Monday, February 27, 2006

reconciliation and the cosmos

“I was wrong. I’m sorry.”

I think these are quite possibly the hardest combination of 5 words for any human being to utter. Is it any wonder that they have such power once spoken?

I’ve been thinking about the whole idea of forgiveness and reconciliation lately for a couple reasons. One, it’s just a couple days before the Christian liturgical season of Lent, which is all about repentance and recognizing our weaknesses and our need for God’s grace. Two, a recent speaker at my church shared some incredible stories of emotional healing that took place during her Reconciliation Walk (wherein Christians walked the path of the Crusaders and apologized to the people for their ancestor’s actions and the devastation caused in the name of Christ). Three, the myriad of reading I have been doing for Food for the Hungry has reinforced a critical idea about Christ’s purpose that I have long believed but seldom heard affirmed in my Christian education; namely, that Christ came to restore and reconcile the entire cosmos.

Yes, a central part of that means restoring individual relationships with God, but in addition (and no less importantly), it means that Christ came to restore our relationships with one another, with creation, and with ourselves. In order for that kind of comprehensive redemption to occur in the world, it will take more than individuals “accepting Christ into their heart” and “receiving salvation”. It will take a collective approach to redemption as well, wherein our communities become places where the divine realities of forgiveness and mercy are embraced as “operational principles” in the common life of communities of disciples; in addition, it will require a recognition that the physical realm (including the earth itself) is in need of as much healing and restoration as the spiritual realm.

The very necessity of identifying these two realms separately reveals the degree to which our society has lost its appreciation for the ancient Hebrew concept of shalom. “A society of shalom, is an order of life characterized by joy and justice, piety and plenty, kindness and caring.” [See the source of this quote]

The creation of that kind of society will require more than right beliefs. It will require right action. If only we would turn more of our attention to the latter, we might see a fuller restoration of the world than we ever imagined.

Friday, February 24, 2006

quote of the day

"The world is drifting dangerously toward a widespread religious and sectarian cleavage — the likes of which we have not seen for a long, long time."

-Thomas Friedman, NY Times

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

organ lessons

No, I haven’t taken up a new instrument. But I have a developing appreciation for an old one. Last night that appreciation was enhanced by a recital featuring three men whose talent playing the organ is stunning beyond the point of admiration. The program pieces by Bach, Mozart, and Franck were alternately dramatic, complex, poetic, and simple.

The most interesting moment of the evening was when the third organist, David Eaton, introduced Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E Minor by describing how in the early days, organ playing was a community effort—it took many hands to keep the bellows moving and the components of the organ functioning together. Eaton then proceeded to invite the audience up onto the stage. “There’s too much space between us. Come closer and see how it all works,” he said. “I won’t be afraid at all.”

For a minute, the members of the audience appeared unlikely to respond to Eaton’s request. But, as Eaton took his seat on the organ bench and adjusted it for the piece about to ensue, a small group of audience members made their way down and formed a semicircle around him. Children clutching their parents’ hand, students in jeans, and elegant society women in heels stood expectantly, eyes fixed on the organ and its player.

I remained seated, taking in the scene below. As the music filled the recital hall, it occurred to me that the evolution of the organ and how it is played now (one person alone on a bench making magic happen) is a microcosm of our society today. With the possible exception of some beloved team sports, our culture worships individual self-sufficiency, defends individual freedoms, and immortalizes individual achievement. Independence is strength; interdependence is weakness.

For some reason, we’re more afraid than we used to be of getting close to each other. Are we afraid of revealing our flaws? Afraid of needing another person? Afraid of having to change? I don’t have the answers to these questions. But for a few minutes last night, fears were forgotten as the shared love of beautiful music brought a community together.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

eli's ripple effect

The year I graduated from college, I made a decision that millions of other Americans now have the opportunity to make, thanks in great part to a man named Eli Segal who died yesterday of cancer.

The decision? To give a year of my life in full-time service to my country through AmeriCorps. Segal was the visionary and force behind the creation of this domestic Peace Corps-like program that engages thousands of idealistic young adults every year in addressing some of the nation's most pressing needs, particularly in the areas of education, health, safety, and the environment.

During my year of service, I tutored 8 students every day in reading, helped lead after school programs in a low-income neighborhood, beautified parks, built playgrounds, planted gardens, and painted murals. In return, I received a small weekly stipend and an education award to help me pay off student loans. At least on paper. In reality, what I gained was immeasurable. From the leadership opportunities I was given to the diverse team I served alongside, the positive ripples from that year of service continue to make waves in my life--personally and professionally.

