Friday, 3 December 2010

Contextualize This

Let me give you an example of contextualizing:  A Sunday school teacher takes a Bible story, say, Jonah and the big fish, and thinks how to present it to a class of 5 year olds.  What will work to make the message heard by them and what won't work?  Do you use simple words, bright colours, pictures, sounds, acting it out, short activities, tasty snacks?  You know already what would work and what wouldn't, right?  Now you can imagine this process that the gospel goes through when it moves from one cultural context to another.  This is the process of contextualization, figuring out how to communicate it and grow the kingdom in a context of a certain time, place, culture and people group. 

The ideas that are blowing my mind in my seminary education this week relate to contextualization in both Melanesian and post-modern contexts.  How do you make the gospel relevant to Papua New Guineans?  To the urban unchurched in the West?  The churches I know are best at contextualizing the gospel to people who are already churched.  As this group is lacking in, well, un-churched people, how do you re-imagine it and scrape away all that getting-in-the-way church culture in order to communicate he core of "Hey, God's Kingdom has come to Earth!  Whoppee!"?  I can think of dozens of things that my churches in Alaska, California and PNG are doing that were contextualizing decisions made by medieval missionaries as they moved from Roman into European tribal culture...and we're still doing them!!*  Perhaps it's time for a shift?  After 1000 years?  Can we change, pretty please?  I know that I have a low boredom threshold, but even you must get bored after a thousand years of doing the same stuff and thinking it's really the gospel!

Researchers (from Fuller, btw) Bolger and Gibbs look at churches that are trying to figure out how to make the gospel understood and powerful (contextualized) for the unchurched post-moderns living in cities in the UK and USA (book published in 2005), and they realize that these movements of believers have some things in common:  they are inspired by the life of Jesus and want to follow his example, even if that leads them away from the same old way we've done church, they tend to be very communal and also missional.  These churches are called "emerging" because something is changing, but it's too soon to see what a post-modern contextualized church movement will look like when it's full blown. 

Another Fuller researcher, Joshua Daimoi, was writing his PhD thesis " Nominalism in PNG" when I was first in that country as a fifth grader.  He says that the gospel is a mile wide and an inch deep in PNG because the church has overlooked the how Melanesian culture works:  it's communal, including an emphasis on harmony and structured around community leaders, and is holistically spiritual, not acknowledging the (false) western dichotomies of sacred/secular or  material/spiritual, for instance.  It knows that the spirit world is real, for instance, and that managing spiritual power is part of creating a balanced, healthy life.

So, getting to what's blowing my mind:  both the emergent churches in post-modern urban settings and Melanesians in villages and towns around the Pacific have these common characteristics:  holistic ways of seeing the world, acknowledging the spirit world, a desire for community.  Once this is pointed out, it's so obvious that I can never again not see it operating in culture around me.  (Which sentence should really be the theme of getting a seminary education!, don't you agree?)

Which leads me to my last point that bears much pondering (and it'll get fair shrift in at least two of the papers I have to write this week):  what is a modernist Western town like Ukarumpa going to do about it?  And personally, how do I live my life, as my Orthodox sisters and brothers would have it, as an ikon of the trinity, showing by all my actions that I'm living in fellowship with God?  The question specifically raised for me by Bolger's Church and Mission class is, how would I arrange worship services in Uka, all this being true?  The question from Travis' Power Encounter class that I'm pondering is, all this being true, how can we see inner healing and deliverance make a difference in Aiyura? 

Are the answers formulating themselves as we speak away back in some corner of my brain?  Probably!  Come, Lord Jesus!  Meanwhile, back to reading mind-blowing books.

*Church in rectangular buildings, for instance, on Sundays in the morning, one powerful man up front on the platform, platforms, windows, especially big ones with colours or arches, separate spaces for 'sacred' and 'secular' activities (that's not a medieval but a modern addition, and a poisonous one!), rich colours for church upholstery (though there was a Reformation reaction against that, and many protestant churches formed in revivals after 1800 or so are kind of self-consciously plain and not-pretty on purpose--though we seem to be getting over telling Protestant women to be self-consciously not-pretty), facing the front of the room, church buildings being separate and fancy looking and not like buildings for other purposes, singing or reading together, spiritual work being done by special set-apart people (clergy) done to the spiritually less-empowered (laity), people wearing special clothes for church, services that are discrete that last around an hour, special celebrations around Christmas and Easter (themselves pretty pagan in the way we still celebrate them, still using some of those Roman-era European tribal religious practices!), and my list could go on and on, but as this is a rant instead of a reasoned appeal, I won't bother to. ut it's in our practice, so doesn't it amount to a more powerful statement of belief for all that?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Hooray for miracles!

