Thursday, August 30, 2012

wholeness, home, palestine and a mess of questions

I spent a few days last week at a conference in the great land of Anglia, that blurry-edged place that makes me feel like I've mixed my English-speaking home with Middle Earth and the United Nations. It's true that it feels like a surrogate home in different ways, a step toward the one I'm an ocean away from and a step toward the one I was made for.

It was lovely and full and set my head doing circles around itself (as it is wont to do). I know I'm forever writing about the sky, but there's this: driving back around dusk, the sky a Chinese watercolor, I thought, this could be Wilmington. I know this place. And so I said something, only because I'm nostalgic, only because the lines constantly draw themselves to other places. (You see what you end up with? It's a tangled mess, but it's a mess in which you can have your heart stretched between places, on and between so many continents, and yet have it whole.)

The person I was riding with surprised me by saying that the sky there is actually different than it is over continental Europe. This is an Atlantic sky, he said. A wet sky.

I'm back in Pitesti now, the place where the sky was the first thing I loved, and for a while, the only thing. But this place is teaching me about willful love, about the decision of it. How many opportunities have I had to practice this in these last six years? How many more will there be? I think of Abram, of God pointing him toward the stars: "if you can count them." This is a loose idea, one I'm writing as I think, but there's the idea of that too being an inheritance.

My mind is wandering now, landing somewhere near a conversation I had a few hours ago with two students from Palestine. You come back to the question of home and place, of being pulled asunder. Could there be wholeness? I have a place I've grown from and another I'm growing toward, and meanwhile there are roots shooting outward, everywhere. But this, what they are saying, this is something altogether different. What if you believe there is a hope for both home and reconciliation, that in fact there is a great reconciler? That "if you can count them" is a promise fulfilled outside of yourself?

But living it--that is something else, isn't it? For me, the hope of a true home and a way to persist in love only come together. They come out of the words it is finished; I am reminded of them as I turn, surprised to see across Pitesti to the hills in the north, a teeming sky above Rasnov, tekhelet. But I wonder. These answers are easy--they are true, yes, but they're also easy. And living it, knowing it in the face of much harder things--it's something beyond having a right theology. And how on earth do I point people to it?

The thread is gone now, I think, all frayed out into more questions. And they keeping coming.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

pericol de cadere in gol

It's the first morning in many many months that it's been cool enough to drink hot chocolate and here I am, a head full of thoughts, a wide sky opening onto the promise of new things. Yes, my head is full, some good things, some hard and some that honestly scare me to death. But there is room for it this morning, sitting in my balcony, a sky big enough to hold it.

On the way back from camping the other day, when we stopped at the dam, I saw a sign that said: Pericol de cadere in gol--Danger of falling into emptiness, into nothing. Maybe it's my English ear that makes it sound more poetic, that double took at the sight of this rusty, bent sign bolted into concrete.

But gol here is the perfect word if you've ever seen this place. It just opens up. You're leaning against the equivalent of the concrete guardrail the runs down the middle of the interstate--it comes up to your lowest ribs--and then: opening onto gol. Romania does this to me sometimes. Often, even. The surprise of poetry in places just getting on with life, with the business of the mundane. Between a greasy shaormerie, a middle aged man with his shirt pulled up over his beer belly, scratching it, and a dirty, tiny girl running around barefoot, her skirt brushing the ground--there is this sign. I think it was yellow, but faded, a dull mustard seed. You might not have seen it, and certainly there are bigger things to behold there.

I think of this, Musée des Beaux Arts, probably my favorite poem:

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

I can't get this out of my head. That sign, this poem. I'd typed it in Courier and had it taped beside my bed when I lived in Pinewood in college, that ghetto that constantly surprised me.

It's a different sort of surprise, it's a different thing altogether, a cool morning and a bright sky after all those months of heavy heat, but every time the weather changes, gives way to something new, it catches me. I know how it would feel right now, right this very moment in Pinewood, the little girls who'd offer to take out our trash for a dollar knocking at the door. The things they said. The between-the-lines of the way they talked--this juxtaposed with a city that will be beautiful, whatever you do to it, sprawling between the river and the ocean.

There's this, too, by C. S. Lewis:

That is the real explanation of the fact that Theology, far from defeating its rivals by a superior, is, in a superficial but quite real sense, less poetical than they. That is why the New Testament is, in the same sense, less poetical than the old... That is the humiliation of myth into fact, of God into Man; what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in a dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes small, solid--no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowboat on the lake of Galilee. You may say that this, after all, is a still deeper poetry. I will not contradict you. The humiliation leads to a greater glory.

Monday, August 13, 2012

bunnies and bears, oh my

This weekend we--the student/high school leaders for OSCPi--were meant to go camping on the mountain, talk about the vision for the movement, make plans, etc. And let me tell you. It was from top to bottom Romanian in every way possible, and that includes bears.