Eli Segal understood ripples...the same way Robert F. Kennedy did:
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." ~RFK
Eli himself was a center of energy and daring--I heard him speak several times during one of my subsequent years on the staff of City Year, a national AmeriCorps program--and his belief in the potential of national service was always inspiring, and contagious. He was more than a government bureaucrat; he was a true national hero.

Rest in peace, Mr. Segal.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

a little subplot

While most of my attention of late has been focused on leaving the country, there is this interesting ongoing subplot in my life, namely a Moroccan guy I met online last fall. Despite enormous physical distance, A. has become someone I care about very much. We've talked about everything from Moroccan history to religion to musical preferences...

This week he sent me an original piano composition (4:31 in length) that I listened to over and over at the office. It's a beautiful, haunting melody and a precious gift from his heart. (If anyone reading wants to hear it, email me.) A. is a teacher in a rural community called Sidi Rahal and plays in a band in his spare time. (And he knows way more about American and world music than I do! He introduced me to a band called Keane last fall that I now listen to every week.)

He calls me his muse, and why not? In his dreams I can be whoever he wants me to be. I know I will never meet this poetic soul with a gentle heart and inquiring mind, but I am nonetheless grateful for the gifts of conversation, music, and French phrases he has added to my life. (Merci, mon cherie!)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

what's the best use of $50 billion?

That's what a bunch of expert economists known as the Copenhagen Consensus debated last year. Despite the furor over global warming lately, these economists ranked solutions to the climate issues facing the world as much lower in priority and benefit compared to addressing HIV/AIDS and malnutrition, potential solutions to which have a much higher cost/benefit ratio and deserve a majority of any outpouring of resources intended to improve global welfare. Even as an individual, my $1 will go further in developing countries that need this kind of assistance than anywhere else, especially if it's given as part of a microloan program, as Slate points out today.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

what beauty shall it be?

"Must, bid the Morn awake!
Sad Winter now declines,
Each bird doth choose a mate;
This day's Saint Valentine's.
For that good bishop's sake
Get up and let us see
What beauty it shall be
That Fortune us assigns."
~Michael Drayton

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2006

"all will be well"

Heaven knows we don't need another Law and Order inspired show on prime time television, but the Gabe Dixon Band song being used in conjunction with the promotion of NBC's new drama Conviction is amazing. It just might entice me to watch the show.

twinges of...

the 47 days i have left in the united states notwithstanding, i had my first twinge of sadness this past saturday evening. my friend l.b. had gone out for the night and i was home alone cooking dinner. as i was delicately slicing zucchini and keeping a close eye on the italian sausage browning in the frying pan, i suddenly realized that i had no desire to eat this meal alone. i haven't gone so far as to tabulate the number of conceivable meals i have left here, but i know it's not very many.

on the off chance that a good friend was free for the evening, i picked up the phone and dialed a familiar number. after three rings, i was greeted by a warm voice informing me that he couldn't come to the phone. i decided to leave a message, but i knew in my heart there would be no returned call that night. i finished slicing the zucchini and threw it into the already marinating concoction on the back burner. the counter now clear, i slumped over, elbows resting on the smooth brown wood, head held in my hands. i sighed. i wasn't feeling so hungry anymore.

i threw the tortellini into the pot and half-heartedly stirred them into the mixture. a delicious aroma was filling the air, but i could not enjoy it. finally, i ladled some soup into a bowl, grabbed a spoon and curled up in the easy chair in the living room. maybe the olympics would cheer me up.

the pair skaters were graceful and enjoyable, but as i slowly made my way to the bottom of the bowl, i was unable to fully distract myself from the ache in my heart. finally the soup was gone and the dishes clean. still alone with my thoughts, i turned out the lights and got ready for bed.

as i drifted off to sleep, the words of a fernando ortega song wafted across the room to my ears:
Heavenly Father
Remember the traveler
Bring us safely home
Heavenly Father
Remember the traveler
Bring us safely home
Safely home

I long for my family
And friends to remind me
Of where I have been
And where I am going
And where I come from
i haven't left yet, but these words resonate so strongly with me these days. i know where i'm going, but without family and friends, how will i remember where i have been?

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Last night I watched a video produced by the humanitarian agency MedAir which works in some of the most intense relief contexts in our world, establishing food distribution programs, collaborating with communities to create clean water sources, and rebuilding houses after natural disaster destroys whole communities. It doesn't matter how many times I see pictures of starving children wasting away, their gaunt faces haunt me and my heart is broken again. How is it possible that we allow children created in the image of God to endure such unimaginable horror?

