Friday, January 30, 2015

"Diversity" and the multinorm

My friend Jade writes expressively and poignantly about, well everything.  She posted about diversity in campus ministry and got me thinking.

Jade cuts right to the point with this statement:
Seeking to increase structural diversity (i.e. the people who are participants in the campus ministry) without seeking to increase multicultural competence to honor them once they GET there will always betray a lack of forethought & process.
One of the things that inhibits the development of true diversity and meaningful connections is the retention of a singular "normal" culture.  This is a regard for different cultures that does not recognize the existence of multiple normals.  To me this is particularly apparent in the part of west Michigan where the white, middle class Dutch culture tends to be acknowledged as normal.  I imagine this to be true of most homogenous communities.  Other is often regarded as a curiosity and as a shift from the expected normal.  It takes more than curiosity to promote diversity.

The view of another culture as a curiosity does not allow it to be engaged meaningfully, especially if it is relegated to an object of entertainment.  Culture can become an object to be used and discarded at will or impulse, a fun theme.

Unfortunately it can be exhausting to put time into properly understanding and appreciating different cultures.  Culture is how we self-identify, so it takes empathy to do diverse communities properly.  Organizations need to be able to value and support multiple identities.  It starts with people.  It takes the willingness to walk miles and miles and miles in the shoes of other people.  Different people.  People that you might find difficult to identify with.  Cultural fluency is like language fluency in that it takes time and in most cases, immersion.

In my experience, true, beautiful diversity was not coaxed, grown and cultivated by a group of White people, or by a group of Black people or any other homogenous group.  It was supported by, and happened because of heterogeneous community.  See the community toolbox for tips!  Start by accepting anyone that wants to join your group.

Unless we can commit to the development of multiple normals, then we cannot really talk about diversity.  There would be no point.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Depth of feeling

To feel intensely is to take delight in a frigid drive through a barren, white fieldscape of chopped corn, just because at that moment you can be in that place and not in another.

To feel deeply is to agonize over a person or thought for hours, like they were there with you.

To feel intensely is to constantly desire to project your experiences in life onto the ones you love and care about--to crave reciprocity and validation.

+ to be talked up and talked down by friends over trivialities, and always hope that they don't get sick of you.
+ to share too much with too many people too quickly because feedback is a drug.
+ to feel elated and devastated over the slightest of interactions and to over-analyze every last feeling that passes the cortex.
+ to withdraw and hope that no one notices until you're ready to re-emerge.
+ to drink music from a ladle and spill it all over.
+ to be effusive, sometimes uncomfortably.
+ to hide this intensity.

through introspection to somehow come back to a balance and do it all over again the next time.  When the worst is always the first thought, it can take until the afternoon to recover.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Being missional in Georgetown township

Being missional is hard.  It took me 24 years to have a missional mindset that worked for me.  Before that, it was a lofty ideal, a thing that good Christians did.  It was a concept I didn't really try to understand because I wasn't that kind of Christian.

Then I arrived at Penn State.  My Christian bubble had burst.  The surface was pricked and the tension broke, collapsing upon itself.  I was terrified and mortified that someone would notice I was a Christian.  They would lambast me and humiliate me in front of my peers.  I would feel stupid, exposed and lose everything.

It didn't take long to make friends among my cohort.  We three, Athos and Aramis and Porthos, from Calvin found friendship among our peers.  For myself, I made some of my first non-Christian friends.  Some were atheist, others agnostic (a self described atheist-agnostic even), some Muslims, others Hindu and many were just apathetic.  It was classes like Transport (Deen), Statistical Thermodynamics, and Reaction Kinetics that really brought us together.  It was confusion and unending problem sets and projects, that kept us together as we pored over our derivations and code.  It was Anupam's understanding of calculus that was so so so superior to mine XD.

And just like that, I had friends who didn't think like me.  In some cases we were diametrically opposed.  And we had lunch together nearly every day.  We drank too much, ate too much (purse bacon) and partied together.  And we had long conversations about politics and about science and about how "I'm right and your tensor has the wrong rank!"  But eventually, about "how can we solve this?"

