Friday, December 28, 2012

Serious Thoughts on Pie

I’ve been copying posts from my old Xanga blog to a document for safe keeping today and I came across this delightful post from 2004 which I feel the need to share again. My thoughts on pie remain adamantly so formed:
Originally posted, Tuesday, November 23, 2004
I get to make pies tomorrow morning.  On Sunday, my sister made the comment that she was tired of apple pie.  I consider that statement to be utter sacrilege.  There is no way a good human being can be tired of apple pie unless they have made a pact with the devil.  That is my firm belief.  But then, my sister is far more of a chocolate fanatic than I, and apple pie does not go well hand-in-hand with chocolate.  But in my opinion, cinnamon can take the place of chocolate in most situations - I do not disavow the necessity for chocolate at certain points in everyone's life, but cinnamon is a close partner in satisfaction.
That stated, you now have my views on chocolate and cinnamon, but have you completely caught my love of pie?  I hereby state emphatically that pie is next to godliness.  In almost any form, pie is the perfect dessert.  And fruit pie is the perfect dessert, or breakfast, or lunch, or even dinner.  I'm not a great fan of blueberry pie - I prefer my blueberries to still resemble berries, nor am I a great fan of cherry pie, unless it is homemade without using that canned slop.  But apple, raspberry, multi-berry, even peach pies are edible at any time, in any place.  Pumpkin pies are best when enjoyed with a slathering of whipped cream on top, and are also edible for most meals of the day.
Making pie crust is a delicate art, one which I strive to perfect, though my father is leaps and bounds ahead of me in the practice--and he's only been making pies for three years.  A good pie crust is light, buttery, flaky, etc.  It falls apart when one's fork punctures it, and the innards of the pie should ooze all over the plate, tempting the eater to lick his plate when finished with his pie (reason X why pie should be enjoyed solitarily, so that the eater can lick his plate without facing censure from society).  A good pie crust is not at all sweet - thus giving the eater the joy of the sweetness (preferably tart sweetness) of the pie innards without interference from the crust.
One final note - it is my firm belief that crumble tops are of the devil - they are cop-outs to making a pie top and get soggy too quickly.

In her own defense, Loren posted this comment:
My dear little sister >:)~
I am mortally anguished by your associating my boredom with apple pie and any sort of pact with the devil…But then, come to think of it, there is certainly a common link made between that dark creature and chocolate…No, I will not recant!
Much love, Loren

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Center Point

It often seems that my Advent meditations center around a single idea - often something meaningful to my reflections on the past year. Sometimes they're painful meditations. Sometimes they are joyous. Sometimes they are revelations. Sometimes they're old truths.

This year's meditations have focused the coming of the Christ as the center point of history. From creation to new creation, it all revolves around this one moment, in a little town in Judah, when the Redeemer of the world arrived as a newborn infant. Creation, Fall, Redemption: all wrapped together in skin and laid in a manger. 

Jesus: the Lord saves. Emmanuel: God with us. 

This has been, for me, a Rabbit Room year. Yes, technically my sister introduced me to the place more than a year ago, but this is the year when I've really experienced the community: had my eyes opened to the life being lived in that community and joined it myself. The Rabbit Room had a community Christmas gift exchange this year, and, while I didn't have the time to get involved myself, I wanted to share my thanks for the gifts the Rabbits have given me.

The artists who lead the community have blessed me beyond measure with the liturgy they've worked. Their songs, their stories, their essays, their insights have opened my eyes to new ways of looking at the world God has made and our role in it as Christians. 

The people who populate this cyber community have impacted me in ways they may not know. They've guided my steps as I've started this journey of discovery; they've shared their stories, their lives, their sorrows, their risks, their hearts. I have been encouraged. I have been challenged.