Happy first night of Hanukkah!  Let's remember the miracle of God multiplying the lamp oil in the temple while his worshipers were under siege.  God draws us to himself, and enables us to worship him, which is always a miracle.  Let there be light!  

I'd be lighting candles, but my menorah is in my other country. 

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Do one thing every day that scares you

I've done my one thing that scares me today:  I tried out for a play!  "Twelve Angry Men" will be produced on the Fuller campus as "Twelve Angry Jurors"; it opens (and closes) in February.  I don't expect to get cast, but I figure I owed it to my students to experience the terror from their side, to increase my empathy.  Since I'm usually on the other side of the director's chair, I know exactly what was weak about my audition, so we'll see.  One on the directing team turns out to be the sister-in-law of a former Ukarumpa teacher, the famous Mr Shea.  All together now:  Small World.

In other art news, I had a fabulous, serendipitous Saturday:  Christmas shopping with cousin Ge. in Chinatown, which serendipitously segued into dinner in Little Ethiopia with other intercultural studies students, which then turned into free tickets to a LA Philharmonic concert with cousin J. at Disney Concert Hall, a building I've been panting to visit for eons.  Wagner in the Disney!  Food!  Shopping!  Urban mish mash at it's greatest!! Great days.

Yesterday I went to an advance screening of "The Adjustment Bureau" with Matt Damon and Emily Blunt.  It'll be released sometime next year, but we Fuller film students got a go at it so we could give feedback to the media company, and, I suspect, just because our prof is friends with the higher-ups.  We paid for our free ticket by sharing opinions afterwards, a fair trade in my opinion as usually tickets at that cinema are $14 or more.  I got a flyer for another advance screening on Thursday, and there's another screening of a movie at Fuller on Friday...but surely I should do homework *some* time!  Yesterday was the first time I've seen a movie in a theatre since I was in Australia in, let's see, 2008, so two and a half years ago.  Not too long!  I keep meaning to get around to seeing Harry Potter 7, but have been preoccupied with other life events, like the intensive class that met everyday, which coincided with me working five days a week, which all added up to inner turmoil.  And not blogging.

I do have a list of ideas to record, lots of them from my intensive class called Power Encounter, but feel overwhelmed with the other pages and pages I must write, you you, dear reader, will have to wait.  I know that all two of you are disappointed. Dry your tears!  I'm going back to my homework.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Free public lectures, I have waited four years to attend you!

In addition to all the other swoon-worthy cultural features of living in the USA (sourdough bread, streets with lines painted on and podcasts of This American Life to name a few), free public events like lectures and concerts make me giddy with joy.  I love learning things!  Aren't new ideas great?  I keep close tabs on events scheduled at Fuller and go to as many of them as I can.  Last week, in addition to the art opening and lectures mentioned in my last, I took in a rabbi's comments on his book about faith and today I am recently returned from the Missiology Lectures, an annual feature of the School of Intercultural Studies.  Today I heard Vinoth Ramachandra from Sri Lanka point out economic, social and therefore spiritual consequences of globalization.  I am totally out of my depth at analyzing current global trends--really, I have, to my shame, only the vaguest notion of current events--so I soak up anything on the topic I can get, and what a bonus to get the analysis from a scholar of international scope and renown.  His comments make me muse on several Big Ideas.  Notably, I continue my internal conversation/debate/war about how to use my resources.  The materialism of my culture goes deep in my personality!  How do I extricate myself and use my resources as Jesus, not advertisers, recommends? My lifestyle abroad is more luxurious than my national neighbors by a huge factor.  Here in the USA is my chance to acquire all the lovely stuff that I can't get over there--to gather up four years worth of it and ship it back there.  Stuff!  How I love it!  Sigh:  I'm sure we can both agree that consumerism is poisonous, but where do I buy the antidote? 

