Saturday, March 1, 2014

Being a devoted fan is hard work.

Around the time when I got to first wear contacts and my teeth were beginning to look normal as the braces did their job, I decided that the Lord of the Rings was cool.  I don't remember why I decided that it was cool.  Probably, as with most things, it was because some people I held in high esteem liked it.  For instance, around the same time I had decided that playing the saxophone was cool, mostly because the barry sax player in the jazz band at school was the kind of person I wished I was.

Anyway, it was a good time to decide to become a Tolkien fan, with the hype of the release of the Fellowship of the Ring movie building.  I was able to finish the first two books of LOTR before I saw the movie, and it’s for this reason that I think I can say I’m a true dedicated fan and not just someone who falls in love with the books after seeing the movies.  For me, things happened pretty much simultaneously, at least for the first year.  The next two years, I would re-read the Lord of the Rings in its entirety before going to see the next installment.  I started this yearly tradition of reading the book and it continued for quite some time after.  I was officially part of a fandom, I was a Ringer!
In those awkward adolescent years, I can honestly say that LOTR stands out as a positive force of good in my life.  I fell deeply in love with the story and characters, and it gave me hope and something to live for, but it really also became an obsession bordering on idolatry.  I wasted huge sums of money buying things for my collection: all of Tolkien’s books, movie books, those costly but precious extended edition gift sets, movie soundtracks, trading cards, replicas of the One Ring which I would actually wear around my neck… I even wanted a movie replica sword (thankfully I couldn’t afford one, though I did manage to acquire a miniscule letter opener version of Anduril).  

But I noticed that something troubling began to happen.  Because I loved the world of Middle Earth so much, I couldn’t stay away from it.  And yet each time I went there again, watching the movies or re-reading the book for the 20th time, I loved it a little less – or it affected me less and less.  By that time, many words, phrases and character lines were so familiar that I could quote them by heart.  And I was troubled because they began to lose their meaning.  My heart didn’t catch at the place where Gandalf tells Frodo that “even the very wise cannot see all ends.”  I didn’t feel that swelling of love, admiration and pity when Samwise picks up Frodo and carries him up Mount Doom.  I could remember feeling great things, but those feelings weren’t there anymore.

I don’t often give my heart away to a story, but when I do, I do it completely.  For a while, I am utterly obsessed.  Then one tragic day when the winds are howling and the sky is the color of lead, I realize that the flames have died down and I can go back to ordinary life.  My current infatuation is Doctor Who, but I know that a time will come, sooner or later, when I will still love it, but will be tired of it.

Dare I say: the same thing happens with the Gospel.  That is the oldest story in my life by far.  Raised in the proverbial “Christian home,” I have been exposed to it since I was a small child.  I went to Sunday School and had primitive Bible storybooks and was told again and again the Christmas story.  Repetition has brought a certain tiredness to the words and a frustration on my part that I feel this way.  I know in my head that the story of Jesus is beautiful and powerful, but it’s hard to feel it in my heart these days.  I long to hear it for the first time, again.  Think of how different that would be.  To not know that the world was in the hands of an Almighty, holy God who was willing to become human to save us from ourselves and redeem the world.  And then to hear that story for the first time, to have a great swelling of hope and joy at the thought of redemption, healing, and impossible, enduring love.

I can’t just forget that I’ve heard the Gospel thousands of times.  But I can make an effort to refresh the story.  The Lord of the Rings recently was refreshed for me.  Why?  Because the Desolation of Smaug just came out.  Even though I think the new Hobbit movies are really quite terrible (besides brief moments of brilliance like Smaug himself), they reminded me what I loved about the Lord of the Rings.  The other night I watched the end of Return of the King and actually cried again, touched and moved by it for the first time in several years.  It’s hard to remain an infatuated fan.  There are only two ways: forget about it for a while, or explore it in entirely new ways. The only way I know how is to keep the story fresh and new, to explore it in novel, far-reaching ways through art and music, to talk about it and write about it and seek out similarities between it and daily life.

So I could distance myself from the Gospel and come back years later, when I’ve somewhat forgotten it.  There’s always the risk that I might not come back.  Or I could seek confirmation and truth in the Gospel in things that will touch my soul, in art and music, in good discussion, in beauty.

