Sunday, November 29, 2009

I dwell in poetry, a fairer house than prose…

I have been thinking about Emily Dickinson today. The recluse poet, one of the most famous poets of the English language, has a fascinating connection to the home where I live and the church where I currently serve. She wrote three beautiful letters, if not scandalous, to a man we know as “Master.” As voyeurs tiptoe across the intimate correspondence, a familiar tightness pulls across the chest and lips curl into a knowing smile. The letters are full of longing and desire and Charles Wadsworth, former minister here at Arch Street Presbyterian Church, may have been the intended recipient. This is the portrait of Wadsworth that hangs in the study outside the sanctuary. He is a fairly handsome fellow. But so serious. When looking at characters like this buttoned up minister, I struggle to imagine pure, ecstatic indulgence. Really, Emily? Maybe I need to expand my romantic imagination.

I am likely preoccupied with poetry tonight because I am well-rested after a much needed Thanksgiving vacation in Princeton with good friends. I ate too much, drank enough, played amusing games, and spent time with people who make me wiser and warmer.

This is the thing I like about poets: they notice the small things that most of us pass by without a second thought. Life is too short to live merely in prose, a landscape painted in counterfeit hues. I like the idea of drinking in the poetry of the world as it unfolds around us in magnificent, if not understated, scenes.

I bought a couple of books while I was in Princeton, one of which is a collection of poems by Billy Collins whom I will leave you with here. This is a naughty, excellent, complex little poem about Emily. The reading is a little Dickens-esque, English drippity-drab, but worth a listen.

Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes

Thursday, November 19, 2009

No Barriers

Facebook is a funny thing. It allows you to creep quietly through people's lives without being noticed. You can give as much or as little information as you like, painting your life into the landscape you want people to see. Some people offer words of advice, admonish those of an opposing political party, or simply plea for love when things are hard. I think I have probably done all of those things. The jury is still out. Not sure how I feel about Facebook. It offers the illusion of intimacy, but web connection is not real connection, is it? Ironic that I am writing this on a BLOG.

On Wednesday night I went to the "No Barriers Dinner" that gathers at our sister church Broad Street Ministry once a month and literally advertises itself as a free dinner party for the city of Philadelphia. Imagine suits and skaters and artists and homeless people all packed together to share a meal. This month we had close to 400 people and were hosted by the Ritz Carlton (the best of the best) and many of the servers who volunteered were from the NYC record label Rough Riders (think hip hop). I sat next to a homeless man named Fred, across from an Italian named Dante who recently moved from Jersey (who was sitting next to a couple of students from the University of Pennsylvania) and had a lovely conversation with a Dutch woman and her partner who met one another while studying in New Zealand. I love this dinner. It is like one big hug or a group exhale. All of us, in all of our diversity and complexity and foolery, all gathered together to share some food and some love with one another. It was pretty nice.

I am working hard in my new position. The building is falling apart, so I cling to memories from Zambia where people did amazing things together with just a little bit of money and a whole lot of ingenuity. My friend Robert Louer shared a story about an afternoon he spent teaching in Lusaka that was interrupted by a panicked visitor who was trying to find a way to pay for a proper burial for a poor woman in the community. The group gathered enough money and donated planks of wood and nails to build her a coffin. They prayed over the offering before they returned to class. Now, that is faith. I hope to muster some of that here.

Living without barriers. Living in freedom. Doesn't that sound nice? Some friends shared their experiences from the months surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall and since then I have been pondering this notion of freedom. I live in a country that talks about it a great deal, but not sure that many of us have a good working definition. Liberation from tyranny is vital to human flourishing. Yes. But liberation from the self, from the prisons we create for ourselves? Imperative.

Curious about Broad Street? Check it out here. Watch the slideshow for awhile-- I love the music.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A typical Manhattan weekend

Imagine this: Jews from Los Angeles meet conservative Christian New York Koreans for a wedding on Friday the 13th, Chelsea Pier, Manhattan. Now that is a fascinating event! I was in New York for the weekend to celebrate the wedding of Max and Millie who hosted an extraordinary party on the Hudson River-- divine food and drink, orchids and roses and an excuse to wear three-inch black heels and eat chocolate-covered everything. Lovely.

This morning, after a slow start, I went to brunch with good friends from Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church. It was good to catch up with these women- bright attorneys, writers, business and entertainment-savvy women whose strength and humor inspire me. It rained all day long, so I curled up with a self-help book that proved irritatingly helpful. I am not usually a big fan of this genre (pride, I think), but this was a worthy way to spend the afternoon.

