic edges on me, I'm sure to keep my hair out of their way, and I wore one of those little gowns that for some strange reason can never be fully closed in the back. The nurses would push me down the hall on the bed, and as we rattled away from my parents, I'd clutch my stuffed dog Ruffer, who was allowed to come with me to the operating room, of course wearing a fabric stretchy hat of his own. My mom would remind me that even though she and dad couldn't come with me, Jesus and Ruffer would be by my side through the whole thing. That was always a comfort to me. Then the worst would come--the big black mask. They'd slowly lower the mask over my face, and I'd breath in the cold, sweet air, listening to the hiss of the tank next to me, counting backwards until I felt my body relax and lost consciousness. . .

Today if you're an adult and you have a skilled physician with a steady hand they can do the procedure right there in the office without knocking you out, which is what we did yesterday. It amuses me how my doctor, who is extremely adept at his craft, likes to point out his level of skill in comparison to other doctors. "Other physicians won't do this procedure in the office because they are afriad they might make a mistake or not have a steady hand. It doesn't concern me, however," he says with a wave of his hand. He takes about 4 minutes start-to-finish to slip that puppy in, and I have to say that even though I was gripping the chair until my knuckles turned white and sweating profusely the whole time, I felt hardly any pain. There is some discomfort, but more importantly I got some relief from 6 months of popping and snarfing and snorting caused by the build-up of pressure and fluid behind my eardrum. Glory be and Hallelujah! It probably doesn't seem to be much to anyone else, but when you've been sniffing every time you swallow round the clock for months on end, it seems like being released from prison to have it stop.

My doctor does a fantastic job on my ears. Ten years ago I had to have my right ear drum replaced, and his work was so flawless that other doctors who looked at that ear were not even able to tell I'd had the operation. And when I told them about it, I suddenly became the local freak show. Doctors would come out of the woodwork throughout the office to stand in line to take a peek at the masterful work done on my tympanic membrane. Unfortunately his patch job didn't stand the test of time, and it looks like I'm going to have to have it done again this fall or spring, which I'm not happy about. I will have to be in the hospital, and I will have to have the mask or an IV to put me out. But at least I know one of the best doctors in the country will be working on me. And my parents and loving husband will be with me as much as they can. And Jesus will still come with me, like he did when I was little. And Ruffer will probably be there too.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Joining the Slow Food Revolution

It's been a little while since I've posted something to my blog, and I know all 7 of you who read it have been disappointed as the days have gone by without something new to sink your teeth into. I'm not sure why I dropped out of site (get it? site?!) for a while. Maybe I was tired? Too busy? Didn't have anything very interesting to say? A good episode of Friends was on? Or maybe I was too busy making dinner!

When I talk of joining the slow food revolution, I use the word "joining" loosely. It's more like I'm reluctantly trailing along, occasionally taking a skip or a sprint to try to catch up before falling flat on my face. "So what is this slow food revolution, of which you speak," you may be asking. Well my friends, slow food is not just about avoiding McDonalds and Taco Bell--although I'm happy to say that I've broken the fast food joint habit completely and now do not even crave a Wendy's hamburger from time to time like I used to. (Although I'll admit to still getting a hankering for some hot greasy french fries).

No, the slow food movement goes way beyond shunning "fast food." It's about developing a relationship with our food, which means understanding how we get our food and what impact that process has on others in the world. And it's about making food the old fashioned way, in our homes. It's about using the stove--not the microwave! (Has anyone out there ever tried to bake a potato in the oven? Talk about slow food!) And if you really want to get crazy, which of course I do, then it's also about having a lot more knowledge about the food you eat. Where did it come from? What chemicals are on it or in it? What vitamins are in it? What did the animal that this food came from eat? When you get right down to it, there's a heck of a lot that we Americans don't know about our food, and when you start to investigate what we're really eating, it's a little scary.

My journey into a slow-food lifestyle has been a gradual one. I have slowly started giving up processed foods, buying more fresh veggies and organic meats and eating out less. I won't say the journey has been a smooth and happy one, though. There are plenty of adjustments, and I get cranky sometimes trying to figure this stuff out.

