How are you?

Time and again, as I've talked to international students here, one of the things they always comment on is how odd it is that we use the question, "How are you?" as a common greeting. They relate the travails they have expereinced learning that it's not actually a legitimate question. They say things like, "At first I would actually start to tell the person how I was doing, but I noticed they just kept walking past me. So I figured out that they didn't really want to know."

We had a Kenyan student here a couple years ago who seemed to misunderstand the whole greeting thing, but after I thought about it, it shed some light on this "how are you doing?" charade. This is how our greeting each other would go:

Me: Hey there Hezekiah!
Him: Good! Good!

He had obviously heard the oft repeated salutations:

Person 1: Hey, how are you?
Person 2: Good, and you?
Person 1: Good.

I mean, may as well skip the whole "How are you?" part, since it's just a bunch of BS anyway. Seriously, it bothers me sometimes. Maybe it bothers me more when I really actually want someone to care how I'm doing, and all I get are these empty greetings that semantically seem to offer some care, but are just hollow salutations.

I personally try to never ask that question unless I actually am willing to break my stride and show that I am actually open to a real answer. And for a while I refused to answer that question dishonestly. No, I didn't give each person a run-down of my entire emotional state, but I would either simply nod and not verbally answer or I would answer with a verb rather than an emotional state. Example:

Person: Hey Bethany, how are you?
Me: Just going to check my mail. Have a good day!

This worked for a while, but then a few people began to pick up that I wasn't actually giving the right response. They would say, "That's what you're doing, not how you are!" (As if I was oblivious to this.)

Maybe you're all thinking: "Oh gosh, Bethany. Does it really matter? It's just a formality of everyday life that doesn't mean anything. Stop blowing it out of proportion." But yes. It does mean something to me. And I really would like to figure out how to somehow get out of the linguistic habit of saying things out of politeness that I don't really mean. And I would like to figure out how to be honest in answering without having to blow someone off, tell them how I actually am, or piss them off by deconstructing what is just a normal social nicety.


The Question Game!

From stephaniecapell:

1. How do you plan to celebrate getting the MDiv?

Hm. This is a good question...I haven't really planned any specific kind of ritual or anything. One of my best friends, Jose, is coming out from L.A. for graduation weekend, and then he will be accompanying me on the drive back to the west coast--and that is going to be a wild celebration of a time! And then there's the usual things like lunch with the family, etc. There will also be a reception at my mom's house in SD county sometime this summer, to which all of you California folks will be invited.

2. Why do you like Patty Griffin so much? Also, what other singer is she similar to, if applicable?

As I sit here listening to her sing the song "Long Ride Home," finding the answer to that question is both easy and difficult. It's like answering the question "Why do you love this person?" You can name a whole list of things you love about them, but the bottom line is the answer is deeper and more mysterious than anything you can name. That said, I'll name a few things I do love about her. Her songs are often really, really sad--and it is in their sadness that they have this profound beauty. They are filled with emotion (often grief, loneliness, sorrow) and her voice really reflects those emotions. She knows how to use tone, volume, and all of that. But I don't think she just "uses" them like some other artists, I think she really does feel the things she's singing. And it's that empathetic vibe that I really gel with. Plus, I love to sing LOUD. And Patty's songs are all in my sweet belting range, and I can play many of them on the guitar. Sometimes I'll go up to the chapel late at night, when no one is around, and sing loud enough to wake the dead. It's a very cathartic thing--singing these grief-filled songs at the top of my lungs.

Eek. Comparing her to someone would be impossible for me, because to me she is beyond and separate from all others. So, instead, I will name a couple comparisons other people have made. I have heard people compare her voice to the lead singer of the Dixie Chicks. I have also heard her compared to this other folkie type singer named Nanci Griffith. But trust me, she's in a class to herself.

3. Out of all the jobs you’ve had, which one have you learned the most from?

Great question. I'm going to pull a stephcapell and say it's a tie (so I can name 2!). I would say I've learned something really significant from all of my jobs, but a couple of them stand out as transforming my life in really important ways. Teaching at a special ed high school in LAUSD definitely taught me a lot. It was through my relationships with the students (in particular, the light of my life, Xochitl) that I learned a lot about myself, God, life, and love. I learned a lot about physical beauty--my eyes were opened to see a broader range of beauty (in both others and myself) than what our culture deems as beautiful.
I also learned a lot in my work as a hospice chaplain--about the dying process, grief, and family dynamics. But also I learned a ton about myself, how I relate to people, what of my own issues get mixed in with how I provide care, etc.