Ramachandra also challenges the church in the West to drop the business model of "partnership" that often means a one way shipment of money and advice (well, perhaps grant applications flow the other direction...).  All very well on the macro planning level of missions strategy, but how do I adopt on the micro level a listening and learning posture, treating people as the body of Christ instead of acting the expert, being a business partner?  This basic question of missiological strategy is complicated in my context:  to my middle school students, I am the expert teaching them.  Thus, modeling the humility and service required of Christian leaders requires a balance of using and giving up power--I think it takes effort from both students and teacher to make that discipleship dynamic work in the classroom.  Even more insidiously, adopting the listening and learning posture with my PNG neighbors is complicated by living on the big mission station, ensconced in the culture of my fellow expatriates.  What would it look like, for instance, to be in a posture of listening and learning from the teachers at the next-door national high school?  Do I drive or walk over with cupcakes one day and hang out in the teacher lounge?  Ask for their help in a spot of lesson planning?  What do I have to learn from them?

Well, I'm confounded, to a greater degree than perhaps comes through in these posts, and I won't be disappointed to discover that I'm troubling you to examine your assumptions, too.  Unless you're distracted by, for instance, having neck surgery this week and have other notions to ponder and other lessons to learn!

Turning over these scenarios of ministry in my head is a big part of taking classes.  I jot notes of ideas for ministry and lessons and testimony and sharing in the margins of my class notes and books.  I think of ways to help organize church services in Uka.  I wonder if my boss will let me teach a high school class on church history.  Ideas dart around in my mind, tangling themselves up in increasingly complex nets of connections as they get examined in light of church and chapel services, of testimonies from friends, of textbooks, of prayer meetings, of lectures, of sights seen as I bike and walk through Pasadena, of conversations with believers and non-believers.  The idea of dropping in on the national school, for instance, is getting examined by my busy brain from an anthropology standpoint, from a missiological one, but most critically from a power encounter one; Power Encounter is my new class, an intensive that goes three hours a day for a fortnight.  Sorcery and violence is regularly reported happening at the national school.  For that matter, the whole valley is filled with revenge killing, violence, conflict, and all manner of darkness.  Frankly, trotting over there on my own armed with cupcakes bent on performing a spot of anthropology would be foolish.  The first strategy for doing anything there would be concerted prayer.  Which thought is tangled in the idea net in my brain with an examination of my own practices of prayer, flagged with a large marker that informs me that I do not, in fact, devote myself to the kind of prayer that research says is a precursor to any kind of revival....much to ponder there, but to return to the thread:  my heart breaks this week as I think of how much prayer and warfare goes on and is still needed for my poor Aiyura valley. Teach us to pray, God!  O Lord, save!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

I feel as if I live two weeks worth of life, filled with achievements and work and emotion, for each real-time week that goes by.   Let me make some lists to contain my scattered thoughts.

I attended the Brehm Center lectures and art opening  of John August Swenson at Fuller last week Thursday.  Totally charming and moving silk screens of paintings by the artist!
I keep watching movies for class.  This week:  Run, Lola, Run and The Princess and the Warrior.
I'm re-reading Harry Potter as an antidote to reading theology (though it makes an interesting compare/contrast to the power encounter books about exorcisms, etc!)
I was paid $15 an hour to listen to chamber music--I worked a catering event for the LA Chamber Orchestra, and got to listen in to the concert part of the evening.

The Life of the Spirit
I missed church because I last-minute found out that I had to work!  Adrift!  Bereft!
My praying and debriefing friends on Mondays and Thursdays uphold me, not to mention the kindness of cousins, which is a continual theme of my life in Pasadena
Life is mad without a normal schedule, and I suddenly realized that it's been, like, nine days since I've read the Bible!  Ok, that's gotta change. (by contrast, I read Harry Potter with break fast most days...  Yeah, what about priorities?)
I go to chapel at Fuller when I can (more often than not), including last week, and am uplifted and moved. 
Think about this:  what is church?  for what ought believers go to church?  Is your head full of answers?  Have you thought this one through for yourself?  All that to say, that though I'm not a regular part of a Sunday morning congregation at present, I am seeking out and finding the elements of church--accountability, challenge, worship, teaching, prayer, testimony, service--in several venues during the week and I don't think I'm endangering my soul in the meantime by missing (through no fault of my own!) more than attending Sunday morning services.