When we commit to a slow-food lifestyle we are giving up some things and gaining some others. We definitely lose the luxury of food on demand. Unfortunately, the thing about joining the slow food revolution is that the food you eat takes a while to prepare--hence the catchy name. So, instead of just swinging by to pick up some carry out and wolf it down in half an hour, I often spend an hour or more preparing dinner each night. That's time that I could otherwise be using to blog! Or do any number of other things. And reading that "boil for 50 minutes" instruction on the brown rice bag makes me cringe. Who waits 50 minutes for a dang pot of rice? Apparently, now I do.

Another thing about slow food is that it requires planning ahead, something I don't do so well with. Several times now I have started and gotten 3/4 of the way through a delicious-sounding recipe I was hoping to eat in 15 minutes for dinner that night, only to read the final instructions which go something like this: "place sauce in refrigerator overnight" or "dehydrate crust for 6 to 8 hours at 145 degrees and serve." I think they should give a warning about those long-term recipes. They should also give a warning about trying to make a pizza from scratch with a rice-flower crust because apparently I did something very very wrong when I attempted this one shown below:

My foray into slow food that night also involved a slow cleaning of the oven (and some cursing of brown rice pizza crusts).

Another interesting thing about going slow with your food is that you are required to know a lot more about cooking and ingredients, especially if you want to try to cut out some of the really bad stuff like white sugar, flour and salt. Who knows what Arrow Root is? How about Jicama? Or Stevia? Where do you buy sprouted barley seeds? Or almond milk? Some of these recipe books throw this stuff around like it's common kitchen knowledge, but I've had to spend a lot of time searching the internet to figure out what the heck this stuff is, and then decide if it's worth the gas to drive wherever it is I have to go to buy the stuff, which is usually also pretty expensive. And then when I finally eat it, the tastes are all new and require a certain committment from me if I'm truly going to learn to like them.

So far I've identified slow food as inconvenient, time consuming, difficult, expensive and somewhat hard on the old pallet. And all of that is true. But in spite of that, I still think that slow food offers a lot of things that fast food can't.

1) Health. Obviously, eating less processed foods is more healthy. And we get less calories from fat and sugar. I've already lost 12 lbs, and I'm not really on a diet. I'm just changing my whole eating lifestyle, little by little. Not eating out as much, incidentally, also helps me to reduce my portion sizes because I can control what goes on my plate to begin with. I no longer have to hear my mother's voice saying "Waste Not Want Not!" and encouraging me to finish my gargantuan restaurant portion.

2) Creative Satisfaction. Even though preparing a slow-food meal might take a while, I must say that it is very satisfying to prepare a beautiful, healthy and delicious meal. I feel like I am learning a craft, and as with any craft, there is definitely a learning curve. It takes time to get it right. As I step away from fast food, I realize that fast food only gives me the illusion of having control over my food. But a true cook learns to master food through time and practice, not through over-processing. I haven't quite gotten there yet. There have been times recently on this journey where I felt like the food was controlling me. And when my pizza exploded and my sauces got inexplicably lumpy even though I did everything the recipe said, and my tortes came out a watery mushy mess, I felt like the food was perhaps even mocking me. Like anything in life that's worth doing however, making meals is worth doing well. And if you linger over the preparation, you may be more likely to linger over the consumption, enjoying conversation with your family and friends.

3) A Spiritual Lesson? Not that everything in life has to have a spiritual lesson behind it (although wouldn't it be just like God to set things up that way?) but I have learned some great things about spiritual hunger from all this messing around in the kitchen. Our pastor talked last week about communion, the theme this summer at our church. He disucssed the idea that the communion table is a place where we can fill our deepest hungers with good food from God instead of stuffing our faces with all the things the world has to offer that do not satisfy. As you might have guessed, I see a parallel. Just as God wants us to feed spiritually on only the best "foods" for our own health and nourishment, I believe he also desires this for our bodies, which he loves along with our souls. And so I have a choice. When I get hungry I can pick the quick fix answer and grab a hamburger along the way. Or I can listen to that hunger and let it remind me that I am hungry for a reason: because my body needs nourishment. And nourishment only truly comes from eating good, healthy food. And good, healthy food requires time. And that means I might not get my hunger satisfied right away, but when I do it will be more satisfying than the quick taco would be. And then I realize that the same is true in my spiritual life as well—my spiritual hungers might need to go on a bit longer than I'd like before they are satisfied, but when they are, they will be satisfied by God himself, and for good.

