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May. 24th, 2010


Not a knot weed ...

On Monday, our Eco-Stewards group visited the Morris Creek watershed, and spoke with one of the leaders of the Watershed Association. They are working to restore Morris Creek; once hosting an abundance of wildlife, for the past fifty years or more, it has been barren.

Mike talked to us about the watershed, about the Association's work on Morris Creek, about how they have recently been able to stock the creek with trout. We asked Mike about his connection to the watershed and why he works so hard to preserve it.

"Because I live here," he said (as best I remember his words; this is not direct transcription). "Because my grandchildren live here." He told us how every household--every single household--along the hollow (pronounced "holler") was dealing with some sort of cancer. Mike described a bit of his childhood, playing in those forests. So why does he care about the watershed? "Everyone should have their own bit of forest."

After a lunch hosted by Mike, his wife, and his mother-in-law, we were to do some hands-on service for the Morris Creek Watershed Association; Mike had wanted us to get into the creek and do some repairs on the k-dams that help regulate water flow. It had been a bit rainy, however, and the creek was too high for us to do that work. Instead, Mike offered us an alternate project: taking down some Japanese knot weed.

In the early coal-mining days, coal barons brought in Japanese knot weed to help cover up and hide the damage they were doing to West Virginia. The knot weed is similar to kudzu in many ways--viney, quick to take over, and incredibly hard to be rid of. They Association has done all they can think of to destroy the knot weed, all unsuccessfully.

And so the Japanese knot weed is, and has been, killing off all the local flora that originally lined the watershed and played a part in the health of the water. The Association has begun to replant along the creek, but the weeds must be regulated to give any native plants a chance.

Mike had a meeting to attend, so he handed us over to Dustin, and employee of the DEP (?) who has been working with the Watershed Association on some of their projects. Dustin showed us the watershed's treatment system for the acid mine drainage that must be dealt with, and showed us the fields of knot weed we were to pull. As we walked out to the fields, tools in hands, Dustin expressed his opinion of our task.

Shaking his head, he said, "It's not going to do any good. I mean, you guys can go at the weeds if you want, but they're just going to come back. You're not going to do any good."

We wanted to do something, anything, and so we passed around the tools and went at the knot weed. When Mike had first mentioned weeds, I thought we were going to be pulling weeds, on hands and knees. This was not the case. This knot weed was at least up to our knees, and in some cases shoulder high. We were clearing around the American chestnut trees the Association had planted, and most of the trees were more slender than the knot weeds around them.

This was not weed-puling; this was weed-whacking by hand. We had rakes and hoes; I had one of two or three mini-scythes; some of us improvised with sticks. With full-body swings, we decimated the fields of knot weed, making light of the task with the obvious word-play presented to us. "I'm a not-weed, not a knot weed!"

In an astonishingly short amount of time, we turned around to realize that we had cleared the field of the knot weeds--and by cleared, I mean that they were flattened to the ground, broken close to the ground or pulled up by the roots--and so we moved on to the next patch. Two seconds later, the weeds there were demolished as well. You could look over this stretch of land and see the young, scrawny trees, no longer drowned in an ocean of knot weed.

Dustin is right; these weeds are going to come back. We made no eternal, or even long-lasting, difference in this field. But we gave those trees another taste of sunlight, another season of unimpeded growth. It was a baby step for the trees, but with Japanese knot weed to fight against, all we can take are baby steps.

Apr. 20th, 2009


My buddy and me...

I have a buddy in the sky. No, not a Buddy; just a buddy, one who goes by the name of Orion. This is about the time of year that Orion starts to fall out of sight, down below the horizon of the northern hemisphere. In a few months, with the official start of summer, Orion will leave me once more, off on adventures in distant lands.

My friendship with Orion began years ago and miles away. My fifth grade teacher was an astronomy buff; she started for our class an Astronomy Club. We met Friday mornings, an hour or so before school began. It was a parent-child venture, and so every Friday, my dad and I would walk the block-and-a-half to my elementary school and engage in both learning and bonding.

