Sunday, January 25, 2009


This weekend I found myself in Chicago, hanging with my buddy-from-college, Alex. Here's a pic of us from the last LU reunion. You know those lovely folks you don't stay in super-close contact with, but with whom you're always "good", and can pick up where you left off? Alex is one of those. We bummed around, ate good food, watched movies, walked around a wee bit of Chicago, and generally caught up. Two highlights for me: the Peruvian restaurant we hit Sat. night (that was a new one for me!), and La Pasadita (dang I love that place!), which we caught just before I headed out of town on Sunday. Two thumbs up for this weekend! Oh, and I might as well try for common human decency and post a 'nice' photo also:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

lost things, and found. decisions. friends.

As I hear about folks losing their jobs and losing loved ones and dealing with huge, difficult life issues, I look at my own life and chide myself for not having it more together.

On a silly level: should I be glad that I found 2 Things Lost under my car seat today? Or ashamed that my life is so disorganized that I lost them in the first place - and it took me over a week to look there? While the adrenaline rush of finding something lost is really something (I can definitely identify with the shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to go looking for the lost 100th), I wasn't at all sure I'd find them and felt pretty badly about it.

On a slightly more serious level: I have an ongoing struggle with balancing my decisions. This is one of the more-not-fun things about being single - it's so much more fun to make decisions with others who will also be affected by them! How much should I be volunteering/helping the community vs. having fun vs. studying? Regarding cash flow: how much should I be saving (especially in this economy), how much spending on "me", and how much giving to good causes (and which ones?). How much time should I spend alone/reclaiming my forsaken apartment/reading/working out/having fun with friends?

Well, here's hoping the decisions for today are all right: I worked, got out skiing, spent time cleaning my apartment, talked to a couple of friends on the phone, and tomorrow after work I'm heading to Chicago for the weekend to hang out with my college buddy Alex. Now it's just a matter of packing... and - just for the fun of it - getting some sleep!

Oh, and if you'd like to join me, here are a few things I'm currently praying about:
- my cousin Abby, who's dealing with miserable issues of recent surgery, questionable recovery, and a miscarriage within the past year
- my friend Linda, whose grandpa died last Friday
- my friend Cheryl, whose husband died a few weeks ago, aged 44.
- folks who have lost their jobs
- (as always!) world events
- and - a Friday morning update - my friends the Rosenes - Paula's mom died this morning.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

love and focus(es)

ever have the experience where things/ideas/concepts from a variety of places all seem to converge and be related? you find out what the word "paradigm" means, and suddenly you're hearing it everywhere, and everyone you know is suddenly using it like they've been doing so all along? you get a ford focus, and suddenly everyone else has one too?

happens to me every now and then, and one thread lately has been about the concept of giving and receiving love

first, as I mentioned in my last post, my cousin abby's thoughts on unconditional love.