Without these groups, I may have considered Christmas differently this year. I may not have seen a Boy's birth as the center point of all history. Perhaps this was what God intended me to see this year anyway, but He used the members of the Rabbit Room to point and say, "Look." So here are some glances at the Christmas story as I've experienced it this year. May you see the Center Point and never look away.

from N. D. Wilson's Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl:

"Plan the event. Arrange the reception. The King of kings is coming. He will shoulder governments. He will be called the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor...
"The Lord of all reality is coming to your hemisphere. And He, the pure Spirit, will take on flesh and need to eat and breathe and move His bowels, and have His diaper changed...
"He will be a carpenter, with splintered and blistered hands and cracking nails. One of His grandmothers was a whore of Jericho. He will enter the womb of a virgin and expand in the normal way. He will exit her womb in the normal way. And then she will suckle Him as the cows do their calves. Because, well, He will be mammal...
"The Lord came to clean the unclean. He brought the taint of Holiness, and it has been growing ever since. He was born in a barn and slept in a food trough. Maybe the livestock all took gentle knees, cognizant and pious, like the back page of a children's Christmas book. Maybe they smacked on their cuts and continued to lift their tails and muck in the stalls.
"The angels knew what was going on even if no one else did. They grasped the bizarre reality of Shakespeare stepping onto the stage, of God making Himself vulnerable, dependent, and human--making Himself Adam. And so, in a more appropriate spirit, they arranged a concert and put on what was no doubt the greatest choral performance in planetary history. 
"Were the kings gathered? Where were the people with the important hats? Where were the ushers, the corporate sponsors?
"The Heavenly Host, the souls and angels of stars, descended into our atmosphere and burst in harmonic joy above a field and some rather startled shepherds.
"But the crowd was bigger than that. The shepherds were a distinct minority. Mostly, the angels were just singing to sheep.
"I'm sure those animals paid attention, and not just because there was a baby in their food bowl."

from Russ Ramsey's Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative

"Though no one could have known all of this at the time, Jesus was the priest who became the sacrifice, the king who took on the form of a servant, the prophet who was himself the Word of God. He was Immanuel, God with us--Son of God, Son of Man.
"But the death and resurrection of Jesus only makes sense through the lens of his birth. God's eternal Son, who was present at creation when God made man in his likeness, humbled himself and took on flesh, born in the likeness of man. The Maker knitted him together in Mary's womb, fearfully and wonderfully forming each tiny part in the depths of her waters. God saw his unformed body. Every day ordained for him was recorded in his Father's book of life before a single one had come to pass.
"And now he has come.
"Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."

from Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God: The TRUE Tall Tale of the Coming of Christ

So sing out with joy for the brave little boy
Who was God, but He made Himself nothing
He gave up His pride and He came here to die
Like a man
So rejoice, ye children sing
And remember now His mercy
And sing out with joy
For the brave little boy is our Savior
Son of God,
Son of Man

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Real Battle

As I listened to The Hobbit on CD today on my drive, I was struck by Tolkien's comments about Bilbo just before the hobbit sees Smaug for the first time.

"Wisps of vapour floated up and past him and he began to sweat. A sound, too, began to throb in his ears, a sort of bubbling like the noise of a large pot galloping on the fire, mixed with a rumble as of a gigantic tom-cat purring. This grew to the unmistakable gurgling noise of some vast animal snoring in its sleep down there in the red glow in front of him.

"It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait."

So often it is our own fear that is the greatest obstacle we face. Whatever the adventure that lies before us, whatever the risk we may take, the real battle is fought in the tunnel alone. We must first choose to step forward, before any tremendous adventure can come our way.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Blind Writer

I had a professor once who said, “The writer is the one who points and says, ‘Look.’” I’ve internalized that idea so deeply that I can no longer recall who said it – the words are now mine, and I repeat them from time to time when I’m called upon to say what it is I do – I point. I say, “Look.” I write.

Monday was, as Anne Shirley so appropriately described, “a Jonah day.” It started with misplacing my phone before work and having to leave without it, continued through ordering the wrong drink at the coffee shop, realizing I forgot my lunch, discovering a project at work hadn’t been completed, speaking sharply to a coworker, apologizing to said coworker, learning no contact had been made with a prospect for a book endorsement when I had requested it two weeks earlier…the list goes on. Through it all I was working on the tedious task of implementing proofreading notes on a book manuscript. I left work at the end of the day, having told my roommate I would text her when I was on the way so she could put the rice on, only to realize that was impossible without a phone, and dinner would consequently be twenty minutes later for my hungry belly.

I found myself in the car, weeping, crying out to God and asking Him why I hadn’t realized I’d been cruel to my coworker, kicking myself for how I handled it all, angry that I hadn’t followed up on the missed pieces sooner, wracking my brain to figure how I would finish all the work on the manuscript before the deadline.