School--I must write many, many papers:
reflections on each Church in Mission class
a description of a church outside my own denominational and ethnic tradition
three book reviews
a paper wherein I explore what the perfect church would look like, based on ideas from all the major church traditions
a write-up of a ministry project where I show a film and lead a discussion after
an examination of a film in light of Ecclesiastes
a journal of all the films I watched for the Theology & Film class
a paper exploring the experience of power encounter and how it relates to current and future ministry
yet another set of two book reviews
if I should be writing my papers, why am I wasting good writing energy on the blog?  because it's funner.  and punctuation is more impressionistic.

I have had bicycle troubles
I have worked too much
I have been so tired that I've cried on my way to work!
I've shared about why I'm studying theology and how I'm working as a missionary at my work
I've tasted lots of wine and food at work--after shifts I get to taste, so as to be able to answer questions about the wine list
I'm starting to react against wearing work uniform clothing (dark shirts of the boring button-up variety, black pants and black shoes) by wearing many colours on my days off.  I was not made to work in a uniform-wearing job!
I have not had a day off in a fortnight
My wallet is fat from cash from tips, mostly very small bills

Monday, 1 November 2010

Divesting the Genestead of Kilos and Kilos of Guavas: story with recipe

The guava tree in Gene's driveway suddenly decided to drop all its fruit this past fortnight.  I hate to waste such good tasting food!  They're white and oblong, sweet and soft in the middle and sour outside but with tiny seeds, not like guavas I know from RCI and PNG.  (Are they feijoas? Identification unclear.) Korean and Philippina friends say that these are just the kind they have back home. 
To get rid of all this bounty of fruit, I've filled my bike basket with them and passed a bucket of them around in class, put them in a bowl in the common kitchen at school, given them to a colleague at work, taken them to a cohort meeting as party favors, and eaten bowls full.  Let's have a mooment for feeing virtuous about distributing locally grown pesticide-free produce on a carbon-neutral form of transport....ok, that's enough of that.  Besides, guavas fall through the gaps in my wire bike basket when I hit road bumps.  I left a trail behind me like the children with the bread crumbs in the forest.  Am I the Johnny Appleseed of Pasadena?  Donna Guavaseed?  New email handles suggest themselves.
Yesterday I finally got around to cooking them, and made three guava products: spiced jelly/spread, tart filling, and the guava paste common in Mexico an the Caribean.  Yum!  Horay for guavas.  To make all three, chop and boil guavas until soft in just enough water to cover.  Blend to desired texture (chunkier for tart filling) and add volume of sugar/brown sugar/honey/molasses less than or equal to the guavas (less for filling, more for jam).  For jam & tart filling, can mixture in jars.  For spiced spread, add cinnamon, nutmeg, fresh ginger and cardamom, simmer to blend flavours, then can.  Ask Gene for his not-yet-patented way of canning using the dishwasher...  For the guava paste, continue simmering, stirring constantly, for half an hour or so until the mess is reduced to a thick paste and is dark and all carmelly-coloured.  Spread in a thin layer on a silicone mat and cut into squares when cool, or fill silicone cupcake molds.  Yum!, like gummy bears but made with fresh fruit.  Serve it sliced with cheese and bread, or as a desert, or fill pastries with slices of it.  Now, who wants some guava jam for Christmas?

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Contradancing in a Sari, and on Halloweeneen, Too!

I've been a grumpypuss about Halloween for years because I have serious moral reservations about celebrating the macabre and demonic however much I love fancy dress, but I have to admit that the holiday has been redeemed somewhat in my heart this year.  Here I am, back in the USA for my least favourite holiday, rolling my eyes at over-the-top horrible horror decorations on sale in stores and planning to avoid wearing anything that can be remotely construed as a costume so as to anti-observe it (actually, harder than it sounds with my wardrobe, I discovered!).  Yet, today I found myself putting on something of a costume to get in for free to my cousin's orchestra concert. 
Ok, so I conceeded to the holiday to save five bucks and here I am, wearing a sari as a sort-of costume.  Saris are every-day wear for me in PNG (I wear one maybe once a month or so to work or church or a concert or somewhere), but if I wear one in America it looks like a costume so it'll do.  Add lots of eye makeup, silver bangles, necklace, and earrings, and some jewellry in my hair and I'm set. 
At my cousin's concert I noticed right away how charming and festive it was to have everyone in the orchestra in some sort of goofy or scarey or at least bright costume.  It's like a party!  Even the death/demonic/macabre ones weren't winding me up like they usually do.  And the audience was full of people wearing silly things.  My grumpyness lessens. 
After helping out at my cousins' after-concert party, I still had 1/2 an hour to squeeze in attending the nearby contra dance, also a Halloween-themed affair.  The dance hall was filled with more people in silly costumes.  I danced with John Lennon, an minuteman, a jester, an explorer with a real pith helmet, some guy randomly wearing a rubber snake around his neck, a cool cat in a zoot suit, a ladybug.  I realized how much fun all this fancy dress is and that most people aren't being demonic, even inadvertently, but just being festive.  Without meaning to, I've been won over--but just a bit.  Besides, heaps of people told me they thought I looked beautiful in my sari, so I am gratified and feeling generous.
And so, I found myself pulling off two contra dances and two waltzes in one of the world's most un-contradancable outfits, unwinding and flying away as I went, my earrings tangling in my necklace, but full of the joy of dancing and enjoying the surprise of each new neighbor's costume.  I won't wish you a Happy Halloween, because I am still grumpy enough about all of it, but I can say:  nice costumes everybody, and thanks for making the effort. 