I think there is more to say on this topic, but as my ideas are still unformed and void, I shall shutteth uppeth and let you all talk amongst yourselves. More to come perhaps?

Friday, May 25, 2007

New Haircut!

I took the plunge and got my hair cut a couple days ago. I wanted it short for summer. So, here I am. . . ta da!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

I'm the proverbial "IT"

Alright, I've been tagged by two people to be the IT in a round-robin game of "tell us eight things about yourself." And being tagged twice is tantamount to being double dared, so how can I not respond???

Here are the rules:

* Post the rules of the game.
* Tell us about eight random facts/habits about you.
* At the end of the post, choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
* People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things.
* Leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

So, here goes.

1) Following in the footsteps of Dave's first post, I will share that I was in an elevator once with Smokey Robinson. He is much shorter than you think he is. I also met John Tesh at CBA, and the same year I met Kirk Cameron (be still my beating heart!). You can see the photos to prove it, although I'm not in the picture with Kirk because we ran out of film or something, but I DID take the picture you see here with my colleague Rick Franklin behind Kirk and his wife, what's-her-name. Also, I went to Preservation Hall in New Orleans to listen to some live jazz with J. I. Packer (and no, contrary to the expression on his face, I am not stepping on Packer's foot in this picture) and helped Michael Card at one of his book signings, but I guess that's not all that exciting. Let's see, I am friends with Sufjan Stevens' sister's best friend. . . does that count for anything? Ohh, and I also got to shake Roy Clark's hand once at a rodeo. . . don't ask.

2) I never learned to swim. I had really bad ear problems as a kid and postponed learning until I got to college where they forced me to take a swimming class, during which my ear drum burst and I got an official pardon from having to finish the class. So don't ever push me into the pool unless you're prepared to jump in after me and save my life.

3) Speaking of ears, I once had a tiny fly make a home in my right ear during the wee hours of the night in college. I was not made aware of the situation until three days later when my ear became infected. The nurses in the med center asked me, "Have you had a stitch in your ear drum. . . ohh, wait, I think it has wings!" Needless to say, I found the quickest way to remedy the situation and wore earrings that blinked "No Vacancy" for several years afterwards.

4) I love to do madlibs. Sometimes I make my husband do them with me when we are on a trip. Or when I am on a trip and he calls me to see how the long drive is going. Or when he is on a trip and I call him to make sure he's still awake while driving. Or when my friends come over on Saturday night. Or at Christmas. Or my birthday. I love madlibs! In fact, I love madlibs so much that I dressed up as one for Halloween one year. Some of you might also recognize another IVP employee in this photo dressed as Rainbow Bright. . .

5) I used to own a lovebird named Penfold (pictured below). I got him as a chick, and I loved him, but nobody else seemed to be able to enjoy his charms. One of his eyes was blind and shriveled, his beak was crooked (apparently he suffered a trauma in the egg. . .) and his squak could make blood drip from your ears, but I thought he was loveable. Anyhow, my husband did not agree and politely requested that I find a new home for him. He (the bird, not my husband) eventually moved in with someone who worked at the vet and loved animals, and changed his name to Pedro for reasons unknown.

6) When I was growing up my mom used to do a slide presentation on Colonial Williamsburg for local groups like the library and my fifth grade class. She came in costume, and so did I. Eventually we got my father into the act, wearing knickers and a tri-cornered hat. For several summers we were hired as singers/strollers at a huge craft fair in Ohio called Yankee Peddler. We worked the crowd with a Ben Franklin impersonator, and even did a singing/dancing routine three times a day on one of the stages. We performed scenes from the movie 1776. My father recited the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere. It was a crazy time.

7) I went to State Solo and Ensemble my senior year of high school and sang at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival with 9 other students from around the state. The only thing I ever lettered in during high school was choir. :) I am still a choir/solo geek, and I think Mendelsohnn's oratorio, Elijah, is just about the most beautiful thing I've ever heard.