second, again as mentioned in my last post, rob bell's dec. 7 talk "who doesn't want in on that?". actually, overall the sermon wasn't the best i've ever heard, but some of the middle-ish bits were quite insightful: (these are from my rough translation of minutes 23-39 or so)
paul is articulating the difference between a transactional and a trinitarian understanding of love. Transaction is about debt, and obligation, owing, and repaying. It is possible to have a transactional understanding of relationships in life. Everything is run with a score card. They did this to me, I do this to them. Understand God as a God of the transaction. God is a divine accountant. Has a really big scoreboard in the sky, and wrong things are written in the left-hand column, and if you do something good, there's a chance it might offset the left. But you never really know. The Diving Accountant you will find everywhere, and deeply impacts the way we see the world. Think about if somebody invites you over for dinner, and then it's 2 or 3 months and you still haven't invited them back over. You start feeling more and more guilty. How did their act of generousity turn into a feeling of guilt? And so we're trapped in the world of the transaction. For Paul, the universe is not a transactional reality. For him, it's trinitarian. Trinitarian thought is mind blowing, you see traces of it in Philippians. For Paul, God is different from the scoreboard in the sky. Paul is saying, "you know the story of Creation... when you said yes to the grace and peace of God expressed in Christ, the same nuclear energy that was unleashed in the creation of the solar system was unleashed inside of you". So when Paul talks about salvation, for him it's about a new creation starting in you. For Paul, God is one, but God is this community of Father, Son and Spirit. God is this communal loving relationship, endlessly self-giving and receiving. It's a dance. This is what's at the base of the cosmos. Not someone waiting to show you how you've screwed things up. So when the Philippians helped Paul in his time of need, they were entering into the life of this kind of God. A tangent: marriages are in trouble when they move from trinitarian to transaction. Trinitarian relationships are when you lose track of who's giving and who's receiving. He's endlessly looking for ways to meet her needs. She's endlessly looking for ways to meet his needs. He's not keeping track. She doesn't have a scoreboard. No sense of owing. The moment it moves from trinitarian to transaction, "what have you done for me lately, baby", the relationship is in trouble. The moment in faith communities we move from trinitarian to transactional, we are in trouble. When you move to trinitarian, it's not always exactly clear who's giving, and who's receiving. Let's go back to marriages: when you think of the best marriages, and going to one of them and saying, "that's amazing how you give", the response, will be "give?! I get more than I ever give". Enough with the primal anxiety of not knowing you how stand with God: grace, and peace. Grace and peace. What I gave to you God gave to me. You gave to me, I gave to God, God gave to you. Take a great friendship and try to map who owes who. It's impossible.
There are a billion people in the world who don't have access to clean drinking water. We recently sent a team over to Rwanda training people how to build and use water filters. Look at these pictures - who's giving, who's receiving? The people with the technology and money to fly? Who's giving? Who's receiving? Is that the smile of someone who says, "you owe me". Is that the smile of someone thinking, "oh man, am I going to owe this guy". People come home saying, "I received far more than I ever gave". When you are trapped in a transactional understanding of the universe, then you have to get credit for all the good you do. When you find yourself desperate for the strokes of others to acknowledge the good you've done, that happens when you're beholden to a transactional view. Grace is different. . When you step into a triune relationship of endlessly giving peace and harmony and sacrifice, you're caught up in such joy the last thing you're thinking about is, "what am I getting out of this?".
and third, a cs lewis quote. i believe this is from The Four Loves (but it's been a while since I copied it down).
"On the natural level, we are full of the hunger to be loved, the hunger to receive family affection, erotic love, and friendship. And it might be expected that we had similarly a hunger to receive Agape. But this is untrue. There is that in the heart of every man which resists and resents Agape from his fellow creatures or even from his creator. We naturally want to be desired, to be found delightful: to satisfy worthily some hunger in others. To receive a Love which is purely a gift, which bears witness solely to the lovingness of the giver and not at all to our loveliness, is a severe mortification. We desperately need to receive such love from God, and even from our fellow creatures. But we don't naturally want to. Our necessities and our wishes are in conflict.... No sooner do we believe that God loves us, than there is an impulse to believe that He does so Not because of what He is, but because of what we are: because we are intrinsically Lovable. It is so easy to admit, but so hard really to believe that we are mirrors whose brightness is wholly derived from the sun that shines on them. Surely we think we must have a little inherent luminosity of our own."
i suppose none of this is rocket science; it's not all that far off from words i've heard since childhood. but somehow they've been resonating with me lately. i realize sometimes that God's love really isn't based on my performance, and then i forget it again. i slip into a transactional view of the world - mostly feeling guilty about all i owe to all the generous people around me - and then remember love is about both giving AND receiving. is it not funny how you can know something, and not know it, at the same time? i get it with my head, but in everyday life i find it continually elusive.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Why I'd Rather Not Blog about December

I wrote most of this when I first got back Sunday night - but have been having a brain block about finishing it.
December was a whirl. There's been gorgeous snow this year already, so there's also been plenty o' x-c skiing. Yippee! The month ended with a 1 1/2 week road trip, from which I just returned. I had a great time - and am even a tiny bit unpacked - but still not QUITE ready for the start of the work week tomorrow. I'll work on composing my "game face" even as I work on this update!

I've had people tweak me about what I've been up to and why I've been so silent.
Sometime in December: had really good hang out/connect/catch-up/present-swapping times with Paula, Katie and Linda. Game nights have been fun, and have mostly featured Javier, Tammy, Jim, Marc, Ray & Becky. I had an amazing time catching both a Badger basketball game in Madison and a chamber orchestra concert in a Green Bay cathedral. Since August or so, I've been hosting/attending a Bible study-small group with Alan, Jean, Matt, Mariel, Erica, Jim, Paul and Liz. I also got to sing in a mini-choir & play bongos for one of the December church services. Hooray for good times with good friends.

But there are several reasons it's hard to blog about an entire month - or really any series of events that include lots of details and people.
Dec. 23: Patrick was in town! We got a good ski in, and then he and Tammy helped me madly make tons of my favorite cookies (a recipe I got from Dave Rosene - here's a "close enough" version), before we all headed over to game night at Tammy's.

For one thing, I have a hard time believing that the folks reading this would have interest to the same level of detail that I have in recounting events.
Dec. 24: Headed to Eau Claire for an evening with Mom, Harley & Jode. We sang carols, read the Christmas story, and did some gift-swapping. Really a sweet, fun time.