In the background of the video, Israeli recording artist Noa's song "We" provoked a feeling of grief within me that our common humanity is lost on us much of the time, as we forget that, in her words,
"we’re born/we’re crying
we fall/we’re trying
we’re little/we’re laughing
we’re lonely sometimes

we grow/we’re open
we’re lost/we’re hoping
we’re careful/we’re calling
we’re leaving behind

you say we need to work together
with love and care for everyone
without the fighting and the anger
you say the world could be as one

but every time that you say we
do you think about me?
‘cause every time that you say we
i hope you think about me

we’re strong/we’re chosen
we’re scared/we’re frozen
we’re hardened/we’re hopeful
we’re holding at bay

we take/we’re giving
we shake/we’re living
we’re lovers/we’re sinners
we’re running away

and if we fail to make a difference
and if our hope is almost gone
despite the fighting and the anger
you say the world could be as one

but every time that you say we
do you think about me?
‘cause every time that you say we
i hope you think about me"
until then, there is no we.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

runaway train...

Of thought, that is. While driving back to the office from lunch today, I passed BRCC, the first church I ever belonged to, and I noticed there is a huge new building on the front of the property…I am assuming it is the new worship space, but I really have no idea. I am amazed every time my life takes me up to the northwest side of town how many more houses, gas stations, restaurants, strip malls, and traffic lights there are. I remember back in high school when all the land for miles north of my house was just wide open space, and how refreshing it was to drive somewhere without seeing billboards. The city is expanding, and the standard of living here is improving, but I can’t help but wonder if we are leaving some good things behind in the process of moving society forward. Will I remember those good things in 30 years?

A few minutes later my co-worker and I passed my elementary school, and a flood of memories rushed to my head. About the only positive thing I can remember from 5th grade is winning the spelling bee. And meeting Alison Lowther, my one and only friend for several years growing up. I wonder where my trophy is.

Back in the office, a post on a friend’s blog triggered some thoughts about books and writing…there are so many books on every topic imaginable out there…sometimes I wonder if there is really anything new under the sun or if all the brilliant insights into life, the universe, and everything have already been made…I hope not, because that would definitely put a damper on my plans to write books one day myself…but in the meantime, I am glad we have so many sources of information and perspective (via books/music/film) on the people, places, and events of this world, because somewhere in the middle of all the facts and opinions available to us lies the meaning of these days.

Would the passage of time have any significance if we did not record its passing by assigning dates and times to the events and experiences that have shaped our individual and collective identities? Sometimes it is the date and time that are etched on our memories, like letters carved into the marble of a monument. But sometimes faces & images are seared into our minds with a timeless quality that allows us to step back into moments and relationships as if no time had passed at all.

Perhaps dates and times matter little in the grand scheme of things. Perhaps the only thing that matters is how the living of these days is growing us, shaping us, bringing us together or drawing us apart, guiding us toward eternity or leading us astray.

you know you work for a non-profit if...

- You feel no shame in asking the plumber if he'd like to donate his services
- You buy your own office supplies
- Everyone shows up for a meeting 10--15 minutes late, but everyone feels the meeting started on time
- Your title only accurately describes one-third of your job duties
- You are not in it for the money
- Your home computer works twice as fast as the one at work
- Your office furniture is so old it's moved beyond tacky and become "vintage chic"
- You love what you do and do what you love
- Your mom catered the holiday party food
- You have a lot of vacation time but can't afford to go anywhere
- Ninety percent of your coworkers are women

This totally describes my past experiences in non-profit! List courtesy of Opportunity Knocks

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

ya think?

"The budget plan for fiscal 2007 underscores what budget analysts of all political stripes have been saying for years: The goals of balancing the budget, waging a global fight against terrorism and making Bush's first-term tax cuts permanent may be fundamentally at odds."

More from WP's federal budget analysis

a silly quiz nailed me!

Your Birthdate: December 24

You understand people well and are a natural born therapist.
A peacemaker, people always seem to get along when you are around.
You tend to be a father or mother figure to friends, even to those older than you.
You enjoy your role, and you find that you are close to many people.