8) I am always cold. Well, not always, but generally if the weather dips below 78, I've got a chill. I always used a space heater when I had an office at IVP, and now I still use one in my home office about 2/3 of the year. My cell phone says "Man, it's cold!" across the screen when you open it. If you're sweating, I'm probably just comfortable.

Well, I guess that's everything, and since I don't know that many bloggers to tag, and since the people I tagged last time for this sort of thing did not do as I'd hoped and run out and start their own blog, I guess I'll just have to leave it at that.

Questions? Comments?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Do we really love Betty because she's ugly?

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm a big fan of the show Ugly Betty. And even though some elements of the plot line strike me at times as perhaps not completely the kind of thing I should allow into my brain ("think on these things. . . ," you know the verse), I still allow myself this guilty pleasure because I believe that in addition to being entertaining, the show has redeeming value.

Recently I was checking out ABC's Ugly Betty fan site Be Ugly and noticed an interesting trend in the rhetoric they use to promote the show. Be real. Be kind. Be smart. And finally, be true to yourself. Ahh, yes. The old-as-the-hills American ideal of being true to ourselves. It seems in our country and era that authenticity, beyond any other trait, has become our highest virtue.

When I thought a little more about the character of Betty, though, I asked myself, what is so beautiful about Betty? Why is she so darned likeable? She's quirky, yes. She dresses kind of crazy and dosen't care what others think. She stands out from the crowd because she won't bend to peer pressure. And she always seems to do the right thing. Ah! The right thing. . . And suddenly it struck me. We do not like Betty so well because she is merely an individual. For when we are "true to ourselves," often the self we are true to is petty, greedy, selfish, childish and downright mean (like some of the other characters in the show!). So there must be something more to Betty than that. Yes, in fact the reason we like Betty so much is because she's good. She makes mistakes, but she can be counted on to make virtuous, selfless, moral decisions in a morally defunct environment. She cares more about others than she does herself. She submits herself to a moral authority outside of herself. And she does it with a spunk and style all her own.

And yet, the best thing Hollywood can say about her, the best wisdom ABC believes she has to offer us, is to be "true to ourselves." This line of thinking assumes that to be true to self automatically means being a good person by drawing on the innocence within. I think, however, that deep down inside, we all know better. The Christian narrative is the ultimate of beauty-in-ugly stories, for what is more ugly or more beautiful than Christ on the cross, the picture of true sacrifice and love? I think the "ugly" we see in Betty is (on a much smaller scale) the same "ugly" we see in Christ, which is part of the reason the show is so compelling and enjoyable. And when we say we want to "Be Ugly in 07," beyond simply saying we want to be individuals, we are saying we want to emulate that quality of self-sacrificial love.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Avoiding the Death Clock

A few weeks ago I heard on NPR that geneticists and actuaries have joined forces and are now fairly close to being able to predict with surprising accuracy the very year during which a person will die. That's right. By calculating all the "factors" and looking very closely at your genes, science has finally figured out how to predict the future—at least when it comes to death—and for some this is exciting news.

The scientist being interviewed seemed to think that this knowledge, if it is possible to truly predict with any accuracy, is somehow information that should not be withheld from the public. Yes, we all have the right to know exactly when we will die so we can plan our lives accordingly. "Perhaps," he commented, "if you found out in your 20s that you were going to die of cancer in your 40s, you might not go to law school or spend ten years getting that Ph.D. Instead you might become a crewman on a carribean cruise ship for the rest of your days."

The interview got me to thinking. Setting aside all of the philosophical and theological questions about the right and wrong of even presuming to claim to have the ability to make such predictions, I wondered, would I want to know the year in which I would most likely (according to statistics) see my glorious end?

After about 3 seconds of rumination I knew the answer was decidedly no.

