Antibiotics, Doctors, and Books

Today I'm very weak. I've been pretty tired lately, and haven't really known why, but I've just felt like an old woman. I was like--what the hell?! I'm only 28! But then last night I woke up at like 3am and was peeing blood (yeah, that definitely is probaly more than you wanted to know. just deal.), so I went to the urgent care place this morning and found out I've been fighting a pretty bad infection. Go figure. Well, now I have the drugs, and hopefully my energy will return when this whole thing is killed. I typically hate going to the doctor because the conversation goes like this (dramatized):

Me: I think I have a sinus infection.
Dr.: You should probably lose weight.
Me: Um...this is about my sinuses, I feel like total crap and I need you to look up my nose and help me out here.
Dr.: Do you exercise?
Me: Uh, yeah, almost always 5 days a week, I go to the gym or go for walks.
Dr.: (I can tell he doesn't believe me about the exercise, even though I'm telling the truth.)
Me: But can we get back to figuring out about this annoying and horrible sinus infection I have?
Dr.: Man, I wish everyone would be at their ideal weight on this super awesome weight chart of mine. Thin people never get sinus infections.
Me: (stares in disbelief, thinking "screw you")

Okay, so that's not verbatim. But you get the idea. It hasn't been as much like that in the past few years, I think I know how to advocate for myself better--and I don't just feel ashamed for getting a sinus infection or whatever anymore. But anyway, going to the doctor isn't always my favorite thing. So I'm glad it was relatively painless today, and they were very kind and helpful. When I'm already sick, I don't love people making snap judgments and criticisms. Not that I love that when I'm not sick either.

So, since I've been under the weather, I've been able to do a lot of reading. I have read over half of that short book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Sider and I must say I'm very disappointed. After his first book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, I had high hopes. But alas, it's not very interesting, doesn't go into the issues very deeply, and screams of agenda-driven biblical exegesis. I don't recommend it. However, I do recommend the book I'm reading now, that I'm almost finished with called Kafka on the Shore. My friend Aline recommended the author to me after she read The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. I have found this book very enjoyable, and I will probably read other books of Murakami's in the future. For now, I am looking to read another novel after this one, by whoever. Anybody have any suggestions?


Why We "Choose" Christianity

Several things people have said lately have got me thinking about why Christians choose to be Christians. A couple of the incidents are here in my blog--like my friend who chose not to be a Christian because it felt too demanding for her. And then, a comment by RegularGoy (in my other blog) on my entry about that incident where he writes:

I think the sheer fact that people feel the need to extricate Christianity from their lives because they're dealing with other things (i.e. Christianity hinders, rather than helps, that process) is evidence for its inability to help some people. I've reached the conclusion that Christianity isn't for everybody--there are some people who aren't wired for it. I hope that doesn't mean they're going to hell, like Augustine and other predestinarians do.

Then, another friend recently mentioned how she was struck lately by Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Specifically, she was struck by the way Solomon had the freedom (her word) to go out and try every sin and alternative to God out there, and only then did he realize that only God could satisfy him. She was saying this was a positive thing--that Solomon turned to God by realzing this was the thing that satisfied him the most.

But all these little things, and other comments, got me wondering: Do we really choose to follow God because God "works" for us? Do we decide to stick with Christianity only when it feels fulfilling, and seems to help us deal with our issues? Is the point of God's existence really to satisfy us? On one hand it makes sense that relationship with God and following Jesus in our lives would be the most ultimately satisfying way to live (though it sometimes wouldn't feel that way). But should that be the reason we follow God? Because it's the thing that "works" for us the best of all the other philosophies out there? I dunno. It just seems totally self-centered to me. And maybe we don't choose Christianity at all...maybe it chooses us... (I wouldn't be a very good Presbyterian if I didn't throw that option in there...)

I'm not sure this is getting my point across...but if it is, anybody have any thoughts about this?


A Friend Leaving the Faith

I had a great weekend up in L.A. It was great to see some people I haven't seen in a while, and just to have conversations and spend time together. And now it's just nice to have a break and to read and walk and cook and relax.

Right now I'm feeling really grieved about one of my friends though, one of my closest friends. She has been taking a break from being a Christian lately, mostly because she just hasn 't felt up for it, and said she wanted to work on some other issues in her life. That has been sad in itself, but I have just felt that when the issues were more resolved, and some healing took place, she would return to the faith. But when I saw her, she told me that she thought there was a good chance that after she finished working through those issues, she wouldn't return to Christianity. She said it just felt too restrictive for her--and that she's tired of feeling like she doesn't measure up to God's standards. She's just tired of constantly feeling like she has to do more, and that evenso it's not radical enough to really ever be enough for God. She's just tired of the high demands and expectations. She's just tired. But since she decided to give up on Christianity for the long term, she said she's felt a lot better--a lot more free and at peace with herself.