Even Anne’s perfect description for my day, when it came to me as I drove, gave me no comfort. Along with it came her other thought on the topic: “Isn't it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” It’s that little word at the end that’s the problem: “yet.” It mocked me: “You’ll just do it all again tomorrow.”

The tears clouded my eyes; the thoughts crowded my mind. I ached at my own sinfulness and I couldn’t see a way out of it. The writer was blind. In such a state, how could she point? How could she look?

And then a new song started on the CD. It began with quiet strings and piano before Andrew Peterson’s voice began to gently prod,

Behold the Lamb of God
Who takes away our sin
Behold the Lamb of God
The life and light of men
Behold the Lamb of God
Who died and rose again
Behold the Lamb of God who comes
To take away our sin

“Behold.” Look.

My mind would wander back to the troubles of my Jonah day and AP would point again with that word, “Behold.”

Over and over again the phrase repeats in the song: “Behold the Lamb of God.” Look at the Son of God, Emmanuel, the hope of man. When the song ended, I went through again and again. “Behold.” Do not look elsewhere. Keep your eyes on the Lamb. Will you sin again tomorrow? Yes, and the Lamb of God will take away that sin, too. “Behold.”

When the writer is blind, who will point and say, “Look"? The voices of the prophets, of the musicians, of the artists, of all those who have beheld the Lamb and come to Him with their broken hearts, fallen far away from Him, only to see them renewed and restored by the One who died and rose again – they will echo together the call of John the Baptist, pointing and saying, “Look.”

To hear Andrew Peterson’s song “Behold the Lamb of God,” click here.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Starry Nite

The evening’s activities put me in mind of the event a year earlier. The tone both similar and worlds apart – a celebration of the start of the Christmas season, but this year without the aching heart and scratchy eyes of the day’s grief. As I walked away, the voices, amplified by microphones, echoed off the trees, the strains of the violin soaring above them.

I walked toward my car, alone in the deserted lot at the far end of campus. The tenor, the alto, and the violin together, haunting echoes of the originals, rode the chilly, crisp air: “O night, O Holy night, O night divine!”

And alone, I wept at the beauty of it all, that the Conqueror came in peace1, on a quiet, holy night, to be pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; to take upon Himself the chastisement that brought us peace, to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing. The power of Death was undone by an Infant born of glory2

1 Jason Gray. "Easier." Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy.
2 Andrew Peterson. "Gather 'Round Ye Children, Come." Behold the Lamb of God.

Friday, November 23, 2012

It's the moment you've all been waiting for...

In the 1998-1999 school year at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park, more commonly called "PCEP" or just, "the Park," my days as a high school senior were enlivened with a regular column in the PCEP Perspective student newspaper: "Ahmed's Top 11," written by my friend, Ahmed Baset.

Recently home to visit my parents for Thanksgiving, I came across clippings of my favorite columns, and, with Ahmed's permission, have decided to share them with the world. They are so classically representative of the late-90s high school zeitgeist and the Park's culture that they simply must be shared (plus, they're pretty funny).

So, to begin:

Ahmed's Top 11 Reasons You Should Go Trick-or-Treating

11. You can never get enough Dum-Dums and Smarties
10. It gives you an excuse to dress up as your favorite Spice Girl/Hanson member.
9. You can get a free slurpee at 7-11.
8. It's a chance to restock next year's Halloween candy supply to give out.
7. Two Words: King Size
6. It's the only day of the year you can cross dress and not get beat up for it.
5. The candy gives you something to throw at the people who dressed up as Spice Girls/Hanson members.
4. It'd be cool to bust out your old school Alf Costume.
3. You can try to find a wrong way to eat a Reece's Peanut Butter cup.
2. If you're a Marilyn Manson follower, it's the one night of the year you can get away with dressing like a prep.

And the drum roll please...
1. There's really no feeling like robbing a little kid's bag.