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Movie review & musings: Departures

So far my favourite movie for Theology and Film class is Departures (original title:  Okuribito; directed by Yojiro Takita, 2008), which I saw tonight.  I admit to a nerdy/arty prejudice to like subtitled foreign films, but Departures also charms me with spot-on acting, a theme & story that will keep me musing for days, and enough comedy to make me want to show it to others.  This one is going on my list of movies to buy to take back to PNG.  

A dissappointed cellist returns to his provincial home town and finds work preparing the recently departed (hence the title) for being encoffined.  The goofyness and absurd side of life portrayed here made me laugh aloud--don't you agree that death can be awfully funny?  I also realized how I miss Japan after only being there for 11 days!  There's a lot of beauty in that country, and I like the Japanese aesthetic of restraint and balance--clear in this film, too.  

I may be swooning over it partly because I'm still off-balance from being bludgened by Deep Themes of Humanity in all the other films from the class, which have already put me way over my yearly limit for my bad language intake and viewings of deviant sexuality.  All true to life and representing the human condition, but a lot to digest.  Departures is just as true to life and profound, but gentler on me and I thank it for being so.  We've so far seen Crash, American Beauty, Crimes and Misdemeanours, Magnolia (these four are the worst offenders for bludgeoning me with despair-inducing human behaviour), Little Miss Sunshine (my second favourite of the class, though not without troubling dimensions), Moulin Rouge, Decalogue I, and Stranger than Fiction (also a charming favourite--I wanted to eat cookies and celebrate life after).  Yet to go:  Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior, Slumdog Millionaire, Water, Atonement, Smoke Signals, and Field of Dreams.  Yeah:  not exactly a lighthearted distraction from my other classes, but a big dose of art nonetheless.  Students of Uka International School beware:  your once-and-future(-sometimes) English teacher is now more trained at examining film as an art form!  Though I don't think I've found a movie I can use at school yet...

Thursday, 28 October 2010

How not to antagonize your students

Being a student instead of the teacher is good for me.  I'm reminded of two important traits of good teaching:  stick to the outline if you can (a three-day topic in one class has taken six, which means that other interesting things will be deleted!  angst!), and don't belabor basic points by talking on and on because your students will start plotting ways to escape and run away at the next break...assuming you remember to give them a break....   Another lesson that I'm not sure how to apply to my middle school classes is:  use up-to-date resources.  Harder to come by in Uka than here, for sure!

Like, Dislike

Written on 22 October; posted today.

Things I don’t like (a.k.a. Things that fill me with desolation):
  • watching my bus pull away from the curb when I’m still ½ a block from the stop
  • realizing I’m making a mistake as I’m making it...then being corrected by my boss
  • when I’m so tired that I feel homeless, like there is no place on earth I can go to feel comforted

