Saturday, January 24, 2009

My Leader of My Country

I've wanted to write for a few days on the momentous and historical occurrence in our nation. Everyone knows that I'm talking about now President Barack Obama. I feel as if Barack and I have been friends for many years. I was introduced to Barack (by the way a word in Hebrew that sounds very close to the sound of the word "Barack" means blessed.) by one of my closest co-workers at the high school where I taught. He was head of the history department at the time and since the time Barack answered his own e-mail (in the Illinois senate), Brad would tell his students that Obama was going to be the first black president. Brad was not a soothsayer but he had good instincts about something unique and special about this man and followed him closely. Out of Brad's enthusiasm, I turned into a Barack fan early on and then my friendship became inspired when Brad led me to Barack's website well before the candidacy for the presidency was a twinkle in Barack's eye.

In the fall of 2006, Barack came to Austin Texas to speak at the Texas annual book festival and I finally got to meet him. He spoke in the capital senate chambers. I camped out with Brad, some other co-workers, as my friend Eilleen, and my friend Woodie. We all got there about 3:30/4 in the morning to be among the first in line for a pass and ticket to the book signing. People were excited. The excitement permeated the air. They was no apparent division of race, religion or social position; just simply Americans with the hope that someday this person would run for President. His speech was inspiring. I remember noticing every movement, gesture and word spoken. (Even to the point that when the next time I had to speak in front of anyone, I would mimic the way he composed himself before seemed to help.) He ended his speech with the quote from abolitionist preacher Theodore Parker who said, “The arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice”. If this quote sounds was made famous by MLK's usage of it in several of his speeches and writings. (Little history lesson...I'll get back on track now.) I was definitely inspired and what I noticed most keenly is how this one man brought people together, where they forgot any apathy or dissension. They just saw possibilities and felt good about their country once again. I thought, this is what people in the early sixties felt when they heard Jack Kennedy. After the speech and book signing, Barack stopped to shake hands with many in the crowd. He stopped in front of me but didn't shake my hand. He looked me in the eye for a brief moment, smiled and gently padded me on top of the shoulder. The moment was so surreal that later the memory would become a little fuzzy. I would often joke with my friend Woodie, who was standing next to me, "Did he pat me on the head or on the shoulder." At the end of that next winter, Obama did indeed announce his candidacy in Springfield and I watched it over and over again on the Net. I even became a fan of U2's song, City of Bright Lights, which was used as background to the announcement because it exemplified the moment. His candidacy in the early days was great discourse between Brad, myself, friends, and the members of the MLK and ethics course I took that spring. Was America ready for a black president...could he beat Hillary....details of the campaign....the influence of Jeremiah Wright, and on and on....Even that spring, I did something I've never done before, I campaigned door-to-door and donated money to Barack's campaign. Many did not know Barack well in those days and questioned his experience. I always believed in the capability of the man and the excitement around what he could encourage. He was all about the people and making them the focus instead of himself. At the start of both speeches I personally witnessed, his first words were, "Look at all of you." He was a humble spirit; something I greatly admire in another human being. I took a deep personal interest in this man. I would often ask Brad of what he heard or if he noticed any developments, "How's our boy, how's our friend," I would ask. Brad would joke with me that I should not call Barack a boy. But, it was derived in an affinity and a closeness rooted as an endearment and not a belittlement. Someone I believed in and thus, someone who encouraged me to be a better American. I never saw the race of the man....I just saw a man who was a blending of creeds with what I perceived as integrity and purpose.

Once he was confirmed as the democratic nominee, I slowly started losing interest. Everyone seemed to be caught up in the popularity of his spirit and message. Hooking their hopes and release from their disappointment in America on his magical star. My special connection to the man seemed to be lost. I wonder if I did not want to share my friend, or did others not want to share with me? He won the national election but still, I felt distant. I was excited and amazed but with hands stretched and no one on the other side to grab onto.

January 20, 2009 arrives. In the morning prayer at the start of my Hebrew class, the professor (who is of Korean heritage) prays for Obama and our country. He asks God to anoint Obama as God anointed Aaron. He goes into eloquent detail of God putting on a cloak etc. to mirror the biblical passage of Aaron and Moses with Barack's inauguration and future presidency. It was beautiful and bonding. The class breaks to watch the inauguration and people gather together jointly at different places on campus to watch the swearing in ceremony. I'm in the dining hall sitting cross-legged near the large T.V. and look around me to all the faces in the room, jointly watching and "awe-inspired" by this turn in America's history. I notice the adjunct professor teaching a class on the Holocaust, a woman of Jewish heritage raised in Winnipeg. I notice the professor I had for Missions who is part Indian and part American, raised in part in India. I notice the many different genders, religions, creeds and up-bringings sitting together in the room clapping and interactive with the ceremony, as if each one of us was sitting nearest to the podium on the steps of the Capitol. Once Obama starts his first speech as the 44th President of the United States, my friend Shane puts his arm around me and holds onto me for the duration of the speech. A shared emotional moment...both equally profound for many, upon hundreds of thousands of what the definition of being an American means.