Some Christians think that the only way they’re allowed to connect with God is through reading the Bible.  Now of course I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and I think reading it constantly through life is extremely important for maintaining a correct lens about who God is.  I also think parts of the Bible are extremely beautiful and the book is certainly long enough to read it for a lifetime and still discover new or forgotten wisdoms.  But if I’m to taste and see that the Lord is good, I need to not only read the Bible but experience its Word playing out in daily life, everywhere.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Musing

My favorite Christmas carol is “Oh Holy Night,” because it reminds me that the world is pining for the new creation and the stars are shining in anticipation.

I know some people don’t believe that there is anything beyond and in control of this universe, and that the stars are alight due to the nuclear reactions of atoms in their cores, not because they are worshipping the God who created and sustains them.  That’s okay.  I have no definitive scientific proof.  But I have decided through much study and thought that it is not unreasonable to accept Christianity as the truth that shapes the world.

N.T. Wright wrote “Surprised by Hope,” to revitalize the Church’s idea of heaven and the resurrection.  I just finished reading it, and it is so appropriate for Christmas, even though it’s more about Easter.

Most Christmas church services I’ve been to do a great job of recognizing Christ’s birth and glorifying Him.  Most services make sure to emphasize that Christ is the personal savior of our sins, a bringer of hope and joy.  The service I went to tonight was beautiful, heart-felt and no doubt Spirit-filled, but I felt this bone-deep empty feeling due to the absence of any mention of the resurrection and the reason to have hope and joy.

They don’t really mention that Heaven will come to Earth and all creation will be redeemed.  Evil will be purged from all space and time and matter.  We will be resurrected into new physical-spiritual bodies on a new earth, not just exist in some mystical heavenly space.  And Christ will rule over all, with us as his co-rulers.

It actually sounds kind of crazy and radical when you think about it, but that part of Jesus’ message was just as important as the individual forgiveness of sins part. 

I just think that when we talk of our hope and our reason for glorifying the birth of Christ, we should not fail to mention these things.  Especially when Christmas Eve services are often populated by once-a-year church attendees who may not fully understand the basic goodness and loveliness of genuine Christian doctrine.  These are my thoughts.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Update for last two weeks.

When I started my food journey, I didn’t really think about the difficulties that would come spending two weeks away from my normal routine to go home for spring break and go on an adventure in the Pacific Northwest.  I began to feel vaguely guilty because I couldn’t think of any way to maintain a $20 a week grocery goal under such conditions.  I talked to some friends and my mom and decided to just do my best to be food-conscious, to resist the urge to indulge every small pang of hunger, and to keep track of everything.  And, of course, I didn’t want to be cheap.

Being cheap would be letting my good friend Grace in Seattle supply all of my food while I stayed with her (as hard as I tried to avoid it, she still supplied most of it).  Being cheap would involve avoiding social events at the conference that would involve going out to eat, or making my lent resolution public so that people would give me leftovers.  I tried to avoid all these things.

Here’s how I did:

The travel day: I brought lots of snacks from home so I’d be set all day long.  Because of the time change, I arrived at my hotel in Portland around 6:00 at night and still felt like I had time to go to a nearby Safeway to get groceries for the week.
Total at the store: $16.00, spent on sandwich materials, microwavable soups and fresh fruit.

The conference in Portland: I ate my groceries, made the unlimited free coffee in my hotel room rather than buying the expensive kind downstairs, and did not feel appreciably more hungry than I normally am.  I did go out to eat once with colleagues.  Though I only got an entrĂ©e, it still cost me $12 with tip, so as you can see I was about $8 over my weekly goal.  I also went to the conference banquet, which I had paid for several months ago so I didn’t really count it.  But I did appreciate that the banquet had cost me $35.00.  The banquet and the other dinner seemed necessary to me, though, purely for the social aspect.  I enjoyed them and was okay with spending the money within reason.

Visiting Grace in Seattle: I resolved to be less thrifty around Grace.  She knew about my resolution but I tried to make it very clear to her that it was okay if we went out to eat and that I wouldn’t worry about my spending habits too much.  Before we left Portland, I got a $4.00 sandwich from a food cart and a $2.00 cup of coffee from Stumptown (and I will have to say it was one of the best coffees I’ve ever had – maybe just because I was comparing it to the hotel stuff).  We took the bus to Seattle and got home pretty late, so Grace just cooked up some chicken and frozen vegetables for our dinner and we went straight to bed.