Things I like (a.k.a. Things that reinforce the hope in which we live):
  • chèvre and sourdough
  • bakeries and pastries, oh my!
  • a homeless man who gives me advice about rain patterns
  • crimson maple leaves that transform driveway overnight
  • expansive, generous hospitality
  • getting cooking advice from the chefs at the restaurant
  • vanilla pannacotta in a cranberry coulis with candied walnuts and candied basil
  • getting my side mirror fixed for free
  • getting a job when I didn’t expect it
  • friends to pray with
  • check me out:  I’m out of the house at NIGHT, on FOOT, by MYSELF, wearing PANTS!  Whee!  Join the conga line:  “fur-LO!  fur-LO!  fur-LO!...”
  • burning candles in my room, now that it looks like a room and not a storage shack
  • more to the point:  burning black candles in an iron candelabra in my dimly lit room when I’m tired to tears but listening to recently-acquired, soul-bulwarking music
  • a well-turned phrase in an essay I’m writing
  • learning new things
  • trying something scary and succeeding
  • realizing that I’ve made two new friends
  • …or maybe three!
  • friends from different Christian traditions who can testify about different kinds of prayer
  • Mauritanian mint tea, but mostly the serendipity that goes with it

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Book review: Discipls of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity, by Lamin Sanneh

What a find!  This book blows my mind.  Sanneh, an African immigrant to America who works out of Yale, is writing about the spread of Christianity--about Christian history--in all the regions of the world, not just the West.  The first chapter I read, about African Indigenous Christianity in the early 1900, has more never-heard-it-before, paradigm-shifting history than any of my reference books back in Uka.  His chapter on how Islam and Christianity interacted blows up a few historical genericisms repeated by history-teacher me. Too cool!  I swoon with the love of history written like this.  (Oxford UP, 2008)

Friday, 15 October 2010

A little bit dizzy from the events of today

I got a job unexpectedly today.  I also found out, after much to-ing and fro-ing that I can drop the class that I'd been told I couldn't drop, and I've added the two-week intensive class, Power Encounter instead.  I also backed the Redbird of Despair into Gene's gate: car, 1; gate, 0.  Well, the side mirror, which all by itself took out the gate, is bent and not functional though not broken.  Now it must be fixed.  Gah.  Now I also must petition to get another class filled in as the practicum prerequisite, then faithfully take that class even if it meets on Tuesday nights, and also petition the registrar to have mercy on me in the matter of getting a full refund of my class fees from the being-dropped class (since I'm ditching it in week 3 of 10, late enough to only get a 50% refund without the mercy of the registrar who wields ultimate power) and apply refunded tuition to pay for the new class--it's a gamble that it'll work, a gamble to the tune of 50% of $1400.  I'm also considering shaving my legs to fit in at my new job since all my clothes that are nice enough are knee-length skirts and I feel like I shouldn't wind up the Americans who are bound to object, however silently.  (My new job is as a waitress at a fancy-ish restaurant.)  All in all, a dizzying day.  I got a job!, did I mention?  I dropped the annoyingly un-challenging class!  I crashed the car, did I mention?  Olaman!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

More art, more musings, and some small progress toward furlough equilibrium

Let me continue to list exciting cultural adventures so that I can remind myself later that I haven't wasted furlough!  Friday night was Art Night, and with Jen who visited from San Diego country, we descended upon the Pasadena Museum of History for some turn-of-the-century culture, then on to the Art Centre College of Design for some mind-blowing student projects.  Too cool! 

Saturday we conquered the public transportation system (eventually) and learned again, viscerally, the life lesson that There Is No Free Parking In Pasadena.  At All.  Ever.  We browsed Santee Alley, cloth stores in the Fashion District, flower shops, had superb and dead cheap Mexican food for lunch on a street corner, dawdled through Chinatown and got tea and awesome snacks at Wing Hop Fung, some boba tea, and visited Little Tokyo before returning home tired but happy bearing my new "nerds need love too" t-shirt. 

Sunday a surprising thing happened:  I put the little Burbank church back on my list of places I might regularly attend because 1) There are old people, 2) There were only about 50 people and I could get to know them and I never feel comfortable in larger churches, and 3) Jon's rockin' sermon.  Go Jon!  Also, 4) I appreciated the musicians that were giving it a fair go.  Hm!  In other news, Porto's Bakery makes me glad to be alive because they serve good food and the teeming crowds surely know it.  Ikea came through for me with curtains, so now a little bit more happiness is mine.  Clearly the curtains were a symbol of some greater psychological struggle against the forces of chaos, because the quality of my life has changed verry little but my satisfaction has gone way up.  Go figure.