I didn't feel alone anymore. Moving politics aside, could Obama instill Americans to, as he put it, "...pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the the work of remaking America." Yes, I think/know we can. It's about each of us, beholden to our neighbor, not expecting a hero to save us, or enact our personal agenda onto any leader; but, being encouraged to know that we, the American people, can do the right thing in humility and grace.

Among one of my favorite quotes from MLK reads, "We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in the inescapable network of mutuality.” And so it is the majesty and perseverance of the America spirit in spite of our woes and ill-behavior, that we deep down acknowledge this truth....

I know this post was long but I encourage you to check out this link to Times Opinion writer, Bob Herbert. One of the best I've read so far.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Perspective Change

Several things gave me a perspective change in the last 24 hours. I can now take a step back from the stress of struggling in my Hebrew class and get a dose of seeing God's grace first-hand and the essentialness of what truly matters in life. We, scratch that, I, get so caught up in my own world that I often fail to recognize the bigger picture and not that everything revolves around me. As in the last post, very hard, here is a list of the last 24 hours of witnessing God's grace first hand....

1) After writing my post yesterday, I moped around the entire day with absolutely no energy. A neighbor called and asked if I would to like to join his family for dinner. I received a healthy dinner, a glass of wine and great conversation. When I was walking away from dinner, another friend (in my Hebrew class as well) who I haven't spoken with in awhile was walking up to campus with her baby to print something off one of the campus computers. I joined her on her errand and we talked. The reconnection felt good and soothing. We said that we would study together during the week. Once I got home I went to let my dog out, I ran into my downstairs neighbor whose seven weeks from the due date of her baby and we equally had a sweet and heart-felt conversation. Uncanny timing with all these encounters, God showing me that I am loved? Hmmm.....

2) Had one of those conversations with a friend at church before the service started that was like one of those moments when even though two are in a crowded room, it seems as though the two people talking are all alone. My friend was telling me about a bad traffic accident she was apart of over the weekend. She and her daughter were fine but pretty shook up over it. She went over the details of it and her feelings about it. It became a grace moment because not only was I very thankful she and her daughter were okay, I could feel God's presence in the midst of our conversation.

3) After a specific reading as part of the worship service at my church, the young troubled youth who read the reading asked for a moment and then preceded to tell her mother, who has been battling cancer and very recently had a family member die, that she loved her and was so sorry for anything she did to hurt her because she loved her so much.

4) A classmate friend and his wife (she's my friend too...that's sounds silly) asked me to take pictures of their baby's dedication. I got to share this moment with them in a special way and then got to be right in front of the baby when the congregation gathered around the baby and the family to pray over them.

5) I got to lead worship at the Trinity Center again today. I read Exodus 3: 1-30 and I shared my blog with them from the previous day as part of my sermon. We talked about Wyeth's painting depiction of Christina. We shared human struggle and pain. At the end, the diverse served and servers all joined hands and sang the old African American Spiritual, We Shall Overcome. We are all standing on holy ground and God will always be in the midst of us even when we cannot always look at God.

6) One of the homeless people (the center calls the people they serve who are on the streets or desperately poor Neighbors), who came to the center this Sunday turned in a wallet found on the street. The wallet was full of credit cards and even a $100 visa gift card. Someone having nothing and passing temptation and what would seem like an easy take did a honorable thing just the same. Just say no to stereotypical judgment I tell myself.

7) Making breakfast plans with one of my best friend's in the world for the morning to exchange Christmas presents; and knowing that I have a clean start to the rest of the Jan term.

8...Bonus.....MLK day tomorrow and then Inauguration day the next. God, thank you, thank you, thank you...please be in the midst of us, protect us and let us learn to love in grace and divine humility.