It was in our second year that we a few of us started having deeper back and forths about meaning and religion and belief and unbelief.  It was coffee and lunch and interviews and dialogue.  It was friendship.  It wasn't Hudsonville and it wasn't Georgetown township.  But it can be.

You like going to that brewpub down the street?  Make a friend there.  No strings attached, a friend.  Do you have neighbors that aren't Christians?  Befriend them and have dinner parties.  Don't steer the dialogue, have conversations.  Did your firm hire a new guy/gal?  Get coffees or beers after work.  Talk about hobbies and dreams.  Those guys and girls on your floor in college that don't go to church?  Spend time with them, watch movies, stay out late doing nothing together.  Cause mischief.

Go where the people who don't know Jesus are.  They aren't going to walk into your church.

But when should I ask them to come to church?  Try this first: work at a friendship.  God doesn't need you.  But that doesn't mean God doesn't want to use you.  God works through Christians that are open to seeing life through in the long term.  That doesn't mean shelving the gospel or hiding your faith.  It means real friendship without conditions and taking the opportunities that God gives you.  Unless we make space and trust for these conversations to happen, they won't.  So make friends and let God work.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

bee and bird

Once there was a little bee, rather bookish, and only dimly aware of the ways of the world.  The bee was content to buzz around and think of nectar and stamen and all the supple petals in a variegated field of tulips.  He often went to and fro among meadows and fields, partaking of the pollen in myriad blooms.  Each new flower seemed a new oasis to drink and taste and ponder.

One day, perusing a lilac blossom, the bee noticed perched nearby a feathered, curious creature.  A bird.  It was rather unlike the bee, though both made their way though the air with ease.  Our little bee was unsure of what the nearby avian wanted with the lilacs.  It had no way of collecting the delicious pollen, and seemed to be different from the bee in almost every way.  The bee tried to greet the bird by shaking his tail and buzzing a bit, but the bird didn't appear to notice and flew away.

Out in the world of flower, nectar, tree and brush the bee began to notice birds as they flitted from tree to tree and made loud squawks and cheerful chirrups.  They were hard to understand.  Birds didn't wiggle and buzz to one another.  They were beautiful, imposing and scary, baleful.  The bee liked them.  He began to pick up on some of their sounds, noticed the differences in tone and frequency.  Though the bee could not make those sounds, he still tried to greet nearby bees when they lit upon nearby branches.  They did not seem to care.

It was many a day before the bee succeeded in his efforts.  One day he was buzzing with some other bees, doing his little butt wiggle, when a small, songbird perched nearby and took interest.  Her head was black, wings brown, with dull copper breast feathers.  The bird made some of the same wiggles and chirruped.  The bee looked up at the creature that had been an object of fear and worry and mystery.  He waved his butt back at her and made a little warble, like the bird had.  Cocking her head, the robin ruffled her feathers a bit and flew away.

The bird often returned to perch near the bee.  They would trade buzzes, chirps and warbles.  Over time, the two developed a kind of understanding, common movement and sound.  Bee would tell bird of hive life, of dances and work and nectar.  Bird would describe nests and soaring and heights and worms.  Bird did not seem as scary as other birds.  Maybe birds were more like bee than he knew.  They were pulchritudinous and deft and fell and enigmatic.  Sometimes he liked to wiggle in a circle to the birds.
I was inspired to write this after reading "Davita's Harp" by Chaim Potok, from the stories of the character Jakob Daw.  My little sister gives good gifts.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Finding God space again

My physical body and motley pile of trappings and belongings have been spirited away from State College for 5 months already.  That went pretty painlessly, though I definitely left it all in the middle of the floor in my parents basement until I had to clear it away for Christmas.  My routine has even made the trip, now that I have work and a schedule that I'm responsible for.  Things look like they're coalescing back to normal on the outside.  On the work side.  On the material side.

If only moving were as simple as transporting collections of atoms.