Ahmed's Top 11 Reasons Not to go to Canton's Homecoming

11. Math test on Monday.
10. None of your friends are going so you obviously can't go.
9. "Have to organize the sock drawer."
8. It's not cool to go to homecoming anymore.
7. You're saving your money for the Titanic video.
6. Your favorite blow up doll has a hole in it.
5. Like the guy you like was like such a jerk 'cuz he like liked your best friend who had the guts to like him back and you were like "like Dude no way!" and so like they're going to homecoming and like you're sitting at home painting your nails.
4. You decided it'd be cooler to key everyone's car that's at the dance.
3. Elton John concert is the same freakn' day.
2. No, "moshing, freaking, slam dancing," what's the point?
Drum Roll Please...

1. Big America Online Night. Leonardo DiCaprio will be in a live chat room under keyword "Titanic."

Ahmed's Top 11 things to get your significant other for Valentine's Day

11. Dinner (everybody loves White Castle) and a movie (renting Home Alone 3 counts, right?)
10. Matching Tatoos. Display your love FOREVER.
9. A calendar of yourself for every month of the year.
8. The Ken Starr Report. Makes for good bathroom reading.
7. A chia pet. It really grows and lasts longer than roses.
6. Pez dispenser. Cheap and sexy.
5. Liz Isakson jumping out of a cake in nothing but a shoelace.
4. This guy right here.
3. N'SYNC tickets
2. A pink frisbee (Especially if your significant other happens to be Mikey Haddad)
1. You...lying on their nothing but whipped cream

And, finally, my personal all-time favorite:

Ahmed's Top 11 Reasons You Know You are Cool

11. You still hang out at what is known as "the tree."
10. You got those new pair of 18 dollar Abercrombie boxers.
9. You were on Gershon Leventhal's PolTalk debate on pornography.
8. You wear a colorful Yankee's hat curved toward the WEST SIDE!
7. You drive a Mercury Cougar.
6. You have a need to make out with your significant other between passing time. GET A ROOM!
5. You can clap and jump at the same time. GO TEAM!
4. You have a long neck key chain hanging out of your pocket.
3. You write a column called the top 11 that pisses a lot of people off.
2. You, Homer, Penny and other security guards hang out at Jeff's house on the weekends...
1. You're white and you wear FUBU.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Don't You Want to Thank Someone

I heard this song for the first time about a week ago at Andrew Peterson's Light for the Lost Boy release concert, and it's been in my mind ever since - not in the "stuck in my head" sense so much as the "stuck in my soul" sense. I've been washing it through my mind's ear over and over again...

I can't find anywhere online where you can hear the whole thing, but seriously, just go buy the album, this is the culmination of ten songs' worth of meditation on the Fall and Redemption - and the beauty of the Kingdom that we see now through a glass dimly.

Don't You Want to Thank Someone
Words and Music by Andrew Peterson / 1/10/2012, The Warren
Romans 8:19
Ephesians 1:13, 14
“The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” –Gerard Manley Hopkins

Can’t you feel it in your bones
Something isn’t right here
Something that you’ve always known
But you don’t know why

‘Cause every time the sun goes down
We face another night here
Waiting for the world to spin around
Just to survive

But when you see the morning sun
Burning through a silver mist
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Have you ever wondered why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

I used to be a little boy
As golden as a sunrise
Breaking over Illinois
When the corn was tall

Yeah, but every little boy grows up
And he’s haunted by the heart that died
Longing for the world that was
Before the Fall

Oh, but then forgiveness comes
A grace that I cannot resist
And I just want to thank someone
I just want to thank someone for this

Now I can see the world is charged
It’s glimmering with promises
Written in a script of stars
Dripping from prophets’ lips

But still, my thirst is never slaked
I am hounded by a restlessness
Eaten by this endless ache
But still I will give thanks for this

‘Cause I can see it in the seas of wheat
I can feel it when the horses run
It’s howling in the snowy peaks
It’s blazing in the midnight sun

Just behind a veil of wind
A million angels waiting in the wings
A swirling storm of cherubim
Making ready for the Reckoning

Oh, how long, how long?
Oh, sing on, sing on

And when the world is new again
And the children of the King
Are ancient in their youth again
Maybe it’s a better thing
A better thing
To be more than merely innocent
But to be broken then redeemed by love
Maybe this old world is bent
But it’s waking up
And I’m waking up

Cause I can hear the voice of one
He’s crying in the wilderness
“Make ready for the Kingdom Come”
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Come back soon
Come back soon

©2012 Jakedog Music (adm by Music Services) (ASCAP) 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

“There Will be Butterflies.”