My friend Christy told me a marvelous story this week. She is a minister in New York and a 5 year-old in her church just had successful open-heart surgery. Christy called the family to see if she could stop by and visit the young patient who promptly said to her mother, "I cannot believe one of the President's of the church wants to come see me!" Upon arrival, the little girl greeted Christy with a special picture she had drawn of the two of them and shyly told her all about her time in the hospital. The girl's mother asked, "Would you like to show Reverend Lang your scar?" She sheepishly shook her head no and the visit proceeded with no scars shared. When Christy arrived back at the office she had an email waiting from the mother of the young girl. After Christy left the mother had asked her daughter, "Honey, you show everyone your scar. Why did you not want to show Reverend Lang?" The little girl sighed and said, "Mommy, wouldn't you be a little shy if someone asked you to show Barak Obama your scar?"

I am now back in Philadelphia and despite the fact that I came home to a broken heater AGAIN, I can authentically report that I like my job. Fixing boilers and toilets aside, I love that I get to be imaginative and relational as this church figures out what it means to be relevant in a city/culture/time and place that is appropriately suspicious of church.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Poem for the Season

Making the House Ready for the Lord
Mary Oliver

Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
Still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice—it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances—but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

I like this poem. Yes, I do. I like this woman in the poem, whoever she is.

I have good news: Philadelphia is constantly revealing, albeit slowly, some lovely things about itself. Here is a charming factoid: O Little Town of Bethlehem, the popular Christmas song, was written by a priest at a church around the corner from where I live. I also like the fact that Emily Dickinson used to attend church here. Ain't bad to live in a place haunted by music and poetry!

I have shared before and after pics of my office at work! Looking far more legitimate, eh?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Happy Day

Happiness has a way of catching you off guard. At least, the best kinds of happiness works that way. Today I stooped down to pluck up the most marvelous leaf whose reds and purples were somewhere near indescribable. I have learned to drive a stick shift, which makes me feel strangely grown-up and being grown-up makes me feel sophisticated and world-wizened. Funny, but true. Today, out of the blue, I was reminded of how lovely it is to be so close to someone that you can feel their heartbeat. This crossed my mind and made me happy.

My friends Becky and Andy have been generous in welcoming me to Philadelphia and I love the way their 8 month-old baby Anneke nestles in close and thinks that noses are absolutely scrumptious. My nephew Tate and I had our most “grown up” conversation yet and I marvel at the boy he is becoming. I met some new girlfriends for coffee tonight and was reminded of how many good people there are in the world. All in all, it has been a day full of good things.

I still sort of hate Philadelphia, but am doing my best to expect the unexpected. And no doubt some more happiness will come my way :-)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Waiting on some inspiration

Thoughts from the last 15 minutes:

1) I want to take a photography class. That needs to be on the life agenda.

2) Do you think there is anything worse than dishonesty? I think it might be one of the worst qualities in a person.

3) Falling in love is annoying, for the record. I am certain of it. That is the conclusion on the matter, this day, November 2, 2009.

4) Flirting, on the other hand, not so bad.

5) I would like a kitten. A fluffy, puffy, meowing kitten. What shall I name him? Something French, I think. Pierre.

6) I like cappuccinos. I think I may have found a coffee shop to return to regularly. It is rustic. That is a good word for it. Rustic, yet urban-fashionable. I am drinking a cappuccino right now, so I expect my mood to improve exponentially in approximately 5 minutes.

I’ve been waiting on some inspiration before writing a blog posting, but inspiration has been hard to come by lately.

I now live on the third floor of a creaky, old brownstone at Arch and 18th Street in Philadelphia. There is a row of eight small trees that line the block, but for the most part I am surrounded by concrete and steel. I need to find myself some parks. I have come to find that Philadelphians LOVE Philadelphia. It is a surprisingly intense love affair (and slightly obnoxious to the outsider). I have offended a few people by asking, "What exactly makes this city so great?" I am a jerk.

One wonderful thing about this city? Brunch. There are lots of great places for long, luxurious brunches- good coffee, good food, good atmosphere.

I have been absorbed by work already, but have found some time for lovely excursions with friends. Went to a wedding in Princeton last weekend and got to spend time with some people that I love.

Solitude and joy are not diametrically opposed. I plan to seize a little of both this week.