I'm still moving back emotionally and spiritually.  Those are the parts that give me the most inner turmoil and heartache.  For good reason.

During one of the most intellectually stimulating, stressful, and at times, traumatic periods of my life, I was part of a group of people that were experiencing similar delights, joys and atrocities.  Those bonds don't dissolve (nor would I want them to!), or fade from memory quickly.  The feeling of disjointed connectedness remains, with a physical separation of hundreds of miles.  I feel pangs and memories and aches almost daily.

Friendships change over time and space.  In a way they become windows and views of former places from lofty heights.  The lofty heights of memory, text messages and phone calls don't do friendship justice.  Sharing a cup of coffee or a beer over the phone is...well...inane.  But that is how life forces us to reconcile new places; memories and intermittent contact.  And we drink deeply of the cold, sweet water of reconnection.

Emotionally, I may always straddle the places in life where I've felt and experienced intense emotion.  Everyone does and deals with it in their own ways.  Some ignore the past, some live in the past, and others come to terms with a life of small, constant, distant tugs.  I imagine the latter will always be true for me.  There is too much in the past to forget it, and too much in the future to embrace with open arms.

Perhaps the language of moving and fixed destinations is not appropriate for the topic of a spiritual journey.  However, the setting in any journey does change, and impact the traveler directly, so in that sense I am moving in a different phase of life spiritually.

Life in Penn State Christian Grads (PSCG) was a very stimulating experience.  My head-space was occupied with lofty precipices and even more subterranean lows when it came to questions of faith, meaning and purpose.  There were honest conversations between minds questioning and probing, that received no answers some days and few the next.  Daily struggle was not uncommon, and at times it was exhausting.  Confidence is a quantity that was once prized, but comes to be despicable in many ways.  It seems impossible to return to confidence in anything after a point.  However, despite the unruliness and at times stark contradictory nature of this newer reality, I would never trade this part of my journey.

PSCG is a group of dear friends who cared deeply about each other and still do.  We are scholars from different fields seeking the gospel and life in Jesus, and engaging thoughtfully and honestly with our peers in the hope that they will join us.  We are a missional community.
Throw in the occasional heretical conversation in the "College and Careers" adult bible fellowship that I led at church and you get the mess that I called a spiritual life.   But it took years to cultivate the space for safe, honest questions, and for conversation and dialogue without judgment.  Those opportunities don't materialize from nothing.  God space requires time and effort.

It's taking a while, but I'm finding that space.  Sometimes that space means a small, intimate group during a Sunday night prayer service at the church I grew up in.  At other times it's time spent skyping weekly with two of my closest friends.  God space can be at a brewery for a weekly bible study as easily as it can be at a new church I've found, spending time on Sunday morning in worship.  I'm finding my new God spaces in a new/old place.  Looking forward, I'm excited to see what space I will find in Young Life for eastern Ottawa.  There is space to talk about spiritual things everywhere, it just needs to be cultivated.  YOU can cultivate it.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Biblical womanhood?

You will be better off reading thoughts on womanhood from a woman's perspective, but I'm a man, so this is as good as I can do (I'll point you to some women though, fear not).

Let's look at one of the quintessential passages on biblical womanhood, often used to define roles, stances and limits.
A first reading of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 might give you the impression that women are to be submissive, silent and deferential to men, if you take it as translated and ignore the context.  It's tempting to stop there and reject women as leaders in the church, particularly if you're a man, because without context that's exactly what Paul (in the Bible, as one of God's inspired authors) is saying.  But context is important.  Here are some examples:

How much less compelling does "the Jungle" by Upton Sinclair become without understanding of the plight of immigrants, wage slavery and the horrors of the meatpacking industry at the time?  What does "1984" mean if you ignore the socialist politics of Europe at the time?  Context means that maybe we can have allegory and symbolism.