4. Did you decide what laptop you wanted?

Yes, I did. I will be making the switch, and becoming a Mac user. I will most likely get a 12" G4 iBook. And I am convinced that the domination of the iPod is just the first step in Apple's future domination of the technological world. So, I am helping them in their goal to world domination.

5. If you could revive any friendship from the past, which one would you chose?

That is a really interesting question! So, I'm assuming this is someone I have totally lost contact with, and not just a friend I want to have increased intimacy with. And for this, I would say my friend John Paul Lopez (I am putting his full name on the off-chance he'll google himself, read this, and get in touch with me!). We knew each other in high school, and then after high school we spent almost every waking moment of the summer together. We stayed out until 5am almost every night, and he was like a brother to me. I moved up to UCLA for school, and stayed in pretty good touch with him for a few years, but then we just lost contact. He did go up to Berekeley for school, and I have heard some kind of sad rumors about what he's up to now...but I have no way of getting in touch with him. I'd like to though.

Thanks for playing, stephaniecapell!

1. If you want to play, leave a comment below saying so.
2. I'll post five unique questions to the comments section of YOUR latest post.
3. You answer them in your blog.
4. In your post, you include this explanation and an offer to interview others.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.


The End of the Petition

So, this week the faculty voted on the petition I brought forward (along with half of the graduating class who signed it). I discovered today, it was voted down unanimously at this week's faculty meeting. Thus, the awards will be announced as always during the graduation ceremony.

The reasons they chose to keep things as they are (as told to me by a faculty member) are as follows:
1) Some of the awards given (by families in honor of a deceased relative, etc.) stipulate that they are to be presented in this specific way.
2) Something else I forgot.
3) Given as the main reason: we are called to rejoice with those who rejoice rather than to respond in bitterness or resentment.

This feels like a huge blow. Honestly, knowing the faculty here, I didn't expect it to go through. But there were a few faculty who I really felt were on the same page with me when I talked to them, and seemed to have the same communal values and position on the awards issue. So I was really surprised, saddened, and disappointed that they did not support the petition. It is really hard that a value I hold with such centrality in my understanding of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel, and Christian communities would not even have one single supporter among the faculty here. I feel really alone right now. And disappointed.


Two Things...

1) I graduate exactly one month from today. This is both cool and weird.

2) Since I didn't attend the Patti Griffin concert tonight (alas!), I decided to post the lyrics to one of my favorite songs of hers instead. This song is actually my favorite song to play on the guitar and sing along to. In other words, there are some really great belting parts. And more often than not I can't actually sing through the whole song, really feeling it, without bursting into tears. Especially that last stanza. It cuts deep.

Sweet Lorraine

Sweet Lorraine the fiery haired brown eyed schemer
Who came from a long line of drinkers and dreamers
Who knew that sunshine don't hold up to dark
Whose businesses fail
Who sleep in the park

Lorraine who spoke of paintings in Paris
And outlandish things to her family just to scare us
whose heart went pokin' where it shouldn't ought
Whose mother could only spit at the thought
Lorraine, sweet Lorraine

Her father would tear out like a page of the Bible
Then he'd burn down the house to announce his arrival
Her mother was working and never was home
Lorraine carved out a little life of her own

Lorraine started working, Lorraine went to school
Her mother threw stones at her on the day that she moved
Now isn't that a very strange thing to do
For someone who never really wanted you
Lorraine, sweet Lorraine

Her daddy called her a slut and a whore
On the night before her wedding day
The very next morning at the church
Her daddy gave Lorraine away, Lorraine away
Lorraine, sweet Lorraine

In the battle of time in the battle of will
It's only your hope and your heart that gets killed
And it gets harder and harder Lorraine, to believe in magic
When what came before you is so very tragic
Lorraine, sweet Lorraine
P.S. Casey--sorry I missed you. I really wanted to get a chance to chat more about the awards thing, and how you're doing up in Memphis. I didn't see you on Wednesday morning, and then I guess you left. Hope it was a good trip, and hopefully I'll see ya when you're here again in a month. This place is killing me with the awards thing--they just sent out word about another award I could apply for, for doing well on Worship and Theology ords. DANG IT!!! Alas. Take care.


A Survey

I have tagged myself, from this guy's post, since I have nothing else I want to write about today. I will say though, that I won't be going to the Patty Griffin concert--I couldn't find anyone else who was a rabid enough fan to do something so crazy, and it didn't seem like something to do alone. Alright, so here's the survey.