So we woke up Friday morning when we were supposed to leave and it was pouring and it was forecasted to for the rest of the weekend. The heat had finally broken the night before which meant I spent the night watching it storm like it was the last thing it would ever do and also not sweating. Glorious. Except that it wasn't done when we got up so a couple of phone calls were made and it was decided that we were canceling the trip and instead would meet together in town for the day.

An hour later we get a phone call saying, okay, we're un-canceling, but we'll just go up for the day and then come back. Just bring a few things. And be ready to come down when we call to pick you up at 11. Two hours go by, and at noon I get a call saying, actually just kidding, we are going! And we're staying! But just for one night so pack for that and we'll be there in half an hour. A good Romanian start.

We get there, we camp, we discussion vision, we grill, we pee in the woods, hang out around the campfire and look at the stars. Lots of fun. We also joke a lot about bears coming to eat us--we're joking because it's a distinct possibility that a bear might come and wanna hang out with us and what are you going to do? But we're careful, we put all of our food in the car, all the necessary precautions. And then bed, in the tents, five girls in one, three guys in another.

Around four in the morning I wake up because a dog is going crazy in the next camp over. I fall back asleep. Wake right back up again because one of the guys in that camp is setting the alarm on and off in his car. And every time here turns it off, he starts making car alarm noises with his mouth and clapping. Well there's only one reason he'd be making that much racket at four a.m. So I'm lying there in the dark just listening and I could hear a couple of the other girls shifting around and dude with his car noises starts to get funny to me so I decided to say something:

"Mama, parca vorbeste cu masina..." (Good gracious, it's like he's talking to his car.)

The other girls who weren't already awake wake up then. We hear our guys talking with the neighbors and hear that, yes indeed, a bear has come to visit. One girl gets scared. It's quiet for a while and then the dog starts barking again. And the car starts alarming. And the dude starts talking to it. If the bear came back, he never got close enough to us to hear him. So we all go back to sleep, snuggled up and toasty and crammed all in our tent. Happy ending.

The next day we got to do more retreat-y stuff and the rain held off until a little after we left. We were pretty close to Balea Lac, this lake way up on the mountain that you get to by driving along the world's curviest road (see here) with eight people squeezed into the little car. Super pretty. We took pictures, left, drove until the gigantic dam in Vidraru with all eight of us in the pouring rain. Once we got there, it stopped, so we let three out to hitchhike back and went on our way again.

So there we are, speeding along in the dark, when our general secretary slams on the brakes. We skid around a little (the road's still wet) but stay on the road and finally stop. He then backs up about thirty meters because apparently we hit a bunny, which, yes, he had tried very hard not to hit. (The girls next to me are squealing iepurasule! iepurasule!) And here is the best part:

He gets out of the car to look at. He then picks it up by its little bunny ears--it's definitely dead--and holds it in the headlights so we can see it. Then he puts it back down, gets back in the car, asks his wife if they can take it home to eat it, they can wrap it up really well and put it in the trunk. She refuses, says he's making her sick! I mention how Alaskans harvest fresh moose roadkill and donate it to the poor. The girls next to me start to hyperventilate. And then. Then. He gets back out of the car and says he wants a picture with it. So there now exists a picture of our general secretary, one hand over his heart, the other holding up a run-over rabbit whose (sorry) insides are dangling about six inches below it, still attached of course.

In the end we all get back in one piece, minus our rabbit friend, plus our hitchhikers. Always an adventure. Love this place.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


A few things on my mind as of late...

"We know that the seed of the Word of God is a very growy thing."

"We are, in the end, conflicted creatures--about all our relationships, God included. Our deepest longing is to be known and loved and yet it takes more courage than any of us has to enter into relationships of true knowing and loving."
--Alex Kirk

"If a writer is to tell his own story--tell it slowly, and as if it were a story about other people--if he is to feel the power of the story rise up inside him, if he is to sit down at a table and patiently give himself over to this art--this craft--he must first have been given some hope." [especially that last part]
--Orhan Pamuk