Let's look at Paul's statements in verses 11 and 12:
2:11 A woman must learn 18  quietly with all submissiveness. 2:12 But I do not allow 19  a woman to teach or exercise authority 20  over a man. She must remain quiet.
I don't know if I like Pauline theology any more...he's starting to sound downright draconian and misogynistic.  I sure wish I knew more about Jewish culture at the turn of the millennium...but wait!  The study note [19] in the NET Bible provides some clarification:
This was a radical and liberating departure from the Jewish view that women were not to learn the law.
Huh.  Not allowed to learn the law at all?  I guess Paul was a bit of a feminist then, eh?  Given that bit of history, maybe Paul qualified his statement in verse 11 with the part in verse 12 about not allowing women to teach or exercise authority because he would have been seen as too radical and not been taken seriously in his letters to Timothy.  If that doesn't seem plausible, let's look look at some more modern examples from American history.

African slave emancipation and eventual civil rights movement
The 13th ammendment was a giant leap.  A giant leap followed by bitter disenfranchisement for people of color throughout the Reconstruction and Jim Crow periods.  In 1896 we even had Plessy vs Ferguson and the beginning of "separate but equal".
Finally in 1964 and 1965 the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts were passed.  Human rights issues take a long time, and we still struggle today with the legacy of this fight.  I find it hard to believe that there would have been widespread acceptance if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed in 1865.  It would have been too radical.  History seems to support this.

Women's suffrage
Women's suffrage started state by state, beginning with Wyoming in 1869.  In 1917, Alice Paul was jailed for picketing in front of the Whitehouse, but it took 3 more years until on June 4, 1920 the 19th ammendment was approved by the Senate and later ratified.  It started small, in spurts, and took over 50 years of increasing measures of legality to be fully accepted.  Radical at one time.

Were we not talking about Paul and Timothy and biblical womanhood though?
Ok, let's get back to them.  If Paul had said that women and men should be on equal footing with respect to teaching and preaching and positions of authority in the church, how many people (men, since women weren't really people yet) do you think would have listened?  [Preemptive apology for caps.]  WOMEN DIDN'T EVEN GET TO VOTE IN THE UNITED STATES UNTIL 1920!!!  Radical.

If we contextualize Paul's statements, we lose the literal vision of biblical womanhood as "the best plan for your life is to find a good Christian man who will lead your family and provide enough that you can stay home".  What we find instead is a statement of radical liberation for women at the time (...and now).  Radical liberation sounds more like what Jesus taught:
For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.
But don't take my word for it.  Ask a woman what womanhood is for her.  She'll have a better, more informed perspective, impassioned by actual experience as a woman seeking her Savior.  God's plan for her is what womanhood is for her.  That sounds kind of biblical.  Radical.

As far as reading goes: you can start here. And definitely go here (I started here; Rachel Held Evans is da bomb #preachit)!  If you're still reading and interested, there is also this.
A dude wrote this post, which I loved, and it's how I found the 'precious moments' image.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sloats and Frains: Laufen

Out of physical necessity and boredom, I found myself spending a very cherished parcel of time running along the Selz river (creek) from Ingelheim to Großwinternheim during the summer of 2010.  Of course, I was in terrible shape at the beginning of my internship.  Struggling to keep running, I maintained a slow pace, enough at least to preserve some semblance of a jog until I crossed at the traffic circle and left the town proper.  More out of vanity than anything else, my will was to avoid walking.

If I could, I would go back in a heartbeat to relive the time I spent along that trail during the summer nights.  The air was clear and clean though occasionally thick and schwül before a storm.  I learned quickly that you don't drink Mineralwasser before a run, or you'll have a bad time (too much CO2 was my conjecture), and I sweated so much you'd think I was turning into a raisin.

My runs would begin with a westward walk along Binger Straße, past the Turkish restaurant, book store and motor bike shop.  Just off the main sidewalk, I would begin my run by darting down a small alley and jog along the Realschule parking lot.  The parking lot joined a cobblestone path along the Selz next to the large dome recycling containers that look like Cold War relics and litter German cities, towns and dorfs.