I came across the line on the airplane. I had decided only days before the conference to read the book, and here I was, on my way, with half of it left to go. Ah, well, I’d thought. If I don’t finish, I don’t finish. No one will be upset with me.

But then I started reading, and words and phrases jumped off the page at me, rattling my notions of how the world works and reminding me that the God I serve is just as micro as He is macro. That the world of molecules and the world of galaxies are magical places, painted by a Great Artist. That the Great Artist loves and cares for and comforts His people.

And I sat on the airplane, devouring the book, almost grateful for the flight delay as it would give me more time on the tilt-a-whirl.

Then I came to the line. I’m not a margin writer. I don’t generally underline. I avoid dog-earing page corners. I like clean pages and post-it notes. But I have journals full of lines from books, the ones that strike me just right that I can’t set aside, that I must keep and find again. So when I came to the line my first instinct was to dig in my backpack for my journal. And then I reached for a pen…and came up empty-handed.

I had grabbed the essentials – wallet, chapstick, Asian coffee-flavored hard candies – from my purse when I put it into the bag being gate-checked. Somehow I had missed a pen.

I was frozen for a moment, torn over the need to mark the passage and my distaste for marring pages. I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the man next to me. His burly arms were painted with colorful tattoos, his goatee long and frizzled. He read a graphic novel. It was the graphic novel that made me hope. Tattoos and a grizzly goatee might be on a biker guy, and I’d be less likely to expect him to carry a pen. But the graphic novel made me feel a little kinship with the man – though I can’t say I’ve ever read one. I know people who read graphic novels, and I know that they have creative minds and hearts. He might have a pen.

“Excuse me,” I asked, still slightly intimidated by the gauges in the ears and the hipster glasses on his round face. “Do you have a pen I could borrow?”

The pen was a sea-green Bic with sparkles in the plastic. He was not a cap-chewer. He went back to his graphic novel and I dove back in, to the line, and began writing on the first page of my new journal.

“To His eyes, you never leave the stage. You don’t cease to exist. It is a chapter ending, an act, not the play itself. Look to Him. Walk toward Him. The cocoon is a death, but not a final death. The coffin can be a tragedy, but not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”i

In an instant I was back in a hospital intensive care unit on December second, knowing that the man in the bed would not recover, would never play piano for me again. I was sitting in my sister’s bedroom on April ninth hearing on the phone that a woman I loved and worked with daily had died the evening before, three weeks after the cancer diagnosis. I was at the memorial service on May fifth, thinking of the man who had been my teacher, and watching his wife and children and grandchildren mourn him.

And I thought of what Lisa said when she woke up on that Easter morning that she died. Her sister came into the room and greeted her with, “He is risen.”

Lisa sat up in the bed and said, “He is risen indeed.” Then she gathered her energy enough to speak again. “It’s Resurrection Day, and my boots are in the closet.”

“There will be butterflies.”

And I thought of losing Keren, and losing Aimee, and all the other coffins that have been tragedies. But not for long.

“There will be butterflies.”

If nothing else this weekend at Hutchmoot reminded me of that hope. I serve the Creator God who chose to enter the anthill, the Second Adam who chose to lay down his life fighting the dragon in order to save His bride.ii Whose people create works that point to Him in various ways, like setting a story in a house called Maison Dieu, which is haunted by a Spirit, which welcomes all travelers to the central Chapel where they are reborn.iii Whose greatest stories plant a signpost at the end that says, “The story goes on that way.”iv

“Death feels so wrong to us because death ends a story that was meant to go on.”v

But this life and these deaths are the foundation for a new work, a new creation, built on the old…

“Our hope is not for a happy ending, but for a happy beginning—a new story.”vi

“There will be butterflies.”

i Wilson, N.D., Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl. Thomas Nelson. p. 113
ii Wilson, N.D., Ideas presented in session on Adventurous Storytelling and in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.
iii Goudge, Elizabeth, Pilgrim’s Inn. From Sarah Clarkson’s session on Spiritual Subtext.
iv Peterson, A.S., Idea presented in session on Tales of the New Creation.
v Peterson, A.S., Tales of the New Creation.
vi Trafton, Jennifer. Tales of the New Creation.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fare Forward, Voyagers

On the Sunday morning of Hutchmoot, my sister and I went to church with the friends we were staying with at Christ Presbyterian Church of Nashville. The minister, Scott Sauls, spoke from Philippians 2 on "The Humility of God." In one of those "God-things" everything he said seemed to fit hand in glove with the content of the conference.