"Could the hope for the inner cities lie in part in the retrieval of the doctrine of justification by grace? How could dead streets receive life from a dead doctrine? Imagine that you have no job, no money, you live cut off from the rest of society in a world ruled by poverty and violence, your skin is the "wrong" color--and you have no hope that any of this will change. Around you is a society governed by the iron law of achievement. Its gilded goods are flaunted before your eyes on TV screens, and in a thousand ways society tells you every day that you are worthless because you have no achievements. You are a failure, and you you know that you will continue to be a failure because there is no way for you to achieve tomorrow what you have not managed to achieve today. Your dignitiy is shattered and your soul is enveloped in the darkness of despair. But the gospel tells you that you are not defined by outside forces. It tells you that you count--even more, that you are loved unconditionally and infinitely, irrespective of anything you have achieved or failed to achieve...Imagine now this gospel not simply proclaimed but embodied in a community that has emerged not as a "result of works" (Eph. 2.10). Justified by sheer grace, it seeks to "justify" by grace those who are made "unjust" by society's implacable law of achievement. Imagine furthermore this community determined to infuse the wider culture, along with its political and economic institutions, with the message that it seeks to embody and proclaim. This is justification by grace, proclaimed and pacticed. A dead doctrine? Hardly."
--Miroslav Volf

language craziness and what the heat's really doing to us all

One more reason learning a new language is an adventure:

This past weekend I was at a wedding and was one of the greeters/lead-you-to-your-seat-ers at the reception. After spending half the day in heels, my feet were hurting, so before anyone really got there, I took my shoes off. And once they did get there, I kept doing what I was doing without putting my shoes on. My gensec rebuked me later, barefooted pagan that I am, and made me go put them back on. And so I was telling this story to a(n American) friend last night over skype and got to the part about my gensec coming up to me and this is what came out of my mouth:

"Yeah, and then he came up to me and rebuked me for running around naked."

NOT SURE WHERE THAT CAME FROM. Barefoot! Not naked! Really red Sarawr.

There is a logical explanation--one I'm not fully convinced of--but there's this: in Romanian, for barefoot, you say picoarele goale. Bare feet, naked feet. If you were naked, you'd say gol--the plural feminine then is goale. (If anyone else wants to geek out with me about etymology here, feel free--although apparently our word goal comes from Middle English... and the sense of empty, like an empty goal, like a place you put a ball has nothing to do with bare/empty... kind of a stretch I guess but it's what my brain put together and made a lot of sense until I looked it up just now.)

The only thing that leaves me unconvinced is that when I'm talking about being barefoot in Romanian, I don't think 'being naked footed' or anything--I think not having shoes or socks on. I expect this is a good thing because it means I'm not translating in my head.

However that still leaves us with no explanation for why I said naked. Theories abound, some about American expressions, others more speculative. Powers of analysis. We'll get there.

But let's be real, y'all. It's hot here. And I have a deep love for pantslessness (and descriptivism, zing!). And my poor roommate and I are surviving the 100 degree days and 85 degree nights and no AC or fan (which is totally fine except that the apartment is not built for keeping cool), so this is clearly about a) brain addled from the heat and b) brain's suggested solution to relieve heat and prevent addling.

Well then. Suggestion noted. Will take into consideration.

Monday, August 6, 2012

writing again?

Been thinking a lot about writing the last couple of weeks, and between Bible and Culture, the several people who've told me to get to it and reading Orhan Pamuk's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, sitting here in the heat tonight, in the last half hour this just sort of came out:

The heat is bringing me home--100 degrees today, 104 tomorrow, the heaviness of it settling into everything. I've moved back out into the balcony, the only place in our apartment the air really moves. So here I am, windows above me flung wide, sprawled on this box spring. It's sluggish in the day but oppressive at night, radiating back out from everything that absorbed it all day. This balcony gets direct sunlight all day long so even now, at nearly eleven, the tiles on the walls next to me are warm, holding it like sand, like stones.

I remember the cable building next to our babysitter's when we were little, the wall of concrete reaching up three stories, the tallest building we'd ever seen. We'd play in the gravel next to it, building nests, pretending to be birds. We were kids who climbed everything, who pushed and pushed against all the lines--and if there was one thing that town was full of, it was lines. On this side are the people who pick tobacco, who live ten to a house; on this one are the lords of small town southern football, who own the town, and here are the people who never root well, who grow up straggly, who get out or are choked out. And those who do root, they grow outward, not downward, drawing even that small place into parts: these are the people you can love, and these you can't.

But what did we know? We spoke their language, it was quick on our tongues. And that wall, smooth, straight upward, was as far as we could go. And so we'd lean against it, palms pressed flat, legs at an angle, drawing out the warmth of the day.

We could follow it back along the length of the house where it never got sunlight, the one place it stayed cool. But beyond that was a mystery to us. We'd wander back, sneak around in the shadow of it, come back with pockets filled with bolts. It never occurred to us what might be weighing us down--we picked up what we found, pocketed it, and never stop trying to find a way over.

I remember one day playing in the yard with my brother and Aaron, a boy my age, our babysitter's nephew who kissed me when we were four. He was a line twisted, his dad a Mexican migrant worker, his mom the sort of white girl everyone called a whore. But his dad settled somewhere on the edge of town so every other weekend my brother and I played by ourselves. And one day the three of us were chasing each other there in the yard and how it happened I didn't see--he ran straight into the wall. A thing that's always there--do you forget? Do you stop seeing it? He didn't turn away; it's just that he didn't stop.