Your strength: Your devotion

Your weakness: Reliance on others for happiness

Your power color: Lilac

Your power symbol: Heart

Your power month: June

Monday, February 06, 2006

what's in a dream?

rarely do i remember my dreams. and when i do, it's typically a random assortment of images and moments, not a sequence of events. this morning i awoke with the disturbing feeling i always have when the remnants of an unpleasant dream survive the shift in consciousness that occurs for me around 6:30am on weekdays.

this, in a nutshell (though in no particular order), is what i remember: having to leave my house because of some mortal danger, along with a whole slew of other people (all strangers), wandering the streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood, finding shelter in a Salvation Army facility, having nothing in my possession to speak of, finding shelter again in an abandoned natural history museum (i am not making this up--i was sitting among paleozoic era artifacts--though how i know they were paleozoic is beyond me--i was never a science girl), and being told by my current roommate that she no longer wanted my mail coming to her address.


breakfast with bono

From Bono's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast last week:

"God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

'If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places'[The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 58]"

Complete text of Bono's remarks

Friday, February 03, 2006

the voc and me

So most people reading know that in a few short months I'll be living in Nicaragua. One of the things I'm doing in preparation for that is completing what Food for the Hungry (the agency with which I am going) calls the "Corporate Identity Training Module". It sounds dry but it's actually quite interesting. The CITM binder contains approximately 250 pages of reading about FH, its vision, objectives, strategies, and history (and a lot more). And lots of reflection questions.

The largest unit of this binder (which I finished last night) describes something FH calls their Vision of Community. The VOC represents what all of the work FH does is about. Churches increasingly reaching out into their communities. Leaders increasingly solving problems. Families increasingly meeting one another's needs. How, you might be wondering, is FH attempting to achieve these objectives? Through the presence of appropriate ideas (vision/truth/knowledge), people (enthusiastic/committed/competent), and resources (financial and material) to strengthen each of these critical components in each community they work with. Through walking alongside communities, equipping, training, encouraging, mobilizing, partnering, praying, teaching, modeling, and in it all, demonstrating the love of Christ which compels us (me) to action. (This is a vast simplification of about 100 pages.)

What I find most challenging about my learning experience is considering how the VOC applies to me, in my own cultural context right now. Not because I don't believe we need churches, leaders, and families to increasingly fulfill their roles and potential in my community, but because it is harder to identify the specific ways I can contribute to that process here. This is something I hope to give much thought and prayer to in the upcoming weeks.

an apt fortune

"You have firm convictions--stand strong behind them."

So exhorted my fortune cookie of yesterday afternoon. Normally I am not impressed with fortune cookies (not only are they very bland, the messages contained within them usually have no relevance to my life). However, prior to the appearance of this fortune cookie, I had been having a conversation (for the better part of the last week) with someone who was trying (unsuccessfully) to change my mind about some of my firmly held convictions in the area of personal morality. Thus, I found it quite serendipitous that the universe would align itself with me, even in this tiny way.

Sometimes the smallest and most random things can make my day.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

taxing trials

after a preliminary online filing attempt today, i discovered that i have reached a new milestone in my adult life. for the first time EVER, it appears that i actually OWE money to the federal government. despite the fact that my gross income is less than last year, my tax burden shrank slightly, the standard deduction increased, and my student loan interest deduction was constant.

at first i thought--perhaps this is my employer's fault for not deducting sufficient tax every month. then i realized the truth: by having to pay taxes this year instead of having a refund, the government has virtually guaranteed that my rate of savings this coming year will double and that i will singlehandedly raise our national savings percentage rate to a respectable level again.

now that is what i call sacrifice for the common good.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

sotu redux

I like to think of myself as an optimist. This explains my decision to partake in the pomp and circumstance of the State of the Union Address last night.

Surprisingly, I only found myself talking back to the tv on 3 or 4 occasions (and there were of course several moments where I wanted to roll my eyes, like when Bush’ Texas twang came out on his line about wanting to know if people inside our country are “talkin' to Al Quaida”). While I was annoyed by Bush’s standard rhetoric about Iraq and freedom and terror (Is there anything new that can really be said on these topics? We all know where the President stands, and as far as I can tell, he’s not moving), there were some bright spots which I think worthy of mention:
Stating that “America is addicted to oil” and proposing funding for cleaner solutions
Championing increased funding for math and science teachers
Advocating for a line-item veto
Admitting change in military and reconstruction tactics in Iraq
Mentioning the government’s commitment to New Orleans
Supporting increased funding for HIV/AIDS programs
It’s just rhetoric unless he and the Congress follow through, but at this point, I’ll take what I can get.

(Personal aside to friends in VA: Gov. Kaine seems like a nice, likeable, and reasonable guy. Y'all are lucky to have him.)