Saturday, October 5, 2013

Metaphorically Speaking

Apparently I've turned this into a monthly rather than weekly blog, but perhaps I'll pick up my pace in upcoming weeks. I promise nothing. I will relate some of the best moments in the past month:

1. Once, last Tuesday, I actually understood what my Organizational class was talking about. VICTORY!

2. I rewatched the Princess Bride last week and still knew every line. And it was still as good as I remembered it.

3. One of my students gave her first in-class presentation (it's a speech, but calling it a "presentation" is less scary) on the inventor of the Rubik's Cube. Best part? She grew up next to him when she was a little girl in Hungary. I have cool students.

4. My government shut down.

5. I set up a lamp so that it would shine eerily on the stained glass goat framed in our office when the overhead lights are off. I'm not making that up. The goat's name is Marsha (as inscribed on the back of her wooden frame).

6. Wrote a paper about Tumblr.

I wish I had more than lists to give you, but I just spent the entire day at a conference listening to PhD candidates present their research. I'm so tired my eyeballs want to fall out of their sockets, so I want to leave you with this month's metaphors for graduate school. Forever and ever ago, when I was a young grasshopper in undergrad, Gary Schmidt made us write metaphors to describe our writing process. Ever since, I've found the exercise useful in discovering how I really feel about something when my brainpower does not suffice.

Grad School is . . . 

. . . socialization. Most of what’s at the heart of a culture isn’t the obvious differences: chopsticks or forks, hanbok or Levis, military service or playing football. Real culture is adopted—monkey see and monkey do—through the day-by-day mimicry of a new vocabulary (I used “structuration theory” in a non-ironic sentence yesterday) and a new value system (“publish or perish).

. . . walking into a room full of oranges and knowing you put on your orange peel that day but that someday, sometime—when you’re not thinking about it—you’ll forget and your apple stem is going to come sticking out somewhere and all the oranges won’t know what to do with you.

 . . . a McDonald’s ballpit in which there might be sharks but you don’t know because you’re too busy making sure there’s a bottom to this thing while also not suffocating under a mass of empty, plastic toys.

And finally, some people I've been missing these days.

Emily Wonderful who writes me letters.

Too. much. fun.

Glory days.

A good January

My people, last day in Korizzle.

Still the weirdest picture I've ever been in.

Except for this one.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How is Graduate School? Answer:

Some days it feels like everything is falling. Literally. I don’t mean that with even the slightest of metaphorical bents. Today I spilled an entire glass of water all over the carpet and my book and my folder. Yesterday I dropped dishes in the sink, pens on the floor, books off the shelf, you name it and it was falling. The popcorn I was eating, the towel I was wearing, my phone I was talking into—some days everything feels like its slipping through my fumbling fingers. 

I guess that’s my answer to the question now. There’s always a question, right? “What are you going to do with your English major?” and “Why are you going to Korea?” and “When’s the next time you’ll be home?” The question now is graduate school: “how is it?” 

How is graduate school? 

Mom. And the giant pencil outside my building. And me.

I don’t mean to say that everything is falling. It’s not. Some days I’m so on top of things I surprise even myself. Most days aren’t like that, but graduate school is not like the grapes I dropped on the floor when trying to put them in my mouth or the wall I ran into aiming for the doorway a foot to the left. 

Graduate school is like the foot-long Subway Club sandwich I ate last night for dinner. Cheap—I’m not joking, $5 foot-longs all September(!) and a teaching assistantship: God is good—and full of vegetables, turkey, on wheat bread. The healthy stuff. And the good stuff: banana peppers and provolone cheese and chipotle sauce. Twelve inches devoured in under five minutes followed by a stomachache so bad I had to drive not walk the half a block to the gas station for tums. 

And that’s a story about sometimes things just fall right into your lap. 

And so you can see faith without deeds is useless. 

And so to bed.
Photo compliments of Jojo who is actually called Yunyi Du. Some of the cohort and one of the professors.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Our text today is from Zephaniah 3, a glorious book that starts with two and a half chapters of “woes” and ends somewhere around,

“The Lord your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.”

This weekend I took great delight in being the only white girl at the “Celebrating Women in Ministry” conference. I’d signed up because of the title, its proximity to me, and because one of my dad’s old high school friends was one of the keynote speakers. I was looking for content I could soak up, women in ministry to whom I could look up, and I got both in spades.