He challenged the congregation to look to Christ's humility as an example and to be imitators of him. He said that humility is the freedom from the need to be thinking of ourselves, that humility liberates us to look toward others. He pointed to Jonathan, the prince of Israel, as an example - Jonathan weakened his own position so that David might become strong. And then he pointed out the irony: the less Jonathan acted like a king, the more kingly he became in character.

We serve a God who likes juxtapositions like that. He requires death for life, losing our lives for finding them. If nothing else this weekend was a reminder of the great juxtaposition that is the Suffering Servant and the Reigning King.

I could tell you the ideas I was presented with this weekend which took my brain out of my head, scrubbed it up and down on a washing board, and stuffed it back in, all freshly laundered and stretched in unfamiliar places. I could tell you about the delightful people I met who were kind, thoughtless of self, and thoughtful of others. I could tell you about the princes and princesses I met who made themselves nothing and thereby became great. 

But I seem to be unable to form into typewritten words what I really want to say about this conference. So, instead, I shall lean upon one of my favorite poets, T.S. Eliot, in his master work of juxtaposition, The Four Quartets.

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
-"East Coker" V.123-133

I can't quite find a way to explain it, but that passage sums up the feelings from this past weekend - the joy, the agony, the stillness, the running, the hoping, the waiting, the loving, the faith...

We've all gone our separate ways now, and cries of, "Hutchmoot let down!" are filling my news feed on Facebook. I'm certain we shall soon become wrapped up into the worlds we find ourselves in, but I hope that our hugs at the church or at the airport are not fully goodbyes. Instead, I hope that they are not goodbyes at all. But rather moments when, instead of thinking of ourselves, we were free to look toward others, to give them our kingly robes, and to send them out renewed.

"Not fare well, / But fare forward, voyagers." 

-"The Dry Salvages" III.69-70

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Staking My Claim

Croatian Flag and Football
Image courtesy of
The Euro Cup begins in two days. In less than a month, the hopes and dreams of fifteen nations will be dashed, and one will be celebrating.

I read an article today that pointed out that in 2010, Americans got on board with the World Cup with the exciting run of the the USA (including Landon Donovan's fantastic extra-time goal, the furor over which crashed Twitter, Yahoo Sports, and I'm sure quite a few businesses' servers) and that by the time they got knocked out by Ghana in the Round of 16, we were, as a nation, lost to the enthrall of the beautiful game, and continued watching.

However, the article went on to say, this time around, there is no US team to root for. Even for those who are a little more internationally aware, we're missing some of the greats, like Lionel Messi and the Argentinian squad. No, Euro Cup is just for Europe - and if we are to watch with any vested interest, we are forced to choose a team from those whom we may have little or no connection with.

I have no such dilemma, however. I love European football. In fact, I fell in love with the sport in Europe, and all my African-MK brother-in-law's cajoling could not sway me from the continent. I remember watching matches from Euro'96 in bistros, police stations, and corner stores across Central Europe as we traveled through eleven countries in three weeks that June. I will never forget the silence of the streets of Prague the night that Germany beat Czech on penalties in the final. It was a powerful enough moment to root in me a hatred for the German powerhouse that has me rooting for whichever team is currently up against them. I love watching Germany play. I love it even more when they lose.

Four years ago, once my favorites were out of the tournament, I found myself swayed by the magic that was Spain in Euro'08. El Niño swept me along, Iker Casillas made a believer out of me, and La Roja had my full approval when they hoisted the trophy. I joined in their glory again two years later at the World Cup...but that was after England had fallen by the wayside.

For you see, England is my number two. Years of being asked if I was a British exchange student following my year in Hong Kong must have settled into my psyche somehow, for I have a love for the Three Lions. In recent years, I've held them as my "favorite" until they left the tournament.