Turning south, the cobblestones tag along playfully with the burbling Flüsschen, and I pass Ingelheimers walking and loafing on the path or playing soccer in the fenced in "soccer courts" ("field" doesn't really describe the woodchip coated, spartan, functional enclosures).  My feet pound the stones and inwardly I groan with frustration initially at my out of shape heart, lungs and legs.  It probably takes me three weeks before I can muster up the strength to make it the whole 4.5 km to GWH, and another two to make it back without stopping.

The first road I cross over leaves the town and opens up into meadows of bright, blooming goldenrod, presided over by the local Bismarckturm.  Neighboring the "soccer courts", numerous families plant large gardens that border the path, with what amounts to a farms-worth of vegetables and cultivated space.  Finally the path crosses the Selz, traversing a traffic circle before heading again south into pastureland.

A last kick of civilization soon blends into scrub and hay fields, accompanied by ripe smells indicating the presence of livestock.  Sheep!  They drape themselves over the landscape, bleating contentedly as I pass them.  Lambs dart away from the fence as I come near, and find some less dangerous grass to chew.

The Selz is clothed in a short, but thick layer of trees.  As the path again approaches the stream, it is hard to ignore the collection of habitations resembling a commune that blends in with the trees.  There are audible sounds of domesticated animals, but I never find out if the settlement is inhabited, or abandoned.  One small cart path leads in, and I am much to timid to explore further than fire furtive glances down into the receding gloom, from my perch on the path.

Leaving the cover of trees again, I pass a small collection of apple trees on the left, and on my right ogle the barns and pastures occupied by horses doing their cantering, trotting and other horsy things.  Rather unexpectedly, the trail shoots uphill and skirts some small jumps for BMX bikes, before gently sloping past the first backyards that welcome me into Großwinternheim.

Slowly I loped longer and faster, until I was doing 9km easy, most nights of the week.  Not bad for a wannabe German raisin.

God's honesty: Parable of the Weeds

I don't usually feel like God speaks to me when I read the Bible.  Not like, "Hey Steve, here's what you need to know about me..."  It's usually a feeling or a sense of new understanding, just not a literal phrase or sentence.

Last night was a different story however, thanks to some great friends and the NET version of Matthew 13:24-30.  I'm not talking something audible, but it was as close as I'm comfortable with experiencing.

The insight for this came from the note in verse 25 on the nature of weeds.  I had always understood weeds in the context of what they look like here in west Michigan, maybe a poke weed or a thistle.  The weed being referred to here though is probably darnel, or ζιζάνιον (zizanion), if you can read Greek (I cannot).

Darnel is a plant that looks very similar to wheat, but is poisonous.  First, this tells me that it's not so easy to separate the good from the bad, and it makes the world a very real place.  Not ideal.  That shouldn't be news to anyone.

My sentence from God came as a clarification to the problem of evil in the world.  It is very easy to look at the desolation and hurt and pain in the world, and ask, "how could there be a God who would let this happen?  Does s/he even care?"  That's a very reasonable question to ask.  I'm not going to give you a proof for why God exists or doesn't, that can't be done, and it frustrates me to no end.  What I will do is tell you something about God, if you believe her/him to exist.  God is honest.

If you believe God exists, then occasionally you will bump into something in the Bible that seems morally questionable if God is God.  If God is love, mercy and kind.  I'm going to ask that you suspend your human perspective on morality, because frankly, you don't have an eternal perspective, or even a 7th dimensional perspective (you can bet I wish for even a 5th dimensional perspective every day).  Don't suspend your idea of morality forever though, you can have it back later, you will need it to remain human.

In verses 28 and 30, God says to me, "I know there is evil, and I know you see it.  I see it too.  But this is my plan, despite how it may not make sense and hurt from your perspective."  He says: "An enemy has done this."  "Let both grow together until the harvest."

In this instance, in this parable, in this story, I hear God saying to me: "I know.  I know.  This is the decision I have made from my perspective, it might not make sense from yours.  You will have to fight to grow in the midst of a weed filled world.  You will struggle to receive the sunlight you need.  You will compete for water with the weeds, but in the end, I know the wheat and I know the darnel.  I'm going to gather you into my barn."