I also got awed by African American women. I don’t know how else to say it: they were so much more . . . feminine than the white women I know. So strong, so vocal, so in synch. “You preaching my life right there!” came from the far front right of the room “Well! Well!” from the back. “Come on now! You better preach it, girl!” from the woman who plain stood up and further articulated her point by stabbing her finger at the woman sermonizing us. “All right, all right.” “Amen.” “You said it!” “Preach!”

They were so confident, so sure. Yet Zephaniah 3: 1-2 haunts:

“Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled.
She obeys no one.
She accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord
She does not draw near to her God.”

Are we blinded by our confidence? I don’t think so, because there was so much more than glorious, glorious sass. I have rarely seen a room so full of edification like that, women in tune with one another’s stories. Synergy, I guess it’s called, but also pain: women being harassed at their churches, ignored, turned away from pulpits, their M.Divs and their doctorates erased from church bulletins and their calling from God eagerly dismissed by uncomfortable men who wanted their female colleagues to sit in the back of the church while they took their seats up front.

Seeing my own frustrations reflected in these women, so qualified and competent to speak to God’s will in the body of believers, reminded me of the saying:

“The church is a whore - but she is our mother.”

Obviously I find the metaphor distasteful and inaccurate (given that men are more sexually promiscuous than women), but for most of my adult life this saying has perfectly encapsulated how I feel about the church. I love her: irrationally and inescapably. I always will, though she disgusts and infuriates me more than anyone else.

Zephaniah goes on:

"Her officials are roaring lions,
her rulers are evening wolves,
who leave nothing for the morning.

Her prophets are arrogant;
they are treacherous men.
Her priests profane the sanctuary
and do violence to the law."

I hate the reputation many Christians have gotten about being jerks to non-Christians. The Bible has some pretty strict rules, but the harshest condemnations are always for the hypocritical Christians: the “rebellious” ones who do not draw near to the God they profess, those priests who twist the law, pervert it for their own purposes.

And yet . . .

"The lord within her is righteous.
He does no wrong.
Morning by morning he dispenses his justice
and every new day he never fails."

The church is arrogant and overconfident and filled with treacherous men and violent women. She has her share of roaring lions and evening wolves; she ignores the lost and broken and puts her own needs first. She obeys no one and accepts no correction, but within her . . . God remains God.

I'm cheating because this is a picture of a picture from an art gallery in Tokyo. But in my defense, it is beautiful.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Love the Liminal

Patience is good (though impossible). Momentum (more possible), though not an explicit fruit of the spirit, is healthy. T.S. Eliot said it best,

“Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation."

The rest of the blog, including how that's connected to the picture below, is at PostCalvin. Happy Sunday everyone (Monday by now, I think, of my people in the East) and read a little more Eliot today. ^^

Sunday, August 4, 2013


This summer and perhaps for the past two years I’ve been frustrated with myself. I hate stagnation. I fear it. Loathe it. Abhor it. Eschew it. But there is a season for every activity under the sun and I think that includes seasons of “...”

Looking at my travel patterns for the past couple years, my mother and other impartial observers would more likely label my life “erratic” than “stagnant.” My peers (I hate that word. Comrades? Millennials-in-arms?) are growing up: they have jobs, they start a 401ks and families and do adult things like their own laundry.

Some background: I spent years in competitive soccer not because I was necessarily good at soccer but because my level of aggressive competitiveness is not socially acceptable outside the athletic arena. Now, with my soccer days behind me, I have to work pretty hard not to feel as though I’m failing to compete with my . . . with other people my age.

Recently, to deal with the cognitive dissonance that arises from comparing my age with my lack cooking skills, I’ve developed some informal, unspoken rules for myself. Frankly, I typed them out pretty quickly, but before this afternoon, I didn’t realize they had even existed.
And one day I helped my mom make this cake. And then we devoured it.
Great day.

1. Create something every day.
Today I created this blogpost. Yesterday I fixed my dresser drawer that’s been annoying the life out of my. Earlier this month I modge-podged some shoes (they look horrible). I think the creation mandate is one of the most practical beneficial commands in the Bible. I do a lot of consuming (fooooooood) and I enjoy it. Producing is more difficult and more meaningful. And I enjoy it.

2. Listen for a story.
Sometimes I don’t like talking to people. False. I often don’t like talking to people. People like to talk about themselves and I only like to listen to things that concern me. One of my most frequent prayers is, “God, please help me get my head out of my ass” because once I do, I hear all kinds of stories. Yesterday at a wedding reception the elderly gentleman beside me told me about a kid he knew who, at 17 without having ever owned a drum set, became the percussionist for Miles Davis. So cool.