How well do you know me?

Four jobs I've had:
1. Special Education Teacher for LAUSD
2. Actress
3. Subway Sandwich Artist
4. Hospice Chaplain

Four movies I would watch over and over:
1. Magnolia
2. 28 Days
3. When Harry Met Sally
4. Mumford

Four places I have lived:
1. Southern California
2. Atlanta area
3. In a Salvation Army training facility (not as a member of the church)
4. In a former sanitarium outside of Moscow (only for a few weeks)

Four tv shows I love to watch:
1. Veronica Mars
2. Sex and the City
3. Simpsons
4. Twin Peaks

Vacation Spots:
1. Chicago
2. Savannah
3. St. Petersburg, Russia
4. Australia

Four favorite foods:
1. Sushi (especially salmon ngiri)
2. Kraft Macaroni and cheese (yes, I am a toddler)
3. Potstickers
4. Beef ribs (sorry, cows)

Four places I'd rather be:
1. Los Angeles
2. Seattle
3. Moscow
4. Oaxaca



Since I almost never want advice, and since so many of the people in the world LOVE to give it, I figured I would post about two things that I'm thinking about that I actually would appreciate people's input on. Feel free to quell your thirst for giving advice and sharing all the wisdom of your experience.

1) My current absolute favorite musician is Patty Griffin. I adore her. And she's playing on Thursday night for only $10!!! The thing is though, it's in Mississippi and a 5 hour drive from here. So, even though the ticket is only $10, that's a lot of time (10 hours driving) and gas money ($60) to spend on a concert. Though I do really really love her and would thoroughly enjoy seeing her in concert. Should I do it?

2) For my graduation present, my mom and step-dad have agreed to buy me a new laptop. I have been a loyal PC user for my entire life and have really enjoyed using them. But in the past couple of years I have heard some really excellent things about Macs that make me consider switching (e.g., longer battery life, much slimmer chance of contracting viruses, more power, etc.). But this is a really big decision, and one that I'm not fully equipped to make on my own. So...thoughts?

Alright, advise away.


Deadline for Awards

Friday is the deadline for submitting a paper for consideration for an academic award. I have been doing a lot of thinking about whether I could indeed submit an exegesis paper, and still have a modicum of congruence between my values and actions.

If we're just framing it in terms of the petition I wrote about not announcing the names of the award winners at graduation, then there's nothing inherently wrong with me submitting a paper for an award. Because the petition was just about the announcement of awards, not about the giving of awards in general. And besides, one of my professors last semester told me that she thought I should submit one of my papers for the exegesis award. And the fact is, I would *love* to get an award. I would love to have people say, "You know Bethany, after careful consideration, we have determined that you really are the best and smartest exegete in your class." Who doesn't like to be told you're the best? Man, I love it.

But those desires are not coming from a place of deep love for God and for my sisters and brothers in Christ. They are coming from a place of pride, selfishness, and wanting to find my value in being better than someone else.

The reality is, I am against this concept of awards in general within the body of Christ. Even though my petition didn't go that far, and even though I didn't take any kind of public stand against the awards in general, the truth is that I do not agree with a system or structure that makes our brothers and sisters into our rivals--or that compares people to one another in order to choose who is the "best." (Again, to clarify, I am all for honoring each other for the great talents and gifts we have--and for encouraging each other to use them; I just cannot support this being done in a competitive way.) The following pops into my mind:

An argument arose among them as to which one of them was the greatest. But Jesus, aware of their inner thoughts, took a little child and put it by his side, and said to them, "Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest." Luke 9:46-48

The bottom line is, I cannot in good faith submit any papers for an award. So I won't.


Back in the ATL

It was a great visit to the Northwest, and I met many wonderful people. Until the details about my placement get worked out though, I'll refrain from going into a lot of details about the trip. Let's just say, God was at work and brought a lot of clarity. Plus, the whole money situation is ALREADY worked out--regarding the concern about being able to pay back my loans while not getting a lot of pay (see a couple entries ago). It's not going to be a problem.

But now, I need to do all the work I didn't get done during my trip. Argh.

I'll leave you with one Bonhoeffer quotation that a few people in the L'Arche communities mentioned: Those who love community destroy community, but those who love their brothers and sisters build it up.

There is something really wise in that statement. But I will add one qualifier and say that it's possible to both love community and to love your brothers and sisters. So, just because someone loves community doesn't mean they'll necessarily destroy a community. It's only if they love the ideal of community and not actual people. For the record.