Today, Wednesday, good things happened:  my classmates liked my banana snacks and my tok pisin song, Dr. Lingenfelter agreed that the intercultural class is a review for me and why am I taking it, and I biked home with only stopping once to rest.  Of such small things is happiness made, and, after all, Ecclesiastes reminds me to enjoy it while it lasts since life basically sucks.  Thanks to Dr. Johnston for that insight (with which I completely agree).  Speaking of Dr. Johnston, the film and theology class continues to be the most useful Ukarumpa-wise of my three classes this quarter, but Dr. Bolger's church vignettes are the most fascinating.  I prepare to go be an Armenian Orthodox for a few Sundays now, and attend a synagogue in a fortnight too.  See:  I'm not wasting my education! 

More art:  Did I mention the Evening Under the Stars a fortnight ago (at which I made my entrance, embarrassingly, with a lightening bug butt since I forgot to turn off my bike light)?  Lovely concert (thanks, Michael Wright for your CD) and drama!  Also, two meetings of the Fuller Arts Collective, which promises to be an enlightening group of which to be a groupie, and two Fuller chapels with art in the form of speeches and music.  And, I attended the opening of the Rouault exhibit in the library, which was fascinating, and a film prof from USC admired my outfit and we chatted about living in other countries.  I was wearing my new Anthropologie shirt with flowers and unlikely ruffles with my hand-me-down Burberry felt kilt-thingy, leggings, scarves, sweaters with flowers embroidered on, and Chinese slippers, also with flowers embroidered on.  I must have been feeling confident when I dressed! 

Thoughts from class tonight (all about cross cultural values, etc.):  I do a good job ministering to my darling MKs, but pretty much I'm a dud at connecting to Papua New Guineans.  Is there a way to change?  Is the inertia of the Ukarumpa Resort for Displaced Expatriates too great to shift?  Am I too much of an introvert to make it happen?  Should I move to a village???  Thoughts to go to sleep on.

In other news, I'm scheming to drop the intercultural class and take up the Power Encounter intensive that meets for two intense weeks in November.  Please, God, pretty please? 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Adventures in Teaching, Learning and Government

So, all these history ideas about the church before 300 AD in my Church in Mission class are fascinating and I design middle school lessons about them in my head during class, jotting teaching notes to myself in the margins of my lecture notes.  Clearly the only thing for it is to talk Max into putting a Church History class into high school social studies so I have a chance to wax lengthy on this topic.  Wouldn't that be a class entirely in line with our ESLRs?  You betcha.  Bring it on.

In other news, in Theology and Film I continue to discover films that could never be shown in UIS English classes...a moment of silence for our departed English teachers...but I take notes anyway because the ways of examining them will be useful to apply to the three or four films that we can show. 

Another teaching idea that came during film class: 
Obviously each piece of text that we English teachers force on our students to read/see/hear isn't universally loved.  Let them express how they feel about each in the following inactive manner.  How about creating a continuum with little emotion icons, from disgust ("I'd rather stick a fork in my eye than read this again") through to transcendent joy ("Yes!  This is the meaning of life to me!"), to express how students feel about a novel or poem or film or whatever.  Each kid could have a little spot with his name on, maybe an inch or so in diameter, and stick them (they'd be magnetized, did I say?) along the continuum to express the range of feeling about a particular text.  I'd have kids make up their mind and write it down before they went up there to limit peer pressure shifting dots up or down.  Wouldn't that be a good place starting place?  I'll try to scan and include my gorgeous drawings, too--the one with the fork is drops with pathos.  A corollary:  include one of those posters with forty emotions illustrated, and have them complete the sentence This book/poem/film/etc makes me feel ________ because______. 

Perhaps it could be expanded to PFWs?  "This workshop makes me feel _despair___ because ___I already know the material and it's boring_____. "  See?  How useful would that be? ;-)

One more cultural note: 
Yesterday's Siege of the DMV was successful.  After 3 hours and $350 I emerged, shaken but whole, with a car registered in the State of California;  the Redbird of Despair is now street legal.  The process was inordinately lengthy, and yet I couldn't help comparing it favourably to the DMVs in Cote d'Ivoire and PNG.  Thousands of people (speaking far more languages than I can understand--clerks speak Cantonese!) making slow but steady progress through the system, with no bribes or infrastructure breakdowns to hamper the process.  Clearly the state of California needs to invest more in this public service because, I mean, three hours!, but still, it works.  I love America, have I mentioned?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Celebrate life but don't forget to Say No To Burnout!