3. Forgive yourself.
I think my biggest worry at the beginning of each day is that I will accomplish nothing. And yet, many days I do exactly that: nothing. Forgiveness is key in combating competitiveness. Besides, “We all stumble in many ways.” It’s onerous, but I make mistakes and I make them a lot. For instance, I ate that fourth piece of cake on dad’s birthday (just kidding--that was not a mistake; that was awesome).

4. Be patient with others.
This very slightly obscene beagle picture demonstrates
just how action-packed my life is.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” That’s James’ advice. Yet my modus operandi is closer to “quick to listen, quicker to judge, and quickest to sneer.” I try to think of the way Treebeard waggles his fingers at Merry and Pippin in The Two Towers. “Now, don’t be hasty!”

5. Don’t make your face look like that.
I make faces when I’m judging people. I make faces when I don’t want to empty the dishwasher. I make faces when I think about going for a run. Different physical postures can change your mentality and I think facial expressions are similar. When I twist my face into an uppity sneer, I can feel my heart twisting with it. Hasty judgmental facial expressions leave me no room handicap relationships and my ability to do relationship.

Though I will forgive myself if I break them, I hope to carry these rules into the new school year. This week I head to graduate school where, for the first time in about two and a half years, I’m going to have to work pretty hard again. I’m glad to have learned how to live within the stagnation, but it’s time for something new.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Mornings with Mum

My last apartment had a cheery, yellow comforter. I bought it my first winter living abroad, just as the cold, grey December was rolling into my cold, grey steelscape mountain. However chilly, mornings were my favorite time of day from that point on--early sun licking me wrapped in yellow cushiness, trying not to spill steaming coffee while I memorized James.

In those early mornings, verse by verse, I luxuriated through James and then a few Psalms and so on. I started memorizing books of the Bible last summer when I realized how cool Job 38 was during an otherwise yawner of a sermon. I wanted to remember the poetry of it, so I stopped reading through the Bible and started impressing the Word on my heart (ala Deut 6).

Maybe it’s just that funny thing where as soon as you learn a new word you hear everyone using it, but after I’d memorize a chapter, it’d come up in a sermon. At one point I only had Job 38, half of James, and a few scattered Psalms and every single one of them would come up in sermons I was attending, books I was reading, people I spoke to. God is a creepster. He doesn’t just facebook stalk; it’s everything. James is great but there are some 1189 chapters in our Bible; those are some pretty low odds.

I guess that’s what made that morning time so great. My “quiet time with God” finally included God speaking from his Word more than I was writing in my journal. It was in those lonely mornings that I finally wasn’t alone and I wondered if perhaps, like the yellow comforter, I would leave those behind when I moved back to America. I “went up on a mountain” in Korea and prayed and wondered if God would come to my quiet time in the States where I am never so alone.

These days I often spend mornings with my mother. It’s not as often as I would like because she gets up at the crack of dawn (no exaggeration; we’re talking 4 am) and I do not. But the days I do are the best. We both bundled up in a blanket, clutching coffee mugs and glancing back and forth from out Bibles to the ceiling, memorizing. My mother recently finished the entire book of Philippians.

Now, before you think my family is some kind of masochistically overachieving Christian mutation, know that my dad is catching up on facebook at this time and my older sister rolls her eyes at me when I says she should try to memorize a chapter. Mom did too, at first, until we did Romans 12 together. She said it was horribly difficult for her, but after that she swallowed up Paul’s letter to the saints at Philippi bit by painstaking bit, and now that I’m working on Philippians myself, we have conversations like this:

Wanna hear my verse today?
Okay. Verse 18: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.”
You forgot “in every way.”
Oh yeah. Oops. “ every way whether by false motives or true, Christ is preached.”
But it doesn’t it matter if someone’s preaching the gospel out of goodwill rather than “out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir up trouble”? What is with that?
Paul is cray-cray. But maybe they’re still preaching Christ . . . just while hating Paul at the same time.
“Not sincerely” though? “Out of envy and rivalry”? That doesn’t sound like Christian preaching...

Then dad weighs in (having looked up a few relevant blogs, articles, ect. in the time we’ve taken) and then Grandma, if she’s visiting, goes off on a tangent about the Presbyterians but eventually we get back around to Paul and then move over to James’ translation and its frustrating ambiguous pronoun usage. And then we sip our coffee and go back to our individual study.

My faded yellow comforter, now dotted with ink and coffee, remains in Korea soaking up the sun.