How do I summarize, keep things interesting, and yet give attention to the things that meant the most?
Dec. 25: Tony & Mindy had a brand-new baby, Julia Rose on the 23rd, so they invited us all over to meet her & hang out for brunch Christmas Day. She's precious, and it was a blast hanging out with Dahlia, Joey & Anthony for a bunch of the day. Anthony, at 6, plays Boggle with the 'grown-ups' and proudly takes the 2-5 words he gets each round. He can get 3-letter words, while we have to get a minimum of 4-letter words, but every so often he gets one that no one else sees. Nathaniel Joe at 4 is full of stories and takes the time to tell each one. He kept time for us while we played Boggle. Dahlia (2) looked adorable in white pantaloons and a bright-red velvet Christmas dress with matching hat. She loves shoes and playing with her brothers. She's putting words together, and trying to figure out her place now that there's a new sister around.

And what happens if I actually have an incredible time at five places in a row? How do I keep my tone from sing-songy-ness and my adjectives from becoming tinny after a while?
Christmas evening, I headed to college-roomie-Joce's place and hung out with her & her family. We had a great time hanging out, watching movies, playing games, talking, and eating. It's so fun to feel so welcome and at home at her place, and Ed, Annabelle and Brooke all make me laugh - they're all just so fun to be with.

Worse yet - what if I forget or inadequately recount something? I was the recipient of so much kindness and hospitality throughout the holidays. My cousin Abby recently blogged about unconditional love and it made me think about this more. It's hard to receive!
Dec. 26th I headed through some rather scary weather to the Hanks residence in the Quad Cities (between Illinois & Iowa). Tom had gotten there Christmas Eve; Mary, Matt & Kalina (hooray!) had gotten there earlier that day, and Nancy and Tom Sr. had everything all set to host a marvelous weekend. After a fun Christmas celebration Sat. morning at Nancy's (she's renting a very cool house in a tiny town called Preemption), we headed back to meet up with the extended family. Food, games, food, swimming, games, and more food - what could be better?! I ended up getting permission from work to work from "home", so I stayed in the Quad Cities & worked from there in the early part of the week. We had a blast playing more board games, discussing things, listening to bits of Tom playing piano, and holding Kalina.

On a lighter note, I like to blog when I have pictures to go with the text. For this trip I stopped taking pictures after we left the Quad Cities, since Tom and others were doing so. Gosh-darn-it anyhow!
Tuesday, Tom and I headed up to Waterloo where we met/hung out with Michael - his good friend since elementary school - and his family. I really liked getting to know Michael, his wife Laura, and their son Isaac. We talked and ate pizza and played Power Grid, and I got to hear all sorts of stories! They're the kind of people that you just want to get to know better.

And then there's the concern - particularly when I'm talking about a series of events like this - whether my excitement at various opportunities and joy in the moments I share will sound like bragging or an endless litany?
Then we headed to Jen & Mustafa's place in the Twin Cities. They had invited friends to a house/birthday party, and Jonathan, Becky, Ray, Ben, Andrea, Tom and I were able to make it. We bummed around, ate amazing quantities of marvelous food (no idea how Jen pulls it off), karaoked, skiied, winter hiked, wandered a bit downtown, and generally had a stellar time. Oh - and we played board games!

And of course, a Christian's blog about December had better include something about the birth of Christ and how much it means to her - right? Hmmm. I think on that one, I'll simply follow a good role model this time around, and "treasure all these things up quietly" in my heart.
Saturday brought the final holiday gathering: Christmas with Amy's family at Augusta's house. Amy and Tim and Augusta and Chris and Sherman were there, of course. But also, Amy's mom Beth flew out, as did her daughter Katie, and then Grant, his girlfriend Christy, and daughter Margo were also able to drive in. It was great that it worked out for all of us to be there, and we had a lovely time. We had an outstanding Christmas dinner, and great fun exchanging gifts (I got Bohnanza - uh oh!!).

Finally, there's the fact that putting words together takes TIME. Time that could be spent packing up ornaments. Or sleeping.
Sunday I got to meet up with Jody for a quick ski in Eau Claire, and then got back safely to Appleton. Hooray!

Speaking of inadequately expressing appreciation, I got to listen to some great stuff on the car ride home. One such "stuff" was a podcast of the Dec. 7 teaching from Rob Bell: "Who Doesn't Want In On That?" - there were some really great thoughts in it that I may try to blog about in the future. Take a listen, if you get a chance, and we can compare notes - and I can maybe depart a bit from this monologue format and go toward conversation! Phwew!