I love Grace because she is so generous.  We went grocery shopping and she insisted on buying the food.  Then she cooked me delicious meals.  She also bought my dinner one night when we went out to eat.  For the most part, we didn’t go out to eat, but that isn’t to say we didn’t eat well.  We had plenty of portable snacks for our adventures and the anticipation of savory, hearty meals when we returned.  The only things I actually bought for direct consumption were: another couple cups of coffee ($3.00 total, and can you see what holds the keys to my heart?  Maybe that’s what I should give up next), a bowl of salmon chowder ($5.00-ish?  I paid with cash), and a ridiculously tiny, adorable fruit tart ($2.00).

But does it matter?  Sure, I met my goal for the week, but only because most of my food needs were supplied by someone else.  I guess that brings me to my main point:

My $20 a week grocery resolution has not taught me what it means to be hungry, like I originally intended.  Instead, it has allowed me to experience the generosity of my friends and family and get really good at doing math.

Yes, I got hungry for sure.  My hunger was never terrible or debilitating though.  The biggest thing with living by the generosity of others is you don’t get to make the decisions about when, where and what to eat, which I did find very humbling and a little disconcerting.  But Grace always made sure I was well fed and I just had to trust her.

What if God treats me the same way, giving me what I need to be satisfied, not more or less?  Why do I have such a hard time appreciating that?  Why must I always be in control?

Only two more weeks to go.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Weekly Update #1

So, last week was not hard at all.  I had leftovers and 3 potluck dinners (which I did buy extra food to contribute to; I am trying my best not to be “cheap,” just frugal).  This week, though, I will only have one free dinner so it’s more of a challenge.  However, I was amazed at what I managed to buy at Kroger on Monday for a total of $20.27.

2 lb. ground turkey - $1.99 each
1 packet chili seasonings - $0.69
2 apples – $1.67
6 bananas – $0.87
1 lb. grapes - $2.01
2 bags frozen veggies - $1.00 each
1 can diced tomatoes - $0.67
½ gallon milk - $2.19
1 personal pizza (a Friday night treat!) - $1.34
1 can pasta sauce - $0.88
1 box whole grain noodles – $0.99
1 box granola bars (for breakfast) - $2.39

I’ll be using 1 lb. of the turkey to make chili (with all those beans I bought last week lol) and 1 lb. to make meatballs.

I am amazed because it seems like so much.  Safe, healthy food is so bountiful and cheap where I live.

This is not true for most places in the world.

I’ve been reading Kisses from Katie, the amazing story of a woman from Tennessee, about my age, who has become an adoptive mother of 13 girls in Uganda.  This book was highly recommended to me by a dear friend and fellow counselor from Camp Chestnut Ridge, and when I found out that another friend was reading it here in Athens, I asked to borrow it when she was finished.

Katie Davis inspires me, in the way she loves others and in the way she loves Jesus.  I don’t want my Lenten journey to just be for me: to just be about a feeling of solidarity and frugality.  I want to actually use my sacrifice (if you can call it that!) to help someone.  This week I’m going to donate the $20 I didn’t spend to her ministry, Amazima.  It’s not much, but in Uganda it can go far in feeding a hungry child.

Check out Katie's story!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Food for thought in the stable of thoughts.

I’m doing something a little different for lent this year.  I’m not giving up chocolate or candy or coke.  Yet I may find myself eating these things very rarely in the next couple months.

Why?  Because I’m giving up my $40 plus-a-week grocery bill and all the luxuries that it entails.  Cutting my food purchases down to $20 a week, I hope to develop an appreciation and thankfulness for the simple feeling of having a full belly.

See, I have been a slave to tasty food for as long as I can remember.  While it certainly isn’t a sin to enjoy food, I depend on it for my happiness waaaaaay too much.  And because the US of A has bountiful food options and I have been blessed with the resources to acquire them, I often take for granted the expensive groceries I buy and justify their purchase as necessary objects to “get me through the week.”

How can I live without them?

Maybe I will live with more awareness of hunger, more empathy towards the poor and needy, more enjoyment on the rare occasions when I experience flavorful food.
Maybe I will live with less gluttony, less inclination to mindlessly stuff my face with calories to escape my problems.