And right after she told me that she asked, "So what do you think? What's your reaction to that?"

And for some reason I didn't feel free to express the depth of feeling her news raised in me. I was pretty calm, even-tempered, and collected in my response, but in retrospect I wish I had honestly let my true feelings and reaction out. What I felt was crushed and pained deep down in my soul. I felt so sad for her, and also sad for myself and our friendship. I mean, I think it's good that she's casting off her version of "Christianity" with an ogre God who just wants to crack the whip and tell her how much she's not working and doing enough. But I always hoped that paradigm was getting broken so that God could replace it with something empowering and loving that celebrated who she is and gave her a call to service and freedom.

I guess that is still possible, and I can choose to hope...since hope isn't something that's just naturally springing up right now.


iPods, Planes, and the New $1,000 Question

1. I have made a tenative decision about the iPod. I plan to trade someone who has a 4th Generation iPod (that is still in good working condition) for my new 5th Gen video iPod, and just have them pay me like $100-150 or so. That's quite a rebate from $300, and I feel like it's a pretty good deal. But anyway, my conviction about owning it never went away. And I get so rarely convicted about money/possessions these days (probably because my walls of rationalization grow thicker each day) that I should probably pay attention when I actually am convicted. I'm still not 100% sure that's what I'm going to do...but that's where I'm leaning at the moment. So if you or someone you know is interested in the exchange, let me know.

2. I'm leaving for L.A. tomorrow afternoon. I'll be spending the weekend in L.A. getting to see some friends, then spend some time at the family compound in S.D. for the week and a half after that. Then I'm going up to Seattle on February 1 to visit the L'Arche community and see if it's somewhere I'd want to live after seminary. And yes, the new iPod will be traveling with me, along with a few TV shows I downloaded to watch on the plane...

3. I had a horrible dream last night where one of my best friends killed herself, and I found her while she lay dying. She said she had shot herself through the heart. Then, as I held her and she was dying, she renounced God. I would be hard-pressed to make up a worse dream for myself. Needless to say, I called her and she is indeed fine...and I'll get a chance to see her on Saturday.

4. One question I've been throwing around lately is this: Who do I less like to consider a brother/sister in Christ? a) Someone like Pat Robertson OR b) Someone who doesn't really believe in Jesus, doesn't believe in the resurrection or miracles, is totally self-involved, doesn't give a f**k about any kind of biblically based morality (not that it is so easily defined), but was raised in the church and still goes to church, and calls him/herself a Christian? It's probably an easy answer for some of you...but I'm not sure yet...

5. I'm just starting the book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?. I really liked Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by the same author (Ron Sider), so I have high hopes for this one (though it's much, much shorter).


Jim Wallis and The Pesky Gap

So tonight I went to hear Jim Wallis (author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get it) speak about faith, politics, hope, and what issues are really worth Christians fighting for. He talked about how the most vocal Christians in America are focused all around two issues: Abortion and Gay Marriage. And he didn't say those weren't important issues, but rather those are not the most important issues...especially given the 2,000 verses in the Bible about caring for the poor. He finds ending poverty to be priority #1, and wants to reclaim the idea (that has existed in African-American Evangelical churches forever already) that this is the moral issue worth fighting for.

And I definitely agree with his point. (Though, perhaps in a future entry, maybe after my 30 day restriction has ended, I will talk about whether and how it can make sense, as Christians, to fight to gain more prominence and power politically...that is for another time.)

But the thing that kills me--about myself and about everyone else--is how great a disconnect there is between what we profess to believe, and how we live. For example, right after Jim Wallis' speech ended to a standing ovation (which was taking place in a large church auditorium at Emory University), I was waiting for someone to let me out of my row, and no one would stop their walk down the aisle to let me out. And I wasn't angry about it, it just seemed so ironic. We had just spent 2 hours being good liberals and listening to a guy talk about how we need to fight to end poverty and racisim, and we can't even love the people around us enough to let them out of their aisle.

And that irony of faith pains me, as well as exists in me (see previous entry). I really want my actions to match up with what I say, in every moment of my everyday life, and they don't. I could name 5 people at my school here that I really don't like (maybe more), and I rarely even try to love them. And I say negative things about them behind their backs, and sometimes treat them condescendingly. This is not good. This does not match up with what I profess to believe about the intrinsic value and belovedness of all people.

And yes, there is grace for me and I'm sinful and fallen and will never be perfect. Trust me, I'm well aware of that. But I also believe in a God who is powerful enough to transform my heart and my life, and to lessen the gap between my preaching and my practice.