I recently had my wisdom teeth removed and was in a panic for weeks leading up to the big scary day. Imagine, then, how obsessive I would become if I knew I was going to die from some terrible disease in 2047? That would give me, let's see, 40 years to worry about my final expiration. Not to mention the fact that the shadow of my impending doom would be the deciding factor for everything in life. No, I think I'll stick with letting life lead the way, and keep myself in the dark about the exact date of my demise. And when it happens, I can stand before God and say "Surprise! I'm here!"--and I'll be the one surprised.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Quite Possibly the Perfect Madlib

As some of you know, I am a huge fan of the Madlibs. My friend (and now co-worker at IVP), Katy, is also a madlib afficionado, and has encouraged her coworkers to participate in a madlib several times a week. Thanks to Jonny Bogg's madlib desk calendar and the pleasingly nimble minds of the members of the design room, this wonderful madlib below was born. I wish I could say I was there to take part in it myself, but alas, I can only enjoy its afterglow.

Class Trip

For our final class trip our teacher, Mr. Dyed-In-the-Wool-Faith-Head announced that we're going to a particular node of the brain! I'm so excited, I can hardly lash out uncritically at religion! I'm bringing my new slick hell fire collection of organs, my fancy discarded 19th century assumptions and of course my turbocharged rhetoric. I'm sure we'll see lots of ivory-tower athiests.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

More Than Drinking Tea

A few weeks ago I noticed an announcement in our church bulletin for the annual women's tea. We women were heartily encouraged to attend to enjoy some fellowship and a testimony from a woman who had adopted a child from oversees. Strangely, my response to this announcement was decidedly negative. In fact, inside my head it sounded somthing like "blech-no way do I want to go to that."

I began to wonder why my ire was raised by this church sponsored tea party. After all, I have been to high tea before several times and enjoyed it very much. In fact, I was going to be having "tea" at a friend's house the following weekend. So why the distain for this particular tea?

After some contemplation, I realized that I was feeling frustrated because many churches I've been to only offer this type of event for women. It's like they think when women get together with each other all we want to do (and should want to do) is talk about tea cups and knitting and our families. And yes, those are all things many women do enjoy, and very much should feel free to enjoy. For enjoying beauty and creativity and relationships is certainly a part of God's plan for his people. But I wonder, why have we tacitly told women (because these events are the only church-sponsored events specifically for women) that these are the only topics women can and should think about/discuss/do together? Have we become so embroiled in cultural stereotypes and the women-in-leadership issue that we have narrowed the scope of women's influence far too much? Isn't it our call and responsibility to be doing more than drinking tea together?

What I realized about the other times I'd had high tea is that I enjoyed it essentially because that was not all I ever did with my friends. Yes, we might go shopping or go to high tea once in a while, but we also attend lectures together, read books, go to live music, discuss theological issues, politics, justice and the publishing world, run our own businesses, go to the theater, and listen to NPR. I suspect many of the women at my church do the same. So why isn't there a way for us to meet that centers around any of these types of activities?

When we first started attending our church I met two women, one my age, one in her 50s. We began to discuss the Sunday School classes, which I had enjoyed very much. The Old Testament survey class I was in was challenging me in new ways and I was excited about that challenge. These women, however, didn't even go to Sunday School classes. "Ohh," sighed the younger one, "Ahh cain't undehstand all those big words those men use in Sunday School, so ahh just don't go," she said with her sweet southern drawl. "Yes," said the other with a perky smile, "I don't understand why they can't just teach in a way that normal people can understand. It's all over my head. I don't go either. I hardly tune in to the sermon half the time because it's so academic."

I could feel the anger welling up in me at this point--anger at these women for not challenging themselves more. Anger at the world for sending the message to these women that they can't understand theology or study Scripture in a class taught lecture-style by a man. I wanted to yell at them or run away or yell at them and then run away. But I bit my tongue and nodded my head congenially, saying nothing.

I have been thinking about those two women a lot lately. And instead of being angry with them, my heart went out to them and I wondered, is there a way to get those two women a) interested in learning more about the things of God and b) to believe they CAN understand the things of God? Maybe "B" has to happen before "A". And I've been thinking about the women's tea a lot too. I wondered, is there a way for the church to sponsor some other kinds of events that women like my two friends would feel comfortable coming to, and where they would be challenged to think more about things like theology, doctrine, justice and mercy issues, church history, poverty, gender issues, the role of the church in politics, how Christ and culture intersect. . . the list goes on and on.