9)...The ultimate bonus.... an absolutely gorgeous day in Austin followed by an absolutely stunning sunset.

p.s. By the way, I took a generous sabbath from Hebrew this weekend and it's done me a world of good. And, I pray I'll pass and will work very hard in the next nine days (actually more counting weekends) but I've let go of the blame game, hopefully, and committed to press forward. And if I fail, it will not be because I gave up...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Andrew Wyeth, "Christina" and Me

From the New York Times:

"Christina's World," 1948.

The work became an American icon like Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” or Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Mr. Wyeth had seen Christina Olson, crippled from the waist down, dragging herself across a Maine field, “like a crab on a New England shore,” he recalled. To him she was a model of dignity who refused to use a wheelchair and preferred to live in squalor rather than be beholden to anyone.

Wyeth died yesterday, 1/16, in his sleep at the age of 91.

I've always liked this painting. I never knew the background of the subject in the picture. Supposedly, according to the Times, the subject, Christina, was 55 years old when Wyeth painted the picture in 1948. At different times in my life, what feels like today, as often, I have felt like this woman. Crippled by an unknown source, I am crawling ahead to shelter no matter how it looks. I hold on to the dignity to survive the obstacles that belabor me with the tenacity of my entire might. Albeit, I later realize that the downside surfaces in my ability to confuse suffering in silence with earnest and compelling humility.

I feel like this woman in the painting at this moment. I made the decision to go to seminary. That's all fine and good. I answered a profound call to God, gave many things up (career, security and "things") to make room for God to move in my life, and thus take me to a new place. I'm plodding along, yet learning very quickly and relishing the anointing feeling of grace; and yet again, somehow desperately tiring to constantly adjust by working tremendously hard, only then left to decipher what God was in the midst of teaching me. I don't ask for any accolades but pray that God will not leave me and put love in my path when I need it and even when I don't (apparently to me) need it. I'm taking Hebrew this January. It's among one of the hardest and frustrating things I've done in years. I'm used to being way ahead of the curve but in Hebrew, I feel I gain an understanding and a success only to fall way below the curve at the next moment. I'm my own worst critic. I've always been accused of such. But, yesterday I failed a test (*after note: after my original posting, I found out I actually made a 73 on this test) not because I was unprepared or even cut corners in my preparation but because I became confused and unhinged (the unhinging started with trying to figure out a word I thought was a simple noun but was instead was a proper noun, Samuel) while taking it and simply gave up. How many times in our lives do we become confused and just give up? It's like the ice skater who has spent hours upon hours perfecting a routine and then falls during the performance and cannot regain the composure to execute what's already been learned. I additionally lost my focus when taking the test because I bounced around the test from word to word, page to page. Never focusing on one sentence at a time or breathing while I trying to work out the translation. How many times have I done the very same thing in other aspects of my life.

This course in Hebrew is testing me and teaching me how I and other people near me react to intense stress. Intense stress, you might think...yes, when you spend least 10-12 hours a day devoted to it and it consumes constitutes extreme stress. I tend to want to blame others for my blight or own doing. I am not very patient with others or myself. I second guess myself and my capability all the time. Or, sometimes I swap confidence in my capabilities with just plain arrogance. Hard lessons. Or even when I witness in others and myself, the franticness that comes from striving to get a foot hold up in the attempt to gain understanding out from the desperateness of confusion. In this wake, notice is not taken when people are trying to help or need help. This all goes hand in hand with the ability to learn to forgive myself and others. Hard lessons.

Like Christina, crippled by an unknown force that grips me, I am struggling to get to, or back to, the house. I have to remember her dignity and perseverance and ultimately, God's grace. And, the reminder that unlike the description of Wyeth's Christina at the start of this post, I do not choose to live in squalor and am always beholden to my neighbor and my neighbor to me. I am reminded that dignity does not come from standing on one's own but comes from the strength of remembering who one (I) belongs to, that being God.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Much Needed Smile

My friend Steve sent me this months and months ago. It made me smile after a long day doing Hebrew homework and still not completing all the assigned work. My Hebrew class has consumed me but I promise to write again soon. Enjoy the video.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Diversion of Devilish Proportions

I started a file in my e-mail for "someday when I have a blog". In it, I placed fun things I would love to share or remind myself about in the future. One of the things is a link to a website of a pizza place in Australia. Not only is it a cool website but the pizza combinations sound wonderful. And one of best parts is the cleverness of the motif, names for food and the ordering options. Enjoy the diversion and here it is:

Two Add-ons for Today

I'm adding on to my list below two items.

item 1) Always trust my first instinct

item 2) Let things roll off my back...