I hear an acknowledgment from God that the world is a confusing place, but that he's letting us grow this way for now:
‘An enemy has done gathering the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.'
 I don't understand why s/he's doing it this way, but God isn't hiding it either.  S/he's honest with us about it.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I am a cynical Christian

I am cynical.  I am occasionally bitter.  Despite this, I love people, really love them, even if I hurt deeply and don't do it as well as I'd like.  I fight intellectual elitism in myself, and idealism in churches.  Let me unpack that.

Isn't cynicism bad?  Doesn't it hurt and cause loss of intimacy and trust?

Yes, it can be and it does.  It can be borne of doubt when that doubt is ignored and swept under the rug, or worse, ridiculed.  A doubt that is raised and scorned, or decried as weak faith can bear a crop of cynicism.

Cynicism can be cultivated over an extended period of time if doubts are not shared, or if the individual is not comfortable raising them among their friends or family.  Ignoring the existence of doubts, instead of cultivating and addressing, or even encouraging them can be caustic, especially over time.

Intellectual elitism
Cynicism and intellectual elitism, in particular, can be a response to the anti-intellectualism that is plaguing churches today.  It is part of the religion vs science "debate" and makes a mockery of both, in its misunderstandings of both.  Elitism however, is a poor weapon to fight anti-intellectualism, as it alienates and divides further.

Empathy, dialogue and gentle explication are a far better tool to reach those who feel threatened by "science".  Much of my cynicism and need to be elitist has been curbed by having conversations and dialogue with other Christians about what science is and what it means to me.  The friendship of a Christian in science can often dispel misunderstandings and the belief that the two callings are mutually exclusive.

Of course, dialogue means entering into conversation without expectation of a changed mind/heart/attitude from the other person.  Useful dialogue is often just that--an exchange of ideas that often leads to no change, other than a deeper trust or respect.

Idealism is another point of contention that cynics have with the church.  It can be thought of in this way:
“God will never give you more than you can handle.” Some Christians dispense this phrase with such regularity that one would think it comes from Scripture (I think it is actually a distortion of Paul’s words on temptation in 1 Cor. 10:13). The opposite, however, seems to be more biblically true—God at times gives us way more than we can handle in order to drive us into a deeper dependence on him (“. . . we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. . . . But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”—2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Idealism oozes out of our pulpits in the form of empty platitudes and trite sentimentality. It seeps out of well-meaning lips in hospital rooms and funeral parlors as we stretch for something cheery to say in the face of sickness and death. A great deal of sermon material can only work in safe and sanitized suburbs.
--the Gospel Coalition
It is no wonder that it's hip to be cynical as a pushback to idealism.  Anyone who is honest can see that we don't live in an ideal world.  How often do we pretend that our churches aren't filled with hurting confused people?  We can't hide here either.  Cynicism acknowledges this, but to be useful, it needs to move past it into hope.  Unfortunately, hope is hard.  Hope is hard when there are innocents being killed and raped.  Hope is hard when politics seem like just another vehicle for powerful people to make farcical decisions to advance their careers and names.  Hope is hard.

What now?
Despite the difficulty of hope, I'd rather trade my cynicism for hopeful realism, and embracing the reality of a world and a church that are not ideal.  Because when you're cynical, it's hard to care about solutions.