I am tentitively thinking that God might be giving me a vision for a way I can get involved in women's ministries--of all things! I have a vision for some kind of class or discussion group that would be very relational in its format where women who know nothing about theology can come and learn all the terms and concepts and discuss how they practically affect the Christian life. But wait, you say, isn't that what they should be learning at church? YES! But for whatever reason, they aren't. And I think it will take a woman to be able to get past those fears of "men and their big words" and help them learn. Ideas are bursting from my mind of ways to get women past their fears and out into the wonderful world of ideas.

I also have a vision of a group where women get together and discuss global poverty and brainstorm ideas on what we can do with the unique talents and gifts God has given us as women to respond. We could learn about Great Commission Companies, and fair trade. We could interview my friend Beth who just started a fair trade company,Bambootique, which sells purses and hand-made crafts from around the world. The ideas are bursting from my mind of ways to get women out of their pews and out to change the world.

So, any of you out there have any comments on this fuzzy dream I have? Has anyone else ever been offended by a tea party? How could I make some of these things a reality? How would a theology 101 course for women only be different in format and presentation? What would make them feel safe and comfortable and energized about learning the attributes of God? What would help to get the women of my local church thinking about and doing more than drinking tea???

I want to hear your thoughts!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Red Rover, Red Rover

I've been asked, actually tagged, by my friend and colleague David A. Zimmerman to share two tidbits of information about myself with the wide world: a) what does my home office look like? and b) what music am I into now?

So, let's start with part *a*. Here are a few photos of my office space. Since I work at home, this is where I spend ohhh, probably about 10 hours of every day (work and home messing around combined). Sick, isn't it? No wonder I have to go to the chiropractor. A person shouldn't be this sedentary.

Pic #1 = my desk

Pic #2 = Jeff's desk

Pic #3 = the wall that connects us

So that's that. Frankly, I'm scared to imagine what these photos reveal about me and my work habits. I guess those are best left unsaid. Yes, there are two imacs on my desk. No, I don't work for NASA.

Okay, on to the second part: Music I've been dabbling in.

1) On the only cool radio station in the entire Metro Detroit area (Ann Arbor's 107.1 should you come to visit) Jeff and I have heard this Mexican duo called Rodrigo y Gabriella (I think that's how you spell it). They offer some amazing acoustic guitar work with a latino flare. Somehow they manage to do a version of Stairway to Heaven in a rockin spanish guitar style that actually works quite well.

2) Lately I've also been enjoying the scratchy falsetto-ey voice of Ray LaMontagne on his album Trouble. Don't worry, it's not really that troublesome, and the song Trouble is quite nice.

3) When I was in college I got to hear this great band, Harrod and Funck, several times live. Since then the Funck part has dropped out of the music scene, but Jason Harrod continues to record catchy, thought-provoking albums. His album Bright As You offers some gems like My Mad Girlfriend ("My mad girlfriend is comin over tonight. I like the way she makes me feel. you know I wanna find out if her mad love's real. Did I tell you that I want to make it better? Did I tell you that I'm stickin around? I wanna meet her when she lets her guard down."). And on grey, snowy April days I like to listen to When I Fly Away, reminding me that I won't be spending the rest of eternity in this pergatorial pre-spring drabness.

4) I've been a fan of Neil Finn for a long time, but for some reason lately I've been craving a little Crowded House. A guilty pleasure one might say. They have that distinct sound of bygone years, yet somehow it has a kernel of currency.

5) As an aside which I'm sure Dave will enjoy as a fellow Sujan Stevens fan, one of my friends here is best friends with Sufjan Steven's sister, and actually used to hang out with him. So I'm trying to fanagle myself into a meeting with him sometime, but since he spends most of his time galavanting around Europe with his groupees and his sister lives in China, it seems unlikely. It's so difficult being this close, and yet still this far. . .

Well, that's it for that I guess. Let's see, Red Rover, Red Rover, let Jen, Pam and Stacey come over. . .

Ta ta for now.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Scots' form in the suburbs

This Thursday we attended a lovely Maundy Thursday service at our church. As a part of the remembrance of the last supper, we participated in communion together. This time, however, instead of passing the elements around to the seated congregation as they usually do, we were invited to come forward and partake of the Lord's supper while standing in small groups at the front of the sanctuary.