Hebrew and Other Lessons

I set my mind with a discipline of writing (via this blog) every evening before I went to bed. So, much for that. The reality is that I started an intensive study of Biblical Hebrew on Monday morning. Adjustment, homework, study, synthesizing what I'm learning and taking care of myself (i.e. finally sleeping) got in the way of writing. For me, that means not failure at a proposed discipline but finding balance. If I skip writing for a day or two or write at a different time, no matter, no problem. I have not abandoned what I want to hold dear. In the past few days, I've learned through myself and witnessing others many lessons in not only basic Hebrew and how I learn and what encourages me or discourages me, but thinking deeply in the depth and extreme messiness of life. All things I already knew but somehow forgot (as in what feels like continuously)....

1) Breathe, it all comes together in the end
2) Be patient
3) Believe in my own capabilities and what I have to offer
4) Competition can be fun but out of check can become disastrous and hurtful
5) Don't look to others for my self-worth
6) Relaxing, or putting things into perspective, does not mean relaxing my values or integrity
7) You don't have to know it all at once and have the right answer, see #1.
Bonus) God will put the right people in my path to help me along the way. It's okay to say no to the wrong people (does not make them bad or wrong) for me and trust God in all matters.
Bonus #2) My friend Anni gave me the best advice, in order to learn Hebrew, you must stay loose. That's true for anything. :-).

Funny thing is that in two days, I've come tremendously far. What I didn't know at the beginning of class, I learned with some confidence by the end. There will be days I don't do as well but there will be days I'll excel. I ran into one of the kindest students on campus that I connect with on a deep level, she told me that even though she didn't at the time realize it, learning Hebrew was a rare gift and one that should be appreciated. I'm packing that with me. I think that's true in all of life.

Last note, I received my final grades and I did well, not as well as my ego tells me (all solid A s). However, funny thing is, the class I just wanted to do the best I could and get through, I did the best in; and the one I was most gifted in the subject matter, I did the worst in. Note to self: Both I took seriously and worked hard, but one I let go and just asked for God's grace in the outcome and the other I expected a grade with certainty and no grace.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Epiphany & a Christmas Lesson the night before Hebrew

The universe must be on a 80s memory theme kick...I jest but for the second day in a row, I saw one of my favorite 80s memories on another blog I frequent. This time a whole lot of memories came rushing back to me in the holiday program from 1987, (I thought it was long since gone...thank you God for Youtube and coffeepastor in giving me the memory push) Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas. I'm sharing one of my favorites from that program with the three camels singing We Three Kings. My Mom, sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews and I LOVED this particular rendition of this carol and we would sing it in this styling (just the Camels part mind you) to one another. Sidebar: Love the camels shoes and the one with the mustache. By the way, do all camels sing in the Soul tradition?

The song is cute but it caps off the Christmas holiday for me, my own epiphany (my own aha moment, my own understanding of following God and finding the infant Jesus in the midst of a long Journey.) My Christmas share no matter the means and honor community. There's abundance even when one thinks there's not. This post will get excessively long if I described everything that brought me to this conclusion. Maybe just let it wash over you and the meaning will come clear in its own time.

Thank you Magi, Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar, for giving us the lead to have the courage to follow the star and honor God above all else. Onward and upward, Hebrew, 9 a.m, Monday morning.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Take on me...A-ha...Retro Memory of Inspiration

I saw this video on a site I frequent. (Thanks Michelle.) It instantly brought back a memory of a not only a great song (actually a favorite 80s song) but a time in my life where I was going through a momentous transition in my life, not unlike what I'm going through now. It was 1985 and I was on a plane at the just turned age of 22 going to a place completely foreign to me. I was moving from Seattle Washington to San Antonio Texas. I listened to this song over and over again while on the plane. It was the only thing keeping me encouraged and sane. I took the words, "Take on Me...I'll be Gone" ironically to mean that I will challenge myself and the world can take me on because I'm ready to take on the world. In a good way, mind you. :-). I was ready for everything to come my way (I was young, what can I say) with just a bit, or a lot, of fear behind me.

Right now, I have fear. In two days I start what we call at APTS, Jan Term and I'm taking Hebrew. Hard, hard work but not scary...what's scary is as it sits right now, I have two more years of school at least and reserves for maybe one year. The fear is also where is God leading me and what will it look like on the other side. At my church, we have various worship series about listening to God, making room for God, etc. What I want to see is a series about what to do when you have already made room and way is dark or blurry at best :-). But, I tell myself, I must remember the past. The past is a good indicator of how God can work in the present.