In case you wonder how dark a journey can be that results in hopeful realism, let me share something that I wrote recently to a friend:
My worry in penning this though is that it is satisfying some dark, human desire to seem realest-of-the-real to those that would read it, and somehow think better of me. For truly, that is what i desperately want. Still and always. This is why grace is difficult and why i distrust myself ever to receive it, because in my heart i know (think) that i don't need it. And I'm terrified that i will always feel this way. Calvinism and evangelicalism and the words of men/friends have no balm for this. I must admit it, i hate (have?) faith. i do not understand it and i do not trust it. i am suspicious of it. Its supposed simplicity and guilelessness seem nearly nefarious. What kind of Christian dares to say or think that? i'm no longer sure. God, this is hard. How does this happen?
My conception of faith stems from Hebrews: "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see."  This is problematic, because I find it difficult to be confident in something I'm hoping for.  I guess that's the nature of faith: it must be blind.  I don't know if it's faith that I hate, or if it's the fact that so few Christians have a problem with it.  That, to be a good Christian, you must just be happy about faith, and the deeper your confidence in it the just strikes me as false when I observe blind, unquestioned faith.  I guess it feels like a cop out: "oh, I have faith, therefore I don't have to think about what that means... "Basically what you [my friend] said:
"When people talk about what God is teaching them through doubt, I have never understood that.  Mostly, I wonder how full the glass has to be to tip the scales and "count" as faith."
Yeah! WTF?  I think my problem is excessive cynicism and distrust...that kind of hurts the faith idea too.
 It was a low point for me, but I don't think it's faith that I hate.  Faith is still tough for me, and I hope that at some point it's tough for everyone, because that means you care about getting it right, or at least better.  I still think the answer is Jesus.  It may be a buzzword, but hopeful realism is transforming my cynicism.  Just being able to say that helps.

Jim Wallis says it this way:
Faith enables us to act in hope, despite how things look, and that's what can help make change finally occur and change how things look.

Is Christian Cynicism a Spiritual Sickness?
Putting Off Cynicism
The Post-Cynical Christian
7 Ways to Stop Being Cynical About Church
Post-Cynical Christianity
On Christian Cynicism
Embracing ‘Hopeful Realism’: Why Cynicism Is a Dead End and Idealism a Farce

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The coldest, most delightful wood

Some days after work I just want to read and drink hot apple cider. Yesterday was one of those days. But I'm glad it didn't work out that way. You see, yesterday I got to help my friend usher in a new stage in his life.

It started a week or two ago. He said he'd like help on his engagement and that he'd bought a ring, and it was only a matter of time. I said, "anything!"
That brings us to two days ago, planning for a day later in the week. I would photograph his proposal secretly! Then a day later, in the afternoon, plans change: "can we do this today?"

Engage hyper drive: complete errands on the way home, and pick up lens from a friend with 20 minutes to play around with it. Everything in place finally.

Plans fail immediately, and I lose them on the way there.  Hopefully they don't see me pull in the parking lot.  I stall to make sure I arrive late enough.  Next problem: how do I carry my tripod, camera and the ring box, while xc skiing?  Split-second decision: poles are for the weak.

Let me paint a picture for you.  A tall, gangly, Carhart suit, ski mask wearing man skis along alone clutching a small box, tripod and camera bag.  He hurtles along the trail, up and down hills rather bumpily and without decorum or grace, because he is at least a year out of practice.  Luckily, he meets no one on the trails.

Having reached my destination, I clear snow away to create a small spot out on a bench under a light pole and place the hand-made box down gently, containing a sparkly, shiny diamond ring.

Ninja-mode engage.  I am become the woods.  I am the snowflake that nestles on the logs and leaves and branches.  I am all snowflakes and I am none of them.  Well off the trail, I ditch my skis and settle behind a snow covered, frozen pile of brush.  In between two light-bathed trees lies the snow covered bench of destiny.  My camera and borrowed lens sit atop the tripod, waiting in anxious anticipation.  I take some test footage and admire the beauty that is a lonesome, cold bench in a sea of trees cracking, bending and whining from the cold wind.

I lie in wait for my prey, patting down a bed for myself in the snow.  As they come up the trail, I press record, pray, and lie down, peeking periodically to make sure they're in the frame.

My friend suavely pulls over and begins brushing the snow off the bench making room for his beloved.  They sit, an awkward task with skis and she notices the box.  BAM! I lie in silence, listening to the wind and the trees and the snow crunching.  There is cold, and there is bliss--I don't notice the cold.

Adorable engagement shenanigans occur, and eventually they call to me.  The jig is up, I am discovered, and I greet the exultant couple.  Much later, I treat myself to hot apple cider and a book--Schrödinger's Cake?