Jeff and I were used to this form of communion because our church in Illinois had practiced it regularly, and we had grown to love the personal, symbolic encounter of sitting together at table with 11 other members of the church family and being personally served the elements by an elder who actually knows your name. I find it so powerful to have someone look me in the face as I take the bread and say "Becky, this is the body of Christ, broken for you." After such a penetrating yet communal experience with the elements, something is lost for me when I receive communion from an usher wearing a nametag that reads "Hello, my name is Bob" who mutely passes the plate of mini cups and tiny wonder bread squares while I fumble around trying to acheive a smooth "handoff" to the next person.

In this more active way of communion (sometimes called "Scots' form"), one must actually get up from one's seat and proceed to the front of the room signifying the active part we must take in following Christ. This involves a bit of coordination on the part of the ushers, and the congregation definitely has to find its rhythm. On Thursday night, the first few rows of our congregation timidly stood up and peered around, unsure of which station to go and waiting for the usher's reassuring hand on their back to point them in the right direction. They reminded me of sheep.

But by the time the coming and going of groups reached the back of the room where we were seated, everyone was in full swing. We knew exactly where we should go and to whom to we should look to receive direction. And in the mean time we had the opportunity to observe our brothers and sisters in Christ walking forward and standing together in a circle, looking each other in the face, and sharing a moment of grace.

When our turn came up, we circled around the table and I looked at each person. There was the elder who was serving, dressed in a suit and tie with a confident, booming voice. Next to him were the low-talkers. We have tried to get to know this timid, soft-spoken couple several times, but had been frustrated by the nearly inaudible and awkwardly terse interactions. She smiled shyly across the table at me. I smiled back. To my left was an older couple. He was short with a short-sleeved hawaian shirt and full beard, she portly with a sweatshirt featuring a flowery silk screen design and a pair of oversized red tinted glasses. Next to them was the young, fresh faced couple, the mother holding their dewey newborn with one arm while she passed the plate around with the other. I looked around at this odd assemblage of people and had the strong sense that I was looking at the body of Christ.

After we shared a few moments together, we broke up and went back to our respective pew spots. And I suddenly remembered a poem Mark Noll wrote a few years back for the church we attended in Illinois that described so much better than I could what the experience of this type of communion is really like. So instead of continuing to babble on about it, I'll just share the poem here and let it speak for itself:

Scots' form in the suburbs
by Mark A. Noll

The sedentary Presbyterians
awoke, arose, and filed to tables spread
with white, to humble bits that showed how God
almighty had decided to embrace
humanity, and why these clean, well-fed,
well-dressed suburbanites might need his grace.

The pious cruel, the petty gossipers
and callous climbers on the make, the wives
with icy tongues and husbands with their hearts
of stone, the ones who battle drink and do
not always win, the power lawyers mute
before this awful bar of mercy, boys
uncertain of themselves and girls not sure
of where they fit, the poor and rich hemmed in
alike by cash, physicians waiting to
be healed, two women side by side—the one
with unrequited longing for a child,
the other terrified by signs within
of life, the saintly weary weary in
pursuit of good, the academics (soft
and cossetted) who posture over words,
the travelers coming home from chasing wealth
or power or wantonness, the mothers
choked by dual duties, parents nearly crushed
by children died or children lost, and some
with cancer-ridden bodies, some with spikes
of pain in chest or back or knee or mind
or heart. They come, O Christ, they come
to you.

They came, they sat, they listened to the words,
"for you my body broken." Then they ate
and turned away—the spent unspent, the dead
recalled, a hint of color on the psychic
cheek—from tables groaning under weight
of tiny cups and little crumbs of bread.

Monday, March 05, 2007

You look good for your age

I have always admired the actress Diane Keaton. Not because I've been so impressed with her acting as much as the fact that she seems so okay with herself. It seems like she has been successful in avoiding the Hollywood trappings of self-upgrade. She is in her early 60s now, and shockingly enough, she has wrinkles! Her hair is grey! She looks like a woman of her age, and in my opinion she is one of the most beautiful, authentic people in Tinsel Town.