So God, if you're reading this, and I do think you are, please do lessen that gap. Thanks. You Rock.


My Restriction

So after my purchase yesterday, I am hereby placing myself on restriction. I am officially not allowed to sound off about what it means to be a "real Christian" for 30 days. Not that I was perfect before (far from it), but I feel like in light of my purchase I especially lack the integrity to talk about it right now. So, to keep myself from feeling like a 100% hypocrite (I think usually I'm only in the 93% hypocrite range), my sermonizing about "real Christianity" will take a hiatus for 30 days.

*And across the land, loud cheers are heard by all.*


This Blog...

So, I am kind of getting bored of updating this blog when almost no one ever comments on it. Even though I just copy and paste my entries from my other blog (where friends actually do comment), it's just not fun to keep posting things here and getting zero comments. A lot of it is ego really. I'll admit that.
I was keeping this blog because you can leave comments even if you're not a subscriber, and some people said they wanted to do that. Whereas for my other blog (the one that actually gets action) you have to subscribe to the site.
So here's your chance. If you want this blog to stay up, and if you think there is a possibility you might leave a comment on it in the future, please leave a comment on this entry just saying so (you can just put your initials if you don't want to write your whole name). If no one really responds, I'll probably just stop updating this one.
In the meantime, here's my latest entry from my other blog:

Some random thoughts for today...

1. I would like to see a throwdown between Beck and Moby. And I would totally be rooting for Beck.
2. I am convinced that a friend of mine and I would fall in love with each other if two things were different. a) I was more into hardcore athletic activities (meaning things besides working out at the gym and going for meandering walks, those don't really count), specifically if I was more into bicycling AND b) If he was more into art and literature (more like a general aesthetic appreciation). But my friend who knows both of us says those are not good reasons to claim incompatibility.
3. Lately I've been thinking a lot about whether beliefs shape actions more, or whether actions shape beliefs more. It's definitely both, but I think I lean more towards beliefs shaping actions more.
4. I hardly ever watch TV, but my friend Ani and I watched 3 hours of TV tonight (CSI: Miami, Beauty and the Geek 2, Without a Trace).
5. Tonight I met a friend's son who has some intellectual disabilities. I immediately loved him. Even though I know it's not true, sometimes I wonder whether the giant amount I enjoy and love hanging out and being around people with developmental disabilities somehow precludes that from my list of possible callings. Like it's too easy or something. (Again, I realize this is not true.)
6. Saturday I'm going to watch The Color Purple for the first time. My friends Brandon and Sheena can basically perform the entire movie's dialogue with each other, so I'm going to go watch it with them and some other folks. I am looking forward to that.


That Cra-zay Jesus

So many things are on my mind right now. I'm having a sort of reigniting of my passions--for God, for the Kingdom, for radically loving others--for the Gospel. And I'm really grateful for it. It's too much to write about in a little blog entry. Really, I'm not totally sure I have words yet for what God is doing with me right now. But I feel like it's a definite igniting of some sort. And I think it will probably take me some places that are uncomfortable for me...but I am still feeling like this is a very good thing.

One of the themes of the Christian life that I'm coming back to now in a new way, and which has come up for me over and over through the years, is the idea that following Jesus makes us do so many things that are counter-intuitive and make no sense apart from the reality of the Gospel. Jesus is such a subverter of how we view everything in this world.

And the mainstream American "Christianity" is really bugging me lately. Not that it hasn't always bugged me, but it's bugging me in a new way. But I'm not just being critical of the ambiguous them outside myself. I am really aware of how complicit I am in that whole structure. No, I don't give a f*ck whether you say "Merry Christmas", "Happy Holidays", or "Go blow yourself." I am not complicit in that way. Rather, it is just so easy for me to be comfortable. It's easy for me to find friends who are like me. It's easy for me to love other people when I'm feeling up to it, and then only according to my terms. It's easy for me to love those who love me.

But Christianity is so SO SOOOOOOOOOOO not that. Following Jesus doesn't mean being uncomfortable for the sake of being uncomfortable. That's stupid, and it's just idolizing discomfort. But it does mean that as a rule I look out for the needs of the people I encounter, above my own comfort. It does mean that I welcome and love people who don't often get welcomed and loved in this world. It does mean that with some of the people I hang out with, it makes no sense that we should even know each other, much less love each other. It means that I love my enemies in real, concrete ways. I know this is nothing new to any of us who follow Jesus. On paper, in my brain, in a sermon, it's really not that big a deal. But actually doing it...that is where all sorts of CRAZY stuff happens. Crazy Jesus stuff.