But for the first time in four years, I get to watch my true favorite play once again. You see, I love Croatia, a little team I fell for fourteen years ago in a bistrot in Normandy, France, surrounded by drunk Dutchmen garbed in orange, and I've never quite gotten over it. I shall look for the red and white checkered uniforms to take the field on Sunday with rising anticipation that maybe, just maybe, this time they have a chance to repeat their run toward the title from the World Cup '98.

I have the benefit, as an American, of not expecting much from my own country's football team. I have the freedom to have three favorites in Europe alone. I have the right to hop from one allegiance to another when a team leaves the tournament, and if it goes poorly for all my teams, I will likely still have the pleasure of rooting for whoever plays Germany.

But I do love Croatia. And I'm glad to see them playing once again.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grief and Birth

I’ve been trying to figure out if, and if so how, I should add my voice to the many speaking out regarding the proposed name change for Philadelphia Biblical University that was announced this week. On the one hand, everyone is hearing my voice, because I’ve been a part of the team crafting emails, blog posts, and responses to comments “from the University.” On the other hand, no one is hearing my voice because none of that is going out under my name, and it is the official language.

But at the same time, I’ve been realizing that the official language is what is coming out of my mouth when I’m talking to people or coming through my fingertips when I’m typing, and I’ve been trying to figure out if that’s just because it’s familiar language or if it’s because I really think these things.

You see, while the bulk of the population only heard about this potential name change this week, I heard about the possibility of it last fall, and learned the actual name over a month ago. I’m well ahead on my processing from many others, and I didn’t document how I felt when I first heard. (Silly me, I have a rule about that at work – “Always put it in writing as a follow-up for reference, even if you had the conversation.” – but I don’t follow it very well).

I do remember one of my first thought being, “Ugh, that will be a ton of work.” Really, I think that thought overshadowed others for quite some time. But that ton of work, while still looming, has taken on a new meaning since my boss, Lisa, died after a brief illness a couple of weeks ago. She was so excited about this prospect, and she was so concerned when she was in the hospital that we would lose momentum on the progress made. Now that she’s gone, the work isn’t quite the burden that it seemed it would be. Instead, it’s a memorial to her, a stone I’m setting up in her memory to remind me of who she was and of how to move forward, taking in all the things she taught me.

So this week, when the announcement was made, the social media-verse exploded into action. We’ve been watching, responding where appropriate, and trying to take what people are saying with consideration and grace.

But the ones that have hit me hardest are the many folks who are questioning if this is the beginning of the end of all things when it comes to the centrality of scripture as the core of all that PBU does. Sometimes what they say is hurtful because, to me, it implies that they think we’re lying. I’m realizing that people may not really pay any attention to the things I’ve crafted that arrive in their mailbox on a regular basis. (I do know that I really shouldn’t take it personally, of course). Or, if they do pay attention, they seem to think that changing the title of an institution negates everything that has been said, over and over again, for the past three (well, more, but three that I’ve been involved with) years. There are times when I want to just yell, “We are still a biblical university! That will not change! Haven’t you seen us recommit to that as the nature of who we are in every issue of the magazine, every letter we’ve sent, every page on the website? Do you think that pulling the description from our title and instead allowing us to use it as a descriptor (you know, the way it’s built, being an adjective and all) means that everything we’ve said for the past three [or 12] years is a lie?”

In writing with an alumna from the days of PCB when my parents went there (when it was located at 1800 Arch Street), I finally found something new to say that is mine, something that really encapsulates how I feel about what’s going on, the changes that are taking place, and prospects for the future. I’ve adapted it for this space.

I grew up surrounded by 1800 Arch Street-ers and I grew up hearing the stories of those days. As a lover of all things historical, I am glad that that is where "my" university's roots go. And "my" university (I graduated in 2003) was also a very different place than today's institution. Not as different as the 1800 Arch days were, but different. I look back at my experience and I realize that I saw the very beginning of the birth-pangs of the changes that have taken place the past twelve years. I feel as though the past three years that I've been on staff have been the tail end of the birthing and that we are now poised to begin a new life; like a child from a parent, still the same blood, DNA, and genetic code, but an individual in his own right.