There was a time I moved to a city completely unknown to me with only $500 in my pocket. Within a few short months, I met someone who changed my life. Through that someone, God gave me not only a new name but a family. He changed my life for the better...I was given an unfathomable amount of grace beyond any measure. My life has never been the same. I'm ready to take on what lies ahead.

Enjoy the critically acclaimed video from A-ha directed by Steve Barron.

Friday, January 2, 2009

One more thing...

This blog is a work in progress, so keep on checking back on my progress and its emergence :-).

Start: A time for new beginnings....

I've started other blogs. I would sign up for an account and then just let it sit. I used all kinds of unusual blog engines, like Tumblr, etc. Nothing stuck. But somehow, toward the tail end of x-mas break, I decided to once and for all start a blog. This blog is for me to write about what I'm processing, what's hit me strange or what's hit me kindly. It's for me to communicate to others things of beauty, things that distress me, things I'm learning in seminary, my perceptions on things I and the world are wrestling with; and thus, come to a friendly camaraderie or an understanding to agree to not agree :-). In my entries, I might talk about God, the goodness of God or the, seemingly through human eyes, the injustice of God. I am a seminary student and will often write about my experience in learning about God and community, however please keep this in mind. I do not know the answers. I'm learning, growing and gaining new understandings; albeit, I am by no means an expert or have "the answer" for anything. I'm hardly perfect, often wrong but want to be respectful, explore and ask questions, or just simply stand in my truth. So, if you venture to my site, thank you. I welcome your thoughts.

New beginnings....a year, a life, a new perspective and new goals. Oh and yeah, I start Hebrew in two days....yikes. Sometimes new beginnings are soooo hard and they smart! But, we're grateful in the end.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Hats Off to Entertainment of New Years Memories

For me growing up in Southern California, New Years day means the most spectacular parade of them all...The Rose Parade. Today marked the 120th Rose Parade under the theme of Hats Off to Entertainment. When I think back to all the New Years I've experienced in my lifetime, the most memorable are those New Years that I went to the Rose Parade as a child. The week before the parade, I remember the grocery store checkouts all had the official programs for the Tournament of Roses parade and bowl game, complete with parade line-up, information on the colleges playing, and the Rose queen and her court. I always wanted to be a Rose Parade princess except I lived in the San Fernando Valley and the girls selected as part of the court were in high school and not in elementary school, and lived in Pasadena or bordering suburbs, like the affluent area of La Canada (not pronounced like the country but like can, long a- as in ah, da). I loved everything about the parade...if I wasn't part of the court, I wanted to on a float itself, waving and beautiful to the crowd.

Some years my family bought tickets to the parade and sat in the stands (corner of Orange Grove and Colorado, if I can remember correctly and my first actual memory of this is when John Wayne was the Grand Marshall). But the years, I remember the most, are being about 10-11 years old and camping out the night before on the lawn in a residential neighborhood at the start of the parade route. We would leave about 2 a.m from our home, me, my best friend Terri and my older teenage siblings and possibly an extra friend or two. Once in Pasadena an hour later, we would find our spot (no potential sleeping mind you), set up camp and then mingle with the crowd and walk down the line-up of floats. Yes, they line up these floats and the test them in the wee hours of the morning. (To fill in a small clarification, the parade officially starts at 8:15 a.m. pst., not 10 as its broadcast in Texas) What I specifically remember is the excitement and everyone in a caring and jovial mood. I was a kid and carried no fear even with no parents around. This was the 70s but non-idyllic things still happened then. There was from time to time a report or two about localized trouble in the rougher parts of Pasadena toward the end of the parade route but we were far away from that area. I just remember the happiness and no clear-cut divisions in terms of race, religion, gender, age....people were just having fun and excited. A commonality. I will never forget this one policeman playing frisbee with the crowd. And, you have seen the true beauty of this parade until you see it in person. The crisp and vibrant colors of the flora and fauna, detail and animation of the floats, not to mention the horses and riders in elaborate costumes and the marching bands. Too much for words to accurately express.

This morning, the first day of 2009, the 120th Tournament of Roses Parade, the headline that I awoke to read, Parade still takes place in spite of recession. I thought to myself, "What, what"...I had a friend tell me today that in 2009, she hopes we can see the miracles around us as they happen instead of in hindsight. The miracles today in terms of this parade...the farmers and flower growers who received revenue, the shipping people who had to ship the flowers and seeds, the engineers, the hundreds of people who spent upwards toward 13 plus hours coming together to build these floats so that others may have joy and beauty on their New Years morning in this grand tradition.
Here's to 2009, a year full of miracles....