That's why when my friends started talking about aging recently, I casually blew it off. If Diane Keaton can age gracefully, I thought, so can I. I mean, I'm only 30 for cryin our loud! Yet my friends continued to talk about how their "youth and beauty" were fleeing them. What? Where? I don't see it, I said. Microscopic lines were appearing around their eyes, they claimed. Ever-so-miniscule creases were developing on their foreheads—and white hairs were more prevalent. Hadn't I noticed a change too?

Not really. I was just going along, thinking everything was okay. I couldn't see the changes they were talking about on their faces. They looked like my same old friends to me. If I didn't notice the changes on them, why should I notice them on me? And nobody cares about that stuff anyhow, do they?

This weekend I went out to dinner with my mom and ordered a glass of chardonnay. Our waiter, who was probably in his early 20s asked to see my ID. He looked at my birthday and his eyebrows went up. He glanced over at me for a second and then handed me back the card saying, "You look good for your age."

I took the card and said "thankyou," feeling flattered by his comment. But as he walked away I began to consider what he said a bit more. Hey, what do you mean "for your age?" Like if you lined me up next to a bunch of elderly 30-year-olds like me I might stand out as looking "good," but pit me against a bunch of spry 20-year-olds, and I haven't got a chance?

I got home and examined my face closely. Ahhg! There they were--a crease developing across my forehead. Dry patches under my eyes, blotchy skin, flabby thighs! My friends were right! My body is changing, and I hadn't even noticed.

After a bit of freaking out, I thought again about Diane Keaton. Why did I admire her? Was it because she had somehow outsmarted the system and avoided aging altogether? Or because she didn't look her age? No, it is precisely because she does look her age that I esteemed her. So as I start to see the earliest signs telling me I'm no longer in my twenties, I'm going to try not to panic and spend far too much money on wrinkle cream or hair coloring quite yet. Instead I want to learn to embrace each age I'm at for what it is, because it's only going to get more obvious that I'm not 20 anymore the farther away from 20 I get.

I still really like Diane Keaton. I think she looks great for her age.

Monday, September 11, 2006

"Vanity of vanities! Vanity of vanities," cries the writer of Ecclesiasties. Life is nothing but a vapor, a puff of air floating through the cosmos for a few seconds before it vanishes, hardly noticed, definitely unremembered. And Time continues it's relentless march forward, rolling over everything and everyone in its path. In the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Generations have trod, have trod, have trod/ And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil/ And bears man's smudge, and shares man's smell; the soil/ Is bare now, nor can foot feel being shod."

Annie Dillard puts it this way: "'Your fathers did eat manna and are dead,'" Jesus told people . . . . Trafficking directly with the divine, as the manna-eating wilderness generation did, and as Jesus did, confers no immunity to death or hazard. You can live as a particle crashing about and colliding in a welter of materials with God, or you can live as a particle crashing about and colliding in a welter of materials without God. But you cannot live outside the welter of colliding materials."

Today is a somber day, a day to remember events that still seem so fresh in our memories, to remember lives that still seem to beat with vibrancy in the retelling of their stories. And yet every day, thousands of people die around the world, remembered by friends and family perhaps, but forgotten by their city, their state, their country. It takes a cataclysmic event like tsunami or a terrorist attack to turn the collective eye on a few select individuals for a time to remember their stories as emblematic of so many others we never hear.

How many more perished on September 11, 2001 from starvation, genocide, war, disease, old age, drug abuse or domestic violence? Lives lost in tragic ways, without recognition, without remembrance. Certainly there is not time or energy to remember them all, to tell all of their stories. The generations toil on, trampling over those that came before. Some day, September 11 will fade into history too. And with the writer of Ecclesiasties we will continue to cry, vanity of vanities!

And yet, as hearts are overwhelmed by the rushing waves of humanity and time that will someday subsume our collective tragedy, we are confronted with the final words of the book of wisdom: "Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." And with humility we find we have nothing to do but surrender ourselves to the master of the waves, believing that in the end we can trust him to finally stop the relentless cycles, to lovingly recount each one's story, and to calm the unbridled sea to peace.