To periodically remind myself that I'm not wasting my life, or my furlough, I want to keep a list of things that I've done that are worthwhile!  Since leaving home in June:  eleven days in Japan with countless adventures on the Helen-Ben-Gene-Donna Team of Chaos and Fun, a very restorative spiritual retreat in Colorado with other Ms, time to re-connect with my Vanuatu cousins and be cared for at the lovely Chez Gordon, two months of triumph and despair in Fairbanks (about which I could write much), five days that make me smile with the Tucson Posse, and a transition into my grad school life that certainly could have been worse.  While I'm at it, am I mad to add another writing task to my writing-heavy life?  But yesterday at the half-day retreat the idea of blogging kept swimming around in my mind as it has been for a while, so here I am, taking a chance on something new, without any firm commitment to keep this up and without even checking the social media policy for the org I work for (which means I will be avoiding discussing my life with them until I figure out what I can get away with saying and what to safely avoid).

Also yesterday (apparently a day for mad inspiration) I almost-promised myself that season opera tickets were in my near future, as an almost-mandate to care for my spiritual side.  Church services are one thing, but opera is spiritually transcendent on a whole 'nother level!   Bring on the art, baby!  Thursday night's open-air concert and drama showcase also brought me outside myself and stirred up that old longing for heaven, for beauty, for communion with God our Creator and Jesus my fellow artist.  Gah--for how many activities and groups should I sign up? How many paths of adventure should I gallop madly down?  I confess, the dizzying variety here in this country is, well, dizzying.  I can't give my heart to every activity that moves me.  I observe myself, and diagnose start-of-school optimism!  Lord, let me pick wisely and not burden myself with unreachable goals as the term gets busier.

Also yesterday at the retreat I thought I should describe what it feels like to be in transition.  The retreat topic was "Self Care While at Seminary" and lots of the lessons I've learned overseas are applicable!  "Say No To Burnout"--which I have yet to get on a t-shirt--can continue to be a motto here.  I need to remember that while in transition (and boy, am I), a large chunk of my mental processing ability, including my attention span, my creativity, my energy and productivity, are sucked away by just managing to live through the transition and aren't available to me to be applied to living normal life.  (And I'm starting seminary classes in this troubled state?!)  What this means is that I have a harder time talking to new people, I cook less often and when I do it doesn't turn out as well as I expect (and I'm more upset about that than I would otherwise me), I have a harder time picking out things to wear, I get irritated more often, I get tireder oftener, I am less articulate, I am less efficient at running errands, I am less efficient at saving money, less in control of what I eat, and I have more unexpected expenses that stress me out more than they otherwise would.  I am more prone to frustration when things like Internet or shopping or paperwork don't go take care of themselves smoothly, and more debilitated by the frustration than usual--I am less resilient mentally and physically.  It takes me more time than I expect to do everything.  I feel more despair and existential angst and dwell on issues of the "am I wasting my life?" ilk.  I need more time, not less, to think, to rest, to pray, to laugh, to eat well, to dream, to think, to practice hope and stand firm against despair. Because I'm out on a limb I am more at the mercy of helpful people to solve the little and big problems that usually I can take care of myself. I am and must be more open to experiencing Providence as He cares for me and keeps me from drowning in the sea of change. 

Notice that I'm describing things that are not peripheral but rather are at the core of my identity!  I can't be the person I usually am when I'm in transition!  I'm not competent, funny, creative, efficient, effective, employed...  I'm draining the community's and my own reserves to make it from being integrated in one place through leaving, moving, and gradually re-integrating in a new one.  It takes courage to keep going when all is chaos!  I don't even have a place all my own to retreat to--I'm still carving my own habitat.  I don't like the me-in-transition that cries all the time.  Gosh, can I just go to church for two weeks in a row without leaving in tears?  For cryin' out loud! I'm hopeless!

But consider, which is a more true way to see myself:  the helpless, hopeless and absurd creature who can't get her act together until the transition wears off, or the the Donna who can dazzle a middle school class, put on fabulous dinner parties, throw together thrift store outfits of surpassing eccentricity, and accept accolades for same with detached equanimity?  I must remember to rejoice, and to laugh at my utterly hopeless state because, really, I am utterly hopeless, and in utter, absolute need of rescue all the time;  learning that truth redeems the madness of transition.

Thus far has the Lord helped me

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.


Week two of seminary.  I'm finally attempting a blog because I want a record of ideas and discoveries that's in a more public place than my journal.  Thus far has the Lord brought me and helped me, and he helps me yet.  What has this year in store for me?