So I am praying for this University, no matter what the name ends up being. Because like any child there is absolutely the risk of losing the Way, no matter how much he says his identity is that of his parents, but we need our "parents" - those who've gone before as alumni, faculty, friends - to support us and help us to take new steps in this new world, challenging us to remain strong in our commitments, our core values, and our central focus on Christ and His Word.

That focus and foundation isn't changing, even with a new name. And if it were to start to do so in my lifetime, I would rise up and tell the story of what is happening now, pointing to the figurative stones that are being set up right now as we approach this Board decision and saying, "We are founded on the Word of God. That is our very DNA. On the day when we changed this name we chose 'Cairn' because it gave us a marker to point to and say, 'Look at what God has done. Walk in His Way.'"

And I will teach the next generation about these things, because my biblical university education taught me to do so (when I studied Deuteronomy 6 and 2 Timothy 2 J).

In the past two weeks in my department at PBU we've had a death and a birth. And while we're still grieving the loss of Lisa, our VP for Communications and Marketing, we're also rejoicing in the healthy delivery of Sierra, daughter to my friend Jodi, who worked in our department and now is the Assistant to the President.

I hear the grief in the loss of the "old PCB/PBU", but I also hear in my mind the cries of a prospective newborn "Cairn University."

They're lusty cries, healthy ones, and I can't help but rejoice in the prospects and opportunities new life brings.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Bewildering Reality

Every few hours I find myself clicking this link, and staring at the page, thinking, "Is it really real?"

As one of my coworkers put it today, we're just dealing with her absence, not with the loss; it hasn't sunk in yet.

We keep expecting to see her.

And while I don't want it to be real, I don't want to never see her again, I know that it is, and I know that I won't.

I go to Lancaster on Saturday for a service in her honor. I don't know what it will entail, but I know she planned it in her final days. So I know it's not going to be focused on her; it will be focused on her Savior.

But I think it will take away a bit of the bewilderment and turn the reality from vapor to solid.

And that won't be easy. But it will be real. And she loved real things.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When change and tears are past

This past week or so have been difficult. My Grandma Givens was in the hospital. She's out now, and back in the skilled care area of the village where she lives, but we know she's not well and we don't know if she'll be with us ten more days or ten more years. There's not much more wrong with her than age - her body is simply wearing out. After 93 years, I suppose it has the right.

But it's been hard. It's hard to think about my life without Grandma as a part of it - she's been an institution for 30 years of it so far. I know grandparents die - I lost both my grandfathers when I was very young, and my other grandmother when I was in high school - but somehow I never really thought about the idea that Grandma Givens would die.

I still can't quite imagine a world without Grandma praying for me.

When I heard she wasn't doing well, I panicked at first. Then I prayed. Then I got a chance to call her and tell her I love her. All of those things needed to be done.

And God gave me His comfort, and He gave me His grace, and He gave me His love. And all those things were good.

But yesterday He gave me one thing more. During our start of semester hour of prayer we sang, as we always do. Dr. Toews got up to read the opening passage of Scripture and he said that he had just finished teaching a course on the Wisdom Literature. And he said something that stuck out to me in a new way: "What became very clear teaching the wisdom literature is that one thing unique about Christianity is that in the midst of trouble, Christians sing."

In an instant I was standing around a piano at Grandma's house in my memory, singing with the whole family. Grandma was playing at the piano and working her way through the hymnal from favorite to favorite. We sang some of those hymns yesterday, and I needed to hear them.

Near the end of the service we sang one that I've known for a long time. It's one that I can sing without paying a whole lot of attention to the words, because I've done so many times. But suddenly it was new and fresh to me, and I realized it was the story of Grandma Givens.

From a childhood without a father, to stepping away in faith from the Mennonite church, to raising six boys, to losing Grandpa fairly young, to dealing with fractious church members and family members, there have been griefs, pains, changes, and thorny ways. But Grandma's best friend has always been Jesus. And He has always been faithful.

The second verse we sang targeted me. My turbulent fears of losing Grandma calmed as I thought of all the ways God has guided her through her life, and I remembered that He will do the same for me.

And as we sang a final verse, I began to cry the good kind of tears. Because I remembered that while I will be left without her, when Grandma goes to heaven, she will be with her Lord. Sorrow will be forgotten, love will be