I remember laughing at first, and then he turned, eleven and the biggest, face all twisted and crying. He scared us, a mouth full of blood and eyes wild. We ran inside, to the bathroom and between all the grownups saw all his top front teeth had been broken. My brother and I looked for them later in the gravel, leaning against the wall, orange light from the sun, then from the streetlights, just sifting through the rocks for bone, heat coming off of it all.

After that we weren't allowed near it. Not the gravel, not the wall. We'd run over sometimes, grab handfuls of it, fill our pockets and walk casually to the other side of the yard, never mind the bulges. There was a tree that looked like a bonsai, only big, and we'd dump the gravel there underneath it, little piles of rocks in the dirt and went back to being birds, watching the wall, waiting to realize we would fly over it one day, pockets turned outward, not looking back.

I'm too used to blogging, so it's not quite not a blog, but not quite a story yet. Definitely not done. Except the ending, which is overdone, because it's late and I just wanted to finish it. Anyway, it's been years since I've done this, so we'll see what happens with it. (Writer people, feel free to give advice!!)

Friday, August 3, 2012

wherein the plane probably nearly crashes

(and sarawr tense-shifts and writes the words throw up a lot... sorry)

Been looking forward to writing this one. In further proof that my life is indeed a circus:

It was actually a pretty bumpy flight in general but at first I didn't think anything of it because it was pretty cloudy over Berlin when we took off. And after a late night dancing and saying goodbye to an incredible group of people, all I wanted to do was sleep anyway. And finally I managed it but by the time I did we'd started to descend and by then it'd gotten a lot bumpier.

So a little bit of turbulence, fairly normal, no? Except it was completely clear and not just shaky but kind of roll-y too. You know the feeling when you first take off and for a second there's that weightless feeling and your stomach drops? Imagine that but coming every few seconds because it feels like the plane is dropping and then gliding, back and forth, over and over again. Except it's also sort of pitching sideways, sort of rolling--it's subtle, it's not spinning, but it's there, like you keep over-correcting.

By the time we were pretty low, maybe forty or fifty feet off the ground, all I could think was that it would be better for the plane to drop out of the sky where it was than to be on it while it was moving any longer. I was so sick. And I do get carsick if I read or we're going through the mountains, but I don't ever throw up. But it was coming, I could feel it. Less than a minute later you could see the runway rushing underneath the plane--still bumping/floating/rolling--right at the point you expect to feel the wheels touch down on the pavement.

You know that other feeling as you're taxi-ing, about to take off, and they give it all the power and you're pushed back in your seat? Well the plane did this weird up-down-up thing, kind of pitched to the left and then I guess they gave it full power because it felt just like that and we were taking back off. Only we hadn't touched down. The pilot said something about going around again for another try--that's it. My first thought was it was the copilot landing and he'd never done it before. And then I didn't care because they were turning really sharply and it felt like we were at a forty-five degree angle to the ground and the hairs on the dude next to me's arms were touching my arm and all I could do was say to myself: don't throw up don't throw up don't throw up.

The next ten minutes were even bumpier and pitchier, and what felt like lower and faster so even worse. It was quiet on the plane too--I don't know if anyone was scared or not. Maybe, but if they were feeling anything like I was then they were too busy being sick to think about it. Oh, and I didn't have one of those bags they give out for this purpose. Dude next to me did but I figured if I grabbed it I'd be giving myself permission and how awful would that be--first you throw up and then you have to carry it off the plane in a baggy. And then someone up ahead of me starting throwing up. And let me tell you, twenty minutes later when my stomach forgave the pilot, I could laugh about this: it sounded exactly like a ten-year-old fake throwing up on a cartoon. Or:


But all I could think was stoooooop you can't throw up! You're gonna make me throw up! Stop stop stop! So there I am fanning myself and dude next to me has caught on and starts fanning me with his newspaper and finally we touch down. I am radiating heat.

We finally get off and I've never been so glad to be off a plane in my life, including one that took nine hours spent squeezed between a really huge guy, a hiking backpack and the window. Walking down one of the hallways a few Germans behind me started making fun of whoever was throwing up and honestly they sounded exactly like it.

Oh! I forgot to say! Once we landed the pilot got back on and said what had happened was that as we tried to land a big gust of wind came and lifted us up. Sounds plausible. I told a friend about it and she said that seemed a little suspicious so whether that really caused it or not I have no idea. Do they tell you if it's something out of their control? But once again, whether because I was too busy trying not to be sick or because it takes a lot more than turbulence to scare me, I never felt like we were about to die or crash or anything unsafe. Amazing Lufthansa gets us there safely once again.

And I'm flying them again on the way back home in December. We'll see how it goes...