The McPassion of America

Well, I'm off. Gotta get packed, grab some lunch with a friend, and then head to the airport. I'll be in Seattle a few days, then Portland a couple days, then I'll fly back to Atlanta on Monday. I'm excited about the trip--but all of the usual insecurities and anxieties about meeting new people and going to new places also join the mix of feelings. But mostly I am excited. It is weird that this desire to live in a L'Arche community that I've had for several years now, that has existed mostly in the abstract, is moving closer to fruition.

While I'm gone, feel free to watch a short film online tying together the movie The Passion of the Christ with McDonald's called The McPassion. I'm not really sure whether it's deeply offensive, an appropriate satire of consumeristic American "Christian" culture, or just kind of silly. Maybe all three. When I think about it as a critique of Christian capitalism and consumerism, I'm less offended by it. (But if you are easily offended by mockeries of Christian culture, or jokes about Jesus, definitely don't watch the movie. I did find myself cringing in a few places. There's your warning.)

But this past Saturday, my friend Danny and I were at a jewelry party (you know, one of those parties where you are invited to buy things) and there were several telling moments. First, in describing the company, our hostess told us the company was based on biblical values. We looked at each other oddly, thinking, which biblical values are exactly being uplifted here? Vanity? Capitalism? Then, when we were looking through the catalog, we noticed a page selling that type of bracelet where you can buy links that say things (kind of like a charm bracelet for the new millenium). There were three sets of links you could buy, and we found it very VERY telling of American culture. Here were the sets, in order (note the progression):

1) Faith- including links like: WWJD, a Christian fish symbol, a cross, etc.
2) Freedom- including links like: the American flag, USA ribbon, red, white, and blue jewels
3) (I forgot the name of this pack)- including links like: Love 2 Shop, lipstick, etc.

I wished I could rip that page out of the catalog and distribute it to the entire country. It's just so telling. Anyway, I'm off. Everyone have a great rest of your week and weekend. Godspeed!


Ah, the Irony.

So, in my last entry I was going on about how God likes to use the weak of the world to shame the strong--about how God likes to do a lot with a little, rather than a lot with a lot (like in Judges 7). And then, I was sent information on the amount of stipend paid to assistants who live in a L'Arche community. Now, don't get me wrong, I can live quite simply and don't really need a lot of material things to get by. And I think it's good that the resources of the community are used well, and not to support lavish spending habits. But let's just say this amount was about half of what I expected it to be. Ouch.

It's not about having the money, it's about the fact that when I leave seminary I will have almost 12K in debt. And that is hardly anything for a masters degree from a private institution--it's a steal. My church helped me out a lot for my 2nd and 3rd year, and I didn't have to take out any loans during them. That was an incredible blessing for which I am grateful. But the fact remains that I don't really see how I will even be able to pay my student loans with the amount of money I will get working in a L'Arche community.

I guess this is the part where faith comes in. Where I am invited to trust that God always equips me for where God has called me. I am sure that God will make a way, but I guess I was just not aware of what a difficulty it would be. I can be hopelessly impractical sometimes.


An Aspect of God

Over the past few days, I've been reminded of one of my favorite things about God. First abstractly, and then God solidified it in a concrete situation. It's not a new thing, but there is something in our culture that makes it really easy to forget this. And I really do love this about God. It's probably one of the things that really gives me a feeling of affection for God--like, real affection, like, "you make my heart smile when I think of you" affection. I mean, I always love God, but there are not as many moments where I can really feel the sentiment. But I am feeling it now.

So what is this thing about God that makes my heart flutter, you ask?

Well, here's the explanation. I'm in a Bible study where we all read 3 chapters a day, and meet once a week to talk about what we've read. We started maybe a couple months ago at Genesis 1, and now we're almost done with Judges. And I love Judges. It's one of my favorite books in the Old Testament. And at Bible study this past week I started to comment on something I had noticed about God in the reading, and just like that, as soon as I started to verbalize it, there went my heart--aflutter.

I love that God especially chooses to work through the unlikeliest of candidates to do God's work in the world. Either choosing to whittle down a great army to a mere band of 300 clowns who lap water like dogs to fight a battle, or choosing women to defeat military leaders, or having a child kill an oppressive giant--God is constantly constantly choosing the "weak things of the world" to overcome the strong. I love that God does that. I love that God does that for God's own glory, and I love that God does that to subvert the earthly concepts of weakness and strength.

I totally love it. LOVE it. I think this world would be very different if we American Christians could hold onto this reality for more than 5 minutes at a time.