I remember a few meetings in particular. One week, each pair was given the task of designing a way of making Mars habitable, and drawing out our design on one of those cardboard presentation tri-folds. I think Dad still has ours somewhere (I hope he does): we placed a dome over the area to be settled, on a Martian hillside, drawing in little houses and assorted buildings. The dome would regulate the atmosphere, and to power the whole set-up, we placed windmills outside the dome. Now, I have to wonder if there would be enough wind to generate electricity; then, it didn’t matter.

I remember us puffy-painting Astronomy Club t-shirts. My ten-year-old self painted an image of the Earth on her shirt, smearing blue and green paint for oceans and land that was doomed to crack all over at the first wash and wear. Dad was more sensible in his design; he drew a connect-the-dots constellation Bootes on his shirt, upside down, to make it look like a tie.

Most importantly, though, I remember Ms. Valdez’s obsession with Orion. I don’t remember the details of how this obsession manifested itself, but it was sufficient to place in me a love of Orion as well.

Since that year, I have had a fascination with the universe; I love to look up at the night sky and wonder at the vast complexity of it all. This sight makes some people feel small and insignificant, makes them wonder if there could be a personal, loving God in light of all that is out there. When I star-gaze, though, I feel myself part of a larger order of things. I see the incredible detail and precision needed for life to occur. I see with wonder the vast array of what is possible. It seems too well put-together to have been an accident; in a way (and this is going to sound cheesy; bear with me), it is if God places God’s signature on the tail of every shooting star.

It amazes me that I can look up at the night sky and see almost exactly what I saw in Minneapolis, and before that in Auburn. It amazes me that I could sit outside, call my Dad, and watch a meteor shower together over a distance of 3,000 miles. I hope it never ceases to amaze me.

Apr. 17th, 2009


Dancing in the rain ...

I love rain, in almost all its forms. I think not many people realize just how many different kinds of rain exist—from soft little showers to pounding hard rain that tries to bite through your skin—and so I sometimes get picked on when I distinguish between raining and sprinkling.

“It’s not raining,” I’ll say, “It’s barely sprinkling.”

And one friend in particular will scoff, and retort, “It’s precipitation falling from the sky—it’s rain.”

And most of the time, I roll my eyes and ignore him. Or we’ll continue to argue the point, knowing that neither is going to back down.

Most people, it seems, would rather get rid of rain altogether. They abandon plans if it is raining, and bundle up in layers and layers of protective plastic if they must go out in the rain. Children sing, “rain, rain, go away. Come again another day”—but don’t want it to come again at all. Rain is a nuisance, something that keeps us from our busy schedules.

Not me, though; I love the rain. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in the Seattle area, where it rains often if not necessarily hard. Growing up in an area where the weather forecast distinguishes between sprinkles, showers, and rain, where the term “sun shower” means something, indeed, where the sun is an Unidentified Glowing Object in the sky, you either love or loathe the rain.

Living outside of western Washington the last seven years, the rain is probably what I miss the most—along with the sight of Mount Rainier painted on the south-western part of the sky. When we got rain in Minneapolis, when we get it here, I revel in it.

I remember a Midwestern downpour, where the five-minute walk across my undergraduate campus brought me to my apartment absolutely drenched, dripping from head to toe—and with a great smile on my face.

When it is raining in the slightest here, when I walk my half-mile trek home from or to campus, at least one driver will pull over and offer me a ride—and then look at me as though I am a little crazy when I turn them down: “No, thanks. I like walking in the rain.”

During my shifts at Ruby Tuesday, I would every now and again notice it raining outside, and if I had a minute to pause, I would go stand outside the TueGo room, letting the rain fall on me. I know at least one or two of my managers and co-workers thought I was strange—although, really, I will deny neither being a little crazy nor strange.

Rain, for me, is more than an inconvenience, more than something to ruin plans. Rain picks me up. Rain cleanses me. When I am feeling down, or am having a hard time with life, or when I am just plain grumpy, one of the best things I can do is take a walk in the rain.

Letting the rain drip down my face, I can feel my worries slide away as well. A good downpour can wash me clean just as Noah’s flood washed away the evils of the world—just as our baptisms cleanse us of our past sins. The things that weigh me down are broken by the rain, and run with the excess water into the storm drains, taken far away from me.

If I cry in the rain, tears of pain mix with drops of healing rain, until you cannot tell the one from the other, and all becomes healing. If I laugh in the rain, it falls into my mouth, becoming part of me.

You wonder why I love the rain? Above and beyond it being the norm of my childhood, rain is a gift from God—a gift of healing, of cleansing, of making me whole once more. This is why I dance in the rain.

Mar. 22nd, 2009


Can I get a do-over? ...

My mom is the child of an Air Force family, which means that she didn't really grow up anywhere, but ultimately, her family settled in Minneapolis, where her mother and most of her siblings still live. I like to say that I get my adventurous spirit from her--when she was in her early 20s, she decided to pack up and move to Seattle, where she met my dad and started her own family.

On several occasions throughout my childhood, my family went to visit Mom's family for vacation. We could not afford to fly all five of us, so we drove. One of Mom's sisters lives in Rapid City, South Dakota, which can be right on the route to Minneapolis, and so we would always stop and see her for a few days before going on to Minnesota.

Now, my dad is not the kind of man to stop and get a hotel if we could make it one go--and so we drove straight through. Twenty-four hours of driving took us from Auburn, Washington to Rapid City, South Dakota.

The first such trip I remember was just before my 6th birthday, which means my brother would have been 4, and my sister 2--bless my parents for even attempting this trip.

I don't remember the details of the drive, but I'm sure there was some of this going on:

"Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? How much longer? Are we there yet? Mom, I'm bored. I'm hungry. I have to go potty. Are we there yet?"

If you have kids, or ever were a kid, you know what I'm talking about.

Three kids, one day, and I don't doubt that my parents breathed a sigh of relief when we pulled into Aunt Debbie's driveway.

Imagine, then, the task of Moses and Aaron. Coming out of Egypt, they are charged with leading what will become an entire nation hundreds of miles across the desert to the land promised to them. We’re talking about a lot of people here; the opening of Numbers has Moses taking a census of all the men over the age of 20. His final count comes up to 603,550. Just men: no women, no children, and also, this doesn’t include the Levites—Moses counts the Levite males one month or older, and there are 22,000. So we’re looking at 625,000 people actually counted. If we assume that most of those men had wives, we’re looking at upwards of a million people, and that still doesn’t take into account any children beyond the Levite boys.

Quick contrast: in Cleveland, Rutherford, and Gaston counties, there are about 350,000 people. Triple these three counties, and we may be getting close to the number of Israelites that took off out of Egypt.

I can’t even imagine what a group of a million people would look like. My high school once took a picture of the entire student body. There were about 1,800 of us in that picture, and it was a very large-looking group. The Israelites had more than 500 times that number. It baffles me to try to picture this mass of humanity moving through the desert.

Moses and Aaron were brave, indeed. Even if the sojourn to the Promised Land had gone relatively quickly, they still were facing quite an undertaking. A group of any size can really only move as fast as its slowest member, and among a million people there surely must have been some slow-pokes, especially since they are all traveling on foot, old and young, sick and well. In the best of circumstances, this journey would have taken some time.

Unfortunately for everyone involved, the journey did not go so smoothly. About two years into the trek, the people start to wonder--why did we leave Egypt? Let’s forget about the whole slavery thing for a minute; remember the food we used to eat? How we has choices, options, meat, whereas now all we have is manna—bland, tasteless manna. And they complained to Moses.

Well, Moses prayed, and this is the part where God sends the quails, to give the people some meat. The people are happy--for a while. Eventually, though, the same chorus begins to rise again, and the people are really thinking about going back to Egypt. They talk to Moses, and Moses talks to God.

But now God has gotten mad. It’s almost as if God is now wondering why they left Egypt--why God led the people out of Egypt. What was the point, if the people did not appreciate their freedom, and the power of their God?

Moses pleads with God, reminding God of God’s love and forgiveness. And God does agree to forgive the people, but.

But none of the adults who have sojourned out of Egypt shall be allowed to see the Promised Land; they will die before entering its borders, except for two young men who have remained faithful.

But the whole lot of them would spend forty years in the wilderness before they actually got to Canaan, the Promised Land.

And so we come to our Scripture text this morning. The Israelites have passed that forty year period in the desert, living on manna and, I’m sure, in despair, knowing that they will die in that same desert, having never laid eyes on the land of milk and honey.

By the time we come to our story, that first generation has largely passed away; a second generation has grown up, and God is again bringing them closer to Canaan, their Promised Land. They pack up camp and begin the march once more.

Before they get very far, though, a rumbling and murmuring starts up. Maybe this itinerant life is rubbing this generation the wrong way, like it did their fathers. Maybe they are tired and grumpy from walking all day, and then having the hard task of setting up camp come evening.

In any case, the people begin to complain once more, but this is a more serious complaint--not only are they grumbling about Moses, but they are complaining about God as well. They bring their grievances to Moses.

“Look, Moses, it’s not that we don’t appreciate not being slaves anymore … but why did you take us from Egypt if this desert is the best we are going to get. Look around--there’s not a cloud in the sky, no hint of water, no greenery anywhere. All there is is this dry ground, and sand, and the blinding sun. We have no food. We have no water. And man, Moses, this food is terrible! We hate it out here!”

“There is no food, and we detest this miserable food.” The first time I read that, I wanted to laugh. If there is food to detest, there is certainly not no food. And then I remembered how often I will wander my kitchen, glancing through my stocked cabinets, looking into the refrigerator and freezer, both of which contain groceries, and step back from it all and think, “I have no food.”

When I say I have no food, what I usually mean is that I don’t have anything that sounds good at that particular moment, or that I don’t what I’m craving. The Israelites were in a slightly different boat; whereas my cabinets offer a variety of choices, theirs were stocked with boxes and boxes of Saltine crackers. I can understand how they grew to detest their diet.

But still, this is food that has been provided by God. Their whole lives have been provided by God, who brought them up out of Egypt--in answer to their parents’ prayers while they were still enslaved.

Early in the book of Exodus, we read that “The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God” (2:23). In The Prince of Egypt, the people sing their cry: “Deliver us. Send a shepherd to shepherd us. Deliver us to the Promised Land.”

The slaves prayed to God, prayed for help, for deliverance. God listened, and answered. Now they are slaves no longer, but deliverance did not come the way they had expected it to. In Egypt, they had probably imagined homes of their own, villages and settlements, permanence. A place to scratch out a living, to plant and harvest, to smile and laugh with neighbors and family.

Instead, they got the desert. They got a nomadic life. They got pain, and heartache, and death. And so they cry out to God once more, saying again, this isn’t what we wanted!

It would be easy to shake our heads. Those silly Israelites, wanting to go back to Egypt. Can’t they see that freedom is better than slavery? Don’t they see all that God is doing for them? They shouldn’t be complaining...

Maybe they shouldn’t be complaining, but they aren’t alone. How often do we pray for things, and when our prayers are answered, that answer doesn't look like we had hoped it would? How do we react?

We pray for healing ...
We pray for rain ...
We pray for rescue ...
We pray for friends ...
We pray for guidance ...
We pray for patience ...

I have a problem with patience, in that I don't always have it when and where I need to. So often, I pray, "God, grant me patience. Grant me peace, that I might make it through."

I wasn’t crazy about the movie Evan Almighty, but one quote still sticks out to me: “If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does [God] give them the opportunity to be patient?”

Really, what I am praying most of the time is not actually for patience or peace, but rather that the situation in which I lack patience would magically go away. And so when it doesn't, when God answers my prayer in a different way--when God gives me the opportunity to be patient--I want to look up and shake my head. "Um, God, this isn't what I wanted. Can I get a do-over here? That’d be great."

It seems to me like that’s what the Israelites wanted: a do-over. A chance to go back to Egypt, and get a different ending. Instead, they continued in the wilderness, and ultimately found their home in the Promised Land.

Can you imagine what might have happened if they had turned around? Gone back to Pharaoh and offered themselves as slaves once more? I can’t imagine it would have been a very pretty life. Fortunately, God could see a better future for God’s chosen people.

Perhaps there are some situations in which a do-over would grant a better future. Perhaps a second try would be better than the first. Perhaps, but we can never know. Do-overs in real life are few and far between, and if we live waiting for one, we are likely to be saddened and disappointed.

Instead, I pray that we can be grateful that we, like the Israelites, are not always given our own way. I pray that instead of seeking do-overs, we can trust that our God can see a bigger, better picture than we can. I pray that instead of complaining, we might be able to have faith like a child, that it will be okay in the end, for we have a God who loves us beyond all measure and a Jesus who has saved us. May we live and breath that knowledge, confident of and trusting in God’s abundant love.


Mar. 20th, 2009


Sermon Prep Meets Battlestar Galactica ...

At the time of the Exodus, the Israelites people numbered 603,550 men over the age of 20. They wandered around the desert, hot and easily irritated, for roughly forty years as they waited for their God to usher them into the Promised Land.

They thought they had it tough.

At the time of the Exodus, the remainder of the human race numbered somewhere around 50,000, all souls included. They traversed the galaxy for roughly four years, dogged at almost every move by genocidal Cylons, seeking to follow elusive prophesies to find Earth, but when they found Earth, it turned out to be far from the Paradise they had hoped for.

The Israelites may have had Aaron and Moses, but the humans? They have Adama and Roslin.

Frak yeah.

So say we all.

Mar. 13th, 2009


Fear and failure ...

I'll admit it: I'm jealous. Trevar is posting blogs every other hour. Tom finished his book. Aileen is pondering publication methods. And me? I lack motivation.

I lack the motivation to write most days, most weeks, even though I have numerous blog thoughts that used to be littered across my computer desktop (now neatly compiled into a single file). I may start writing things in my head, but they never make it to paper, nor to binary. They just fail to exist beyond those initial thoughts.

This blog started in the shower this morning. I was going to write it when I got to the coffee shop--I didn't. If I weren't sitting here at the church, making sure the powerpoint for the contemporary service actually matches what will be sung come Sunday morning, this probably would be yet another unbirthed blog.

Here's the thing: I'm a writer, but I don't write very often at all. it is in my blood, to some extend, but it never comes out of the blood, and a good writer bleeds all over the place, to continue the odd metaphor. I do not bleed.

Here's another thing: If I could write just one thing, it would be a tribute to Samantha. A good, fitting tribute, something that would vindicate her brief life--let it make a mark on the world, in a sense. If she did not get to live, she should live on in my writing.

I am afraid I will never be able to do her justice. I will never write anything good enough, pure enough to represent who she is, and who she is to me. I am afraid, and so I do not even try. I cannot be a failure, because to fail in this is to not only fail myself, but her as well, and she deserves more than this. I am afraid of failure, because my life is not just mine, and so the failure is not just mine.

There was more to this this morning; it was more articulate, had more fleshed out ideas. But I waited, and now ... now this is what I've got. Another unworthy attempt. Alas.

Feb. 28th, 2009


Family camping ...

This week, I bought a plane ticket to Seattle. It is for a date almost six months out, but I am still excited.

While I was at my parents' house over Christmas, I overheard my mom talking to someone--probably one of her sisters or her mother--over the phone. I didn't catch much of the conversation, but I heard Mom saying that she was thinking about coming to North Carolina for my birthday--my 25th birthday, and Mom wanted to be able to celebrate with me.

A few weeks later, when I was back in Shelby, the yearly emails started making their way through the Jurey clan: where and when are we going to have the family camp-out this year?

Every year since before I can remember, and at least since my sister was one--her first birthday celebration was while camping, and she's now 20--my Dad's side of the family has gotten together for a weekend in the summer to go camping. It is a beloved tradition for me, up there with family Christmas Eves and Thanksgivings.

It's not like we never saw each other; each of us grandkids celebrated our birthdays with the family, and there are eleven of us. Add in Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter celebrations, and we gathered at least once a month. But still, the camp-out was special; we got to get away, we got to spend the whole of Friday through Sunday together, off on adventures in the scary, dark bunkers of Fort Flagler, playing on the beaches, picking blackberries alongside the paths at Mossyrock. And sitting around the campfire at night, roasting marshmallows and making s'mores--Dad can roast a marshmallow so that it grows to the size of your fist.

It was at a family camp-out that I first won the love of Haley, my cousin's daughter (my first cousin once removed?). I was probably 15--she was 2, but I never remember the age difference between us. My parents and siblings and I had already arrived and set up our spot, and so we were running around and playing when Becci and clan pulled into the campground. I think it was a Flagler year--not that it makes much difference.

Two-year-old Haley was sitting in the back seat of the car, grumpy as could be because she had been woken up from a nap. She wouldn't get out, so while Becci and her son unloaded the car, I leaned against the door-frame of the car and tried to de-grump Haley.

"I see ... two ears! One ... and two. And I see a nose ... and two eyes ... and a mouth ..." and as I counted the features of her face, she warmed up and even started to smile.

From that day onward, Haley has been my special buddy. I love all my cousins, and all my family, but she has a special place in my heart. She can be a drama queen, but I love her anyways. And if I can say it without sounding vain, Haley adores me as well. Ever since then, when I walk in the door of a family gathering, Haley throws herself at me--"Brina!"

Even after I went away to college, and was only home for Christmas and summers. Even when I moved further away to grad school, and was home even more infrequently.

And then, her dad, a Navy man, was transferred to Virginia Beach, and they became the nearest of my family, a mere six-and-a-half-hour's drive from me. I would drive up for the weekend every now and again, and Becci would not tell the kids. I would arrive, and knock on the door, and I always loved to see the surprise on the faces of the kids when they saw it was me.

Haley has three younger siblings now. Because Haley loves me, Shelby is growing up loving me. Because Shelby and Haley love me, Ryan is growing up loving me. They are back in Washington now, and I went to see them while I was there for Christmas. Again, it was a surprise, and as these three were jumping up and down--"Brina! Brina! Brina!"--the youngest, two-year-old Chloe, eyed me carefully. I could see her thought process--I don't know who this person is, or why she is so exciting, but everyone else is sure happy to see her ... And while she remained shy throughout our visit, she did venture to climb onto my back for a horsey ride along with Shelby and Ryan.

This is part of the reason I want to move back to the Seattle area, and part of the reason I will surely end up there in the end, whether it be this next move or later on.

In those early years, family camp-out arrangements were fairly simple: a camp site for Grandma and Grandpa, and one for each of their five children and families. Six sites total. But, as will inevitably happen, we have grown up and multiplied, so that in addition to those six sites, most of the grandchildren need sites of their own, for their growing families. We need sites for motorhomes and trailers, tent sites, preferably near cabins for those who are growing tired of the rougher style of camping.

It has also grown more complicated in that one of our traditional campgrounds, Fort Flagler, is still a favorite for some of us, but for others, it is too full of memories of my aunt who passed away a little more than a year ago. The emails flew with a bit of a fury this year, and feelings were hurt and subsequently assuaged before decisions were made.

I knew I wasn't going to be able to make it out at any point during the summer this year; I will be spending all of my time researching my thesis, working in the Writing Center, and trying not to let my research depress me too much. I didn't pay much attention to the family camp-out emails, especially as they began to be hurtful.

But then everything was resolved, and I got the email: the camp-out would be at a location I don't remember, the weekend of August 28-30--the weekend of my birthday.

I heard again Mom's voice saying that she was thinking of coming to see me for my birthday. If she was already going to buy a plane ticket, I reasoned, why shouldn't it be for me to come to Seattle, where I could spend my birthday not only with Mom, but with my whole family, in a tradition that I have sorely missed in my years away?

The next time I talked to her, I was going to bring up the subject, but Mom beat me to it. Instead of me proposing the idea, she stole the very thought out of my brain. I laughed, and told her I had been about to suggest it, and so I started watching for cheap plane tickets--because I somehow have a knack for finding cheaper tickets than anyone else in my family. I found a ticket that was probably the cheapest we have gotten for the Charlotte to Seattle route (alas, it is always via another airport), and booked it.

And so, I get to spend my birthday with my family--my 25th birthday, which sounds so old--for the first time since 2002.

Feb. 20th, 2009


For the Dirty Conservative Poets ...

I wrote a poem. It's not very good, but I think it's fun.
I am Bri-Bri

I practically live
in the Writing Center ...

I am not a PC,
thank you very much,
and I love
my Mac.

I am perhaps
the queen
of random—

Or perhaps more correctly,
the emperor
of the Kingdom of Dumb
and Atlantis
and random.

I do not always speak English,
but think in German
ever now and again,
and I have a language
all my own.

I laugh loudly,
and with a snort.

I talk about my cats
and to my cats
and for my cats—
one of whom is
Isaac Newton.

I love the word
and Menomonie.

I love Battlestar Galactica
and Gilmore Girls
and Jeopardy.

I ask the questions of life,
the universe,
and pretty much everything.

The rolling chair
in the Writing Center—
it's mine.
You know it.

I am addicted to Facebook games:
Geo Challenge
(the solid green flag
is Libya,
just so you know)

You may be shocked
to hear me say

but you should not
be surprised
when my hiccup—
our conversation.

I am an English student,
and a divinity student,
and a history geek
who longs for the
simplicity of math.

I am a green
and green
and a pseudo-vegetarian.

I am a writer,
and although I'm not
a dirty,

I just might be
the source
of all crazy.

Feb. 13th, 2009


Labels and names, names and labels ...

Labels are funny things.

No, they're not funny. They don't make me laugh--usually. They make me think, and wonder, and sometimes, they make me protest. We are all labeled with numerous things, and if I had a "Hi, my name is ..." sticker for each one of my labels, I doubt you could see me for all the names.

Sometimes labels can set you free. For years, I have struggled with (inappropriate, rather irrational) guilt, grief, and the feeling of being alone in this. And then I discovered a name: twinless twin. It fits a part of me like a second skin, and encompasses me in a greater community. I am not a freak; I am not alone. Just having something to call it makes the struggle easier. It gives me a vocabulary to think about and talk about my life in more intentional ways.

Sometimes labels bind you in a cage. For some, my "woman" label means certain things: I cannot be a minister. I should stay at home with my children. I am weak. I am emotional and irrational. If I am angry, or irrational, or emotional, it means that I am on my period, or at least PMSing. I am a terrible driver. I like sappy romance movies. I will melt over small animals or babies. These may or may not be true, but my being a woman should not mean I am automatically considered in such a light.

Some labels you cannot choose. I am a US American white female. I have terrible vision (although I don't remember ever hearing the "four eyes" taunt much). I am on the shorter side of average height for a woman. Parts of what you cannot choose you can still change--I could, for instance, get laser eye surgery, or wear three-inch heels everyday to appear taller. But parts you are simply stuck with.

But most interesting, I think, are the labels with which we label ourselves. I am a geek in about seventeen different ways--that is a label. I am a Christian--label. I joke and say that I am a heretic--label. Grad student--label. Self-proclaimed crazy cat lady. Liberal. Writer. Thinker. Introverted. Semi-vegetarian.

Why this fascination with labels? Why do we name ourselves, name others? What do our names say about us? What do we say in the names we give others? What happens when we change our names? Or when we hail the subject, and take for ourselves a name someone else has given us, but adapt what that name means?


Who are these women, and how are they related to me? They are me, but not all of me.

Feb. 6th, 2009


Reading from the other side ...

Christians, honestly, are trained to read the Bible in certain ways--especially the New Testament. We are to read through the eyes of Jesus. After all, he's the one we're supposed to be emulating. We are Christ-ians, not Peter-ians or nameless-guy-ians. We read the stories of the gospels, then, seeking to see them as Jesus saw them, just as we seek to act in our own stories as Jesus would act.

But what happens when we break from that mold? What happens if we read these stories from the other side--not seeing through Jesus' eyes, but through those of whomever else is involved in the story?

Two weeks ago, my pastor preached on John 9: "Jeasus Heals a Man Born Blind" (as the NIV calls the story) and the aftermath. This is the "I once was blind but now I see" of "Amazing Grace." This is the basis for much of Caedmon Call's "All I Know."

The story goes something like this:

As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is ay, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

The rest of the story tells how the man's neighbors were amazed and disbelieving, asking who had done such a thing as make a blind man see. Then the Pharisees hear the tale, and they, too, come to question the man, and the man's parents, and all are shocked at what Jesus had done.

This was the vein of what Allen preached. It was what might be expected: look at the wonderful things Jesus has done, and isn't it amazing what he can do. I admit that I am simplifying Allen's sermon, certainly (it has been two weeks, and I neglected to write down what it was he said that day). I will admit, it is pretty cool that Jesus just happened across this man, and without the man asking for any help, Jesus cured him of his blindness.

Something else strikes me, though, when I read through this passage this time. "So the man went and washed, and came home seeing." This man had faith.

Now, imagine you are the man. You are sitting around outside the temple (John 8:20 says that Jesus was "teaching in the temple area," and this is the last mention of a location), hoping for someone to drop a few coins to you so that you might eat today, Your ears are highly attuned to the sounds around you; you sit here day after day, and you have grown accustomed to the noises of the temple. Now, though, there is a different kind of sound. There is a group of men walking in your direction, about to pass you by, but it is a rather large group. Larger, certainly, than you are used to hearing come through the temple grounds.

Just before they pass in front of you, you hear the voice. "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Maybe you sigh; you have heard this before. Surely someone sinned, for you to have been punished in such a way, and every time the question arises, you struggle with the issue. What could you have done to have earned such a condition? Then again, your parents are good people; you have never known them to be dishonest, and they are good and faithful in following the law. This could not be a manifestation of their sin, for what few sins they committed were promptly and properly atoned for at the temple.

Whomever this rabbi is, though, he does not answer one way or the other. Instead, he claims that you were born blind so that he might show his power.

This nameless rabbi--for no one speaks his name in your hearing--stops in front of you, stoops down, and spits in the dirt at your feet. He is talking to the men around him, and then he gently places his hands on your face, wiping mud over your eyes.

"Go," he says, "wash this mud off your face, but go to the Pool of Siloam to do it, and you will be healed." The man and his posse walk away, and you are left with a dirty face.

Maybe you have heard of the new rabbi, Jesus, who has been causing such a ruckus around town. Could this be him? Could he really have the power to heal you? Maybe, though, his name has not come to your hearing. Maybe this is just some man who has made mud pies and placed them on your face.

Go to Siloam and clean up? What the hell, you figure; it's worth a try, right?

One of my professors talked about this story the other day. He had preached on it recently, and he chuckled as he told us about it. "Of course he went and washed up; he had mud on his face!"

Well, yes, most of us would wash our faces if they got this dirty, but here's the thing: from the temple mount, the Pool of Siloam is a bit of a walk. Here's an image for you:

About in the middle there, circled in red, is the temple. Near the bottom, also circled in red, is the Pool of Siloam. A similar map in my NIV Bible has a distance scale on it: as the crow flies, it is nearly three-quarters of a mile between the temple and the Pool of Siloam.

If you look above the temple, circled in blue are two other pools, the Israel Pool and the Pool of Bethesda, nearer and further from the temple. Either of these are less than a quarter-mile from the temple.Now, it seems to me that it would have been a lot easier to walk to either of these pools to clean up than to go all the way down to Siloam.

I haven't done the research; maybe the man would not have been allowed to use the other pools. But, just a few stories earlier, Jesus is talking to a man at the Pool of Bethesda, a man who had long been an invalid. "Here a great number of disabled people used to lie--the blind ,the lame, the paralyzed." (John 5:3) These are this man's "kind;" surely he would not have been unwelcome there. But, no, Jesus said Siloam.

Or surely somewhere on that three-quarter-mile trek, there would have been someone who would have seen the man with the muddy face and offered him a bit of water and a cloth to clean himself. But, no, Jesus said Siloam, and so to Siloam the man went.

This is what I find remarkable: that this man, who has not been introduced to the Lord, the Son of God, the great healer, puts his trust in a man who claims to be doing the work of God, goes out of his way to follow Jesus' instructions. He goes the distance, and it pays off for him. He has not only gained his sight, he has gained his Lord.


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