When I was going to All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena (the church that was getting investigated by the IRS a few months ago because they were mentioning politics in the pulpit) I remember the preacher saying that when someone looked at the life of a Christian, it shouldn't make sense. There should be things about the life that, apart from the truth of the Gospel, seem totally odd and ridiculous. I am not sure I have that life now. But I want that life.


Quotation from The Damnation of Theron Ware

In lieu of writing an actual entry of my own thoughts today, I'll just copy in a quotation from the novel we read for my little 2 week January class I'm in now. I really liked the quote, and I hope you will too. It has given me some things to think about.

The set-up: There is a young minister who is new in town--and a very intelligent and respected young woman in the town is telling him she thinks he has something to contribute and to bring to the people of the town. He thinks she has mistaken him for a different sort of person, because he realizes he has not had as much experience with intellectual and academic matters as a couple of the other religious leaders in the town. Here is her response:

"That wasn't what I meant at all. We don't want arguments from our friends: we want sympathies, sensibilities, emotional bonds. The right person's silence is worth more for companionship than the wisest talk in the world from anybody else. It isn't your mind that is needed here, or what you know; it is your heart, and what you feel. You are full of poetry--of ideals--of generous, unselfish impulses. You see the human, the warm-blooded side of things. That is what is really valuable. That is how you can help!"



I would just like to use these lines of blog space to remind myself, and you my lovely blog reader, that busyness is not necessarily a virtue.

It's been striking me lately how much having "plans" or "something to do" seems like such a good thing all the time. And how if I'm ever caught on one of those high-property-value nights with nothing to do (i.e., Friday and Saturday), then I think I am a loser. More than that, I've just been noticing lately how sometimes we wear our busyness like a badge of honor. We say things like "I had so many things to get to today I didn't even have time to eat!" or "These days there have just been so many things to do and not enough time to do them." Somehow this makes us feel important.

Since my probable next stop on this journey of life (a L'Arche community) moves at a much slower pace than the rest of the world, I'm going to have to try to hop off the busyness train. But it's not as easy as it would seem--because that idol of plans, schedules, and filling time with stuff is hard to get rid of.

It's easy to *say* there is nothing truly important in this world but loving God and loving people; but it's much harder to intentionally arrange my life so there is really adequate wiggle room for both of those things to happen with daily and abundant regularity. The hard part is to have the strength and wisdom to lay aside the temporary feeling of fullness that comes from a busy schedule, and to do the hard work of cultivating the fullness which can only be found in loving (which often doesn't happen according to a schedule at all).


My Date with THE MAN

So, today I had my date with The Man. That's right, THE Man.

Here's how it went down:

Judge: The officer has charged you with runnning a red light. How do you plead?

Me: Guilty--but let me explain. My trunk was full of several kilos of cocaine and a pimp and a cop, and I really needed to get through that intersection quickly, y'know? I mean, Ms. Judge, seriously. All those supermodels needed their coke, y'know? Otherwise they might have put on like half a pound, and then who would hire them? THE HORROR!!!

OK...not really. What actually happened is that I STUCK IT TO THE MAN! Well, not really that either...they just basically let us all get off with no points, nothing on our records, and we just had to pay the fine. So, $135 later, it's done.

Yeah, take THAT suckas!


Awards, Community, Idealism

So I got an email from a professor yesterday letting me know I didn't get some award that I had applied for, and that it was going to two other students. The thing is, I never actually applied for this award. The professor mentioned that she thought I should apply for it, but I never thought about it again after that. Whatever. Leave it to me to get a rejection letter for something I never even applied for.

But it got me thinking a lot about awards, prizes, hierarchical divisions of achievement, etc. I can't help but feel like these things are antithetical to the Gospel. In the new school newsletter there are listings of who got which scholarship in the hierarchy, complete with names and photos. It creates an environment of comparison, competition, and necessary "sizing-up" among colleagues. I realize that this is an academic institution, and certain things are "normal" in such an institution. But to me, I just don't like the message it sends or the community that is created by such a system. I'm all for giving people money and scholarships--but do you really need to publicly say who gets what? It doesn't sit well with me.

Yes, in an ideal world we would all sit back and rejoice with those who are recognized. This is not that world. People's feelings get hurt, people feel bitter/prideful etc. I think I am just not in favor of awards, especially not in a seminary. The Gospel is not about creating a totem pole where we give accolades to the strong at the expense of the weak. I believe that in fact, in a Christian community it is the so-called "weaker" members that are given even greater value (go ahead, look it up).

This leads me to another thought (thanks to talking to CMUG about this tonight): which is better, to be idealistic about what Christian community and Christian institutions should be like, and therefore to be constantly disappointed? Or to be cynical about everything? Which is better?