Sunday, January 24, 2010


Early this morning I snuck through the guest room to get to the one bathroom I share with my room-mates. They have visitors this weekend, so I quietly tip-toed through the room, trying not to wake the darling couple sleeping sweetly wrapped up in a blue blanket. The couple is dealing with the angst of a long-distance relationship, but in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, there was no need for angst.

I have been thinking about love today. It wasn't too long ago that I fancied myself in love, but unlike this couple my heart does not swoon these days. Instead it remains thoughtful.

I hung out with a saint again today. He is choosing a celibate life, which dumbfounds me beyond imagination, but I think this guy has some things to teach me about love. A few years ago he sold all he owned as an act of solidarity with the poor and he walks everywhere because he "wants to be attentive to the journey as much as the destination." This guy is perplexing. I was wearing black, high-heels while we spoke today. Black, high-heels.

C.G. Jung wrote, "Eros never emancipates his slaves." I think Jung is right, but eros is just one of four Greek words for love. What about the other three? What of agape and philia and storge?

Perhaps eros is an easier taskmaster. I'm not sure.

"To be loved means to be consumed. To love is to give light with inexhaustible oil." -Rainer Maria Rilke in The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge

I like this juxtaposition. A juxtaposition worth pondering.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A minor revelation

It was not readily apparent when I first moved to this historic, gritty city, but I now know with certainty that Philadelphia will not eat me alive.

I may very well get struck by a car (second close call today) and it is possible that I may grow more rough around the edges (people are not into eye contact here), but I have renewed hope in this place. I visited a recovery house in North-Central Philly this week (picture Mogadishu minus the beautiful equatorial climate) where men and women can find rest and respite and healing from all kinds of addiction. I swear I met a few saints of the earth this week. They reminded me that every pocket of the universe deserves love and attentiveness. My mouth dropped open in surprise as we made our way to the wintry backyard where fruit trees and gardens cover a two-block area. One of the saints said, "We cannot heal our own addictions until we heal the broken world that fostered our addiction. Even the earth can be healed."

I like this guy.

There are birds in this garden. Beautiful robins and sparrows living peacefully in a place that was once littered with dilapidated building materials and garbage.

Impressive. Also impressive is the Philadelphia public library located just a 5 minute walk from my home. There is life and beauty here if I just choose to see it.

At church on Sunday I sat between two African-American homeless men. We were asked to link arms at the end of the service and I thought that the gentleman to my right was going to make an ungentleman-ly-like move at any moment, but thank God I did not have to punch him in the face. His hands stayed where they needed to and the gentleman to my left rescued me with a smile and a knowing nod, moving between us. We human beings are amusing and I like the way we rescue one another on occasion.

"Friendship doubles our joy and divides our grief" -- A Swedish Proverb

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Thoughts on Einstein

You might as well not be alive if you're not in awe of God -- Albert Einstein

This does not sound like the Einstein I have heard and read stories about. My residence in Princeton was quite near the home of Albert Einstein and as I walked to class I often looked up into the second-story window where he had an office. He was born in Germany to non-practicing Jews and developed a respect for Christians after the second World War, stopping by Miller Chapel on the Princeton campus on occasion to tip his hat to the "only people who tried to protect my people during the holocaust."

I always thought Einstein was an atheist, but it turns out I was wrong.

He once described the human endeavor to understand God this way, "We are like a little child entering a huge library. The walls are covered to the ceilings with books in many different tongues. The child knows that someone must have written these books. It does not know who or how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. But the child notes a definite plan in the arrangement of the books—-a mysterious order which it does not comprehend, but only dimly suspects." I like the mystery this image encompasses.

Pastors are often invited to speak about God with clarity and wisdom. Someone asked me today about the work of God in the midst of human pain. "Blah, blah, blah" I answered. All the while thinking, "While I can speak from some experience, most of this is my best guess, you know." An educated one (I will be paying on this brain of mine for awhile) and a reflected one, but my theology is dominated by hope rather than assurance.

Today while I cleaned and scrubbed and sanded a hardwood floor in the church with a group of fun girls (trying to fix up the parlor for meetings), hundreds of thousands of people sifted through rubble for people, for food, for some semblance of a life in Haiti.

Aaaah, Haiti. What will we do for you, so far away?

Awe and mystery and fear and sadness and hope. All of those seem just about right.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Mazungu Baby!

I taught my sister to wear her baby Zambian style. I know my friend Esther does not read this blog, but this is dedicated to you, dear friend. I am passing on good lessons you shared with me!

I am back in Philly after a long day and night of travel. 2010 has begun! I am ready for some new adventures and some LAUGHTER. Enough with the dreary winter blues!

What should I accomplish this year? Writing a novel seems a bit too ambitious, but tempting. Here are a few ideas I am kicking around:

- Hold the hand of someone who does not expect it
- Eat an ice cream cone on a concrete curb with a friend on a sunny day
- Take a photography class
- Read a really good book
- Take a beautiful picture to give to a friend
- Go somewhere I have never been before
- Host at least one great dinner party

I need some more ideas. Any suggestions? Things you are going to do?

Friday, January 1, 2010

God bless us, every one!

Thank you Charles Dickens for reinvigorating we anglophiles with a love for Christmas celebration. At least, I have heard this is to whom we must give credit. The Christmas holiday had fallen out of favor in mainstream English culture until he wrote “A Christmas Carol.” Actually, I am just happy to have been born into a land of immigrants. I love that I have already taken part in Christmas traditions from Holland (Sinterklaas), Sweden (Glugg), Denmark (looking for a hidden almond in a delicious dessert), and some of my own family traditions as well. Tonight I finished reading my nephews Tate and Tyson the book “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” just like my grandmother used to do every year and I had trouble choking back tears, of course, as awful Imogene Herdman wept over the baby Jesus. This is a wonderful story for children.

My nephews crack me up. Four-year-old Tyson and I did some yoga together today (he pronounces it yaga—as in Yahtzee) and Six-year-old Tate announced that he plans to have three simultaneous careers when he grows up: a meteorologist, a food scientist, and a dark ninja. He has asked his parents for a trip to Japan for training.

I arrived on December 26th, traveling most of Christmas Day. I had enough time along the California coast to remember that I find the ocean profoundly orienting. Flanked by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the lights of San Francisco to the east, I had enough time on the runway at the San Francisco International airport to recognize the particular shape of Ponderosa Pines and a sign for “In and Out Burgers” in the distance. The peaks of the Cascade mountain range and blankets of fir trees welcomed me home and I have enjoyed a very green, rain-soaked Christmas with friends and family. This part of the world still carries with it a familiarity that I hold deep within me.

Zambia has no Dickens. Most of the world has never heard of the Christmas Carol. I think it is a profoundly human trait to begin to think of oneself as the center of the universe. And it leads to our undoing. May my eyes be clearer this year and my thoughts more generous.

It is New Year's Eve and like most of you I am amazed that another year is over. My friend Rob said, "The good has been really good this year. The bad has been really bad this year" and I must agree. As the sage from the book of Ecclesiastes writes, there is nothing new under the sun.

Here's wishing you and yours much laughter and courage in the coming year. May we all be better, stronger, wiser, and warmer.