Time can only tell.  I have already done my shopping for this week, and the receipt holds the evidence.  This is an “easy” week.  I still have lots of food stockpiled from last week, including Valentine’s Day candy.  Pray for my sanity as a start this journey!  It will not be easy for a food-lover like me.

Shopping List Week 1
1 lb black beans
1 lb red beans
1 bunch of spinach
6 apples
1 bunch of bananas
2 lb whole grain rice
1 orange pepper
1 gallon milk

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mid-Summer Reflection

I realize I haven’t exactly met my weekly quota for blogging while at camp.  It’s too hard.  I forgot that the daily work of camp is life-consuming, and the little extra free time that you do have is spent having normal adult conversations and hang-out time with your co-workers.

I think I got this tired last year, but I can’t remember if I got this mentally and emotionally frustrated.  I think it’s because it’s my second consecutive year at the same camp.  Today I put my thoughts into words for a fellow counselor, and I realized while explaining my feelings to her that I am disappointed in what this summer has been like.  I expected to see change in the returning campers, not to mention change in myself and the rest of the staff.  Instead, everything seems dead and stagnant.  I notice selfishness a lot these days, in other people and myself.  I have trouble seeing Christ work through anyone.
This week I wasn’t sure if I could make it.  But it’s Friday, and I did.  Even though I reacted with pessimism and a cynical attitude, God still sent blessings my way.   He sends them in the form of the positive attitudes of other people.

One of our New Zealand counselors told us at a staff meeting that she’s so happy to be here, that she’s not homesick yet like Camp America said she should be and that she’s having the time of her life.  I knew her week wasn’t perfect by any means, but just that she could say that…it was uplifting.

The morning skits and the talent show were hilarious this week.  I’m so grateful that some of the staff can keep a sense of humor throughout this chaos.

I had good, deep conversations with several of my friends/coworkers this week.  Those are always the greatest blessing of all.  Some people directly encouraged me about my situation in life, others encouraged me through their general attitude of optimism and joy.

A few days ago I was hopeless.  I was at the end of my rope, and almost wondered if I should just drive away on my night off and never come back.

Regardless of my feelings, my Dad in Heaven takes care of me, using other people.  I can never forget that.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A full week of camp has already past and I have more than enough to write about.  For those who aren’t familiar with how this works, all forty-some counselors go through an intensive 24/7 two-week staff training where we live, work and play together.  We’ve already learned how to facilitate some activities such as the high ropes course, archery, and the pool party that goes down every Sunday night when kids first arrive at camp.  It has been crazy and fun and exhausting. 

My stomach was tied up in knots when I was about an hour from camp last Sunday.  I constantly battle the lie that no one really likes me, and after having not seen these people for a year (as well as the prospect of meeting new staff), I was terrified at the thought that I wouldn’t get a warm welcome.  I shouldn’t have been afraid.  I was greeted with excited hugs and smiles and questions about vet school.  Friendship has never come easy to me but I feel like I’ve been getting better, and I can honestly say that with both old and new staff I have made good first steps to genuine, deep friendship.  This past week at camp has affirmed that I’m growing and changing, and it’s so important.  In fact, I talked to one of my college friends (whom I will call “Disney”) tonight, and she told me that I seem so different – a lot more confident and better at communicating with people.

Our camp director gave us bags with this quote attached to them:
“We need holy friendships with people who are willing to challenge the sins we’ve come to love, affirm the gifts we’re afraid to claim, and dream the dreams we would not otherwise have dreamed.”  I don’t know who said it, but it’s so true.  I hope it happens this summer, because I feel like I can only give the kids what they need and deserve if my tank is full.

I know it will be a struggle, something that I must meet each day with courage and prayer.  It’s terrifically easy to believe no one cares about you and to dissolve into hopelessness.  It’s much harder to be hopeful and honest.  Something that can help are “Ebenezers.”  One of the camp chaplains gave us a talk about them the other day.  Ebenezer means “rock of help,” and the Israelites set up rocks at specific places to remind themselves of something amazing God had done for them.  We have Ebenezers of our own – a specific place, a gift from a friend – something tangible and physical that reminds us of an act of God.  I’ll be looking for Ebenezers at camp this summer and sharing some of them with you.

And now, some pictures from the camp farm for your enjoyment!