Sunday, January 27, 2008

50 Books in 2008

Ok, so I'm a little late getting to New Year's resolutions. I don't like making them, because I don't like setting myself up to fail. Most times, I get ideas in my head, but don't write them down or get them clear, and just try to slowly weave them into my life as I would at any other time of year.

One of my "ideas" this year was to become more a part of my church community. So far, so good. I came back from my trip feeling much more at home there.

Then I have the usual "work out and eat better" thoughts, although I'm trying to extend those to reducing the number of processed foods I eat. At the moment, that's on the back burner until the kitchen on our floor is finished being remodeled.

I didn't really have anything else in mind, until this past week. My brother-in-law had resolved to read a certain number of books this year, having almost met last years' goal. I thought that was a pretty good resolution. Me being practically born with a book in my hand, I'm always glad when someone else tries to increase their contact with the written word, but didn't think a resolution like that was really necessary for me.

But then I read a novel (The Other Boleyn Girl, if you're curious). Though I was slow starting it, once I got into it, I couldn't put it down. I was reading a page here, a page there, at every moment I could steal. It's not that I don't read much--hello, I'm in seminary for goodness' sake. But I don't often make time to read for pleasure, to read just for the simple joy of being caught up in a well-crafted story.

Then this week I was on Facebook, catching up on the myriad of groups to which I belong, when I popped in to look at the discussion board for the group "Reading is Sexy." A fabulous group for the nerdy, bibliophile types like me (whose membership is over 44,000). The discussion title "50 Book Challenge" caught my eye. The original posts were from April of last year, but the idea is that from the day you start, you have 365 days to read 50 books.

The combination of a good challenge (which is difficult for me to pass up) plus my newly rekindled passion for reading led to me posting and taking the challenge. I decided that I would just use 2008, though we're already part way into it, and count the 2 books I finished before I took the challenge. I also gave myself the concession that I can count homework and "professional development" books as well--something that may help me get through the 29 books related to ministry I've checked out from the library because they looked interesting.

So, 27 days into it, I've read 4 books. Not a bad start, I'd say. My first considerations for a Lenten practice may help me along as well, but I'll get to that in a later post. And hey, I have a little advantage taking this challenge in 2008: it's a leap year, so I have an extra day to read!

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

Life in the Light of the Gospel

I recently received my "Weekly Seeds" Bible study resource from the UCC, and in the middle of the commentary, the question is posed: What would happen if we approached every decision in our lives by shining the light of the gospel on it?

Though I just skimmed through the rest of the commentary at the time, that question stuck with me. And I even took it a step further: what would happen if I approached every aspect of my life by doing the same? Now, let me just say that this is not simply a "What Would Jesus Do" thing. This is a chance to read through the Gospels, look at not only what Jesus said and did, but what those around him said and did, and then think about how my life reflects that.

I don't claim to know the Gospels so well that I can easily quote any part of them, but I would think that if I were intentional about it, I could look at my life through the light of the gospel from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell back to sleep that evening.

The commentary probes whether we fit our faith to suit our lives rather than making our lives fit our faith committment, and also addresses whether we should feel "comfortable" when following God/Jesus. Unfortunately, I can tick off a few ways I bend to comfort, rather than gospel, in just my first hour of consciousness in the morning.

In realizing that, I realize that this task of shining the light of the gospel on all aspects of my life could get overwhelming and tedious. So over the next few days or weeks that I reflect on this question, I'll do so in small doses. I'll take just that first hour to shine a light on my coffee, my shower, the clothing I put on. Then maybe I'll shine a light on my decision to start my day with prayer or not, to exercise or not, to eat breakfast or not (and if so, what am I eating?). And so on.

I have no illusions that I'll get to a day lived perfectly in the gospel. But awareness is a powerful thing. The best I can hope from my experiment is that I am more aware of the choice between following God/Jesus and an ordinary, comfortable existence, and a reminder that this choice is often not as big as dropping the nets and leaving our lives behind (although, take it from someone who knows, sometimes they are, and we'd best be prepared for those too!). I think I'll also probably discover that one can live quite happily and in comfort while following the gospel, with a little change of perspective.

I'll keep you updated on my progess, and if you decide to conduct a similar experiment in your own life--or segment of your life--or have already done so, please share!

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I'm Back! First Reflections on NOLA

Phew! It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks. First, I took an intensive 1-week course at another seminary. The day after it ended, I left for New Orleans on a mission trip. I'm starting to catch up on e-mail and get back into my normal routine, but I am still deep in reflection about my experience in NOLA.

I would say that the strongest impression I have about the city of New Orleans is that it is a study in contrasts: black and white, destruction and rebuilding, culture and tackiness, hope and despair.

Many in my group were suprised at how many places in New Orleans are still destroyed and deserted. In any given neighborhood that suffered severe flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2004--for the storm itself caused little damage-- there may be as many as half the houses still with crumbling walls, spray-painted X's on the front, and tattered blue tarps on the roof. Large strip malls in those neighborhoods were still empty. On the other hand, it is clear that New Orleans is slowly but surely renewing itself. Piles of debris on the sidewalk meant someone was returning home to clean-up, repair, or rebuild. Stores had "we're back!" signs in the window.

There is still much work to do, however. One of the most striking moments for me was driving to our work site through a higher-end neighborhood with some truly gorgeous (and huge) houses. One house, which could almost qualify as a mansion, looked just fine, until I took a second look and realized it was still empty. The stone fountain in the backyard was tilted in the ground, and the curtains looked ragged. I wondered about the home's owners. Why had they not come back? Financial reasons? Had their insurance company not given them the money they needed to repair the damage? Were they afraid of another storm, or of the high crime rate? I don't know.

In the days and weeks following the flooding, as the death toll rose, the SuperDome emptied, and the waters subsided, I heard various comments about God's role in the disaster, including comments that equated the damage with God's wrath for the sinfulness of the Big Easy. Theologically, I don't believe in that type of thing--particularly because I believe that God is on the side of the poor, and they were the most affected by the events of Katrina. I do, however, believe that God's presence in New Orleans is now quite evident. From the resolve of natives to make things right, to the young people in AmeriCorps working to rebuild, to the multitude of groups from all over the country who continue to make trips to help out in whatever way they can, I saw God working to restore the city.
The group I traveled with ranged in age from 25-68, some with high skill level in construction and some who'd never even picked up a hammer, and yet we all were disappointed when we couldn't work as much as we wanted to. I fell in love not only with the city of New Orleans (I'm already trying to figure out when I can return), but with the people in our group. I'm sure I'll reflect more on this experience in the weeks to come, but for now, I am simply grateful to have worked with such an amazing group of people in such an amazing place.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

6 Things I'm Thanking God For

So many times we wait for really big things to ask or thank God for (and yes, grammar-freaks, I know that's grammatically incorrect, it's a dangling participle or something ridiculous, but "for which to ask or thank God" sounds snotty. So sue me.). So today I've compiled a short list of small things for which I'm thankful (there, happy?):

1. Coffee

There's really not much else to say about this. Although I am truly a morning person, I love and desperately need my daily cup of coffee to really function clearly.

2. Rain boots

One of my best purchases ever, my galoshes are not only fashionable and cheery on ugly gray days (such as today), but highly practical when walking New York City streets and sidewalks. Especially at the corners, where there tend to be ginormous puddles. With my rain boots, I can just prance right through, instead of trying to figure out a graceful way to jump over them, which inevitably ends up in wet feet when I miss by a few inches.

3. Clinton's win in NH

Yes, I know yesterday I blogged that I'd have voted for Obama, and right now he's still the candidate I'd support, but Clinton's win makes the race interesting. I hate when things are one-sided. Oh, and if you are also still undecided, want an unbiased look at candidate's experience and positions on issues, and don't have much time, try Project Vote Smart.

4. An old, beat up sweatshirt

I have this lovely sweatshirt I've had since high school. It's really big on me and seen better days, but on mornings such as this, when it is fairly warm outside (50s F), it is just a little chilly inside my room (heat doesn't come on when it's that warm and the windows let the cold in). So I'm appreciative of the sweatshirt I could throw on when I got out of my warm bed!

5. Jeans

This past semester I attempted to change my wardrobe choices a bit and wear things other than jeans most days. It didn't work. I'm a jeans girl at heart. Today I'm wearing one of my favorite outfits: jeans and a white button-down shirt. Classic.

6. Did I mention coffee?

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

If I Were In NH...

Today's the big day, and as a New Hampshire native, it's one I'm quite used to hearing about every four years: the first-in-the-nation New Hampshire primary. When I was visiting my parents over the holidays, the phone rang at least every hour, sometimes even more often. We knew, from the unfamiliar 603-area code numbers, that they were political calls, and we didn't answer them. Only once did a campaign leave a message. I felt grateful that I am registered to vote in New York, because I honestly had no idea who I'd vote for come January 8.

Now January 8 is here, and I have to say that if I were living and voting in NH, (despite, very truthfully, having done little research and paid no attention to the debates), my vote would be going to Obama.

Now, the strong feminist inside of me would love to say a female president. I'd love to see Hillary working on policy while Bill chooses the china and linens and makes public his favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.

The problem is, I, like many others of my generation and younger, have become completely disillusioned by this country's government. A few months ago I was listening to Peter, Paul, Mary's version of Bob Dylan's classic "The Times They Are A-Changin'." I wanted to write the lyrics out and send it to each one of our representatives and ask, "what happened?" What happened to the ideals of this generation, who hated establishment and corruption, who loved Bobby, Martin, and John? Why is there still so much injustice and inequality happening at the hands of the United States Government?

Now, all of the candidates are promoting the "change" that they will bring to the government (and smart they are to do that, too, since Bush's approval rating is dismal across the board). But I think that no one has the vision and hope for real change that Barack Obama does. He's been compared to the visionary voices of Robert Kennedy, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr. From the little research I have done, I think it's a fair comparison. He's not advocating trying to change some things by following the status quo. He wants to shake things up. And though his lack of political experience has been used as criticism, I think it might actually be beneficial, because he's not so ingrained to "way things are done."

Now, am I naive enough to think that he'll accomplish all he wants to should he be elected? No. There are lots of other factors involved in politics. But then again, look at all the young people, Generations X and Y, who voted--many for the first time--in Iowa. What if Obama is the force that gets them involved in politics and social action? We already know that unlike the "slackers" of Gen. X, Generation Y (or the "Millenials") is much more engaged in civic action and social responsibilty. They volunteer, even beyond school-mandated community service requirements. They use their highly fought-for consumer dollars on environmentally-conscious products.

I think Obama has a chance to reach them, and gives hope that another way of doing things is possible, a hope that for many who've watched the events of the last 7 years with horror (and who cried when Bush was re-elected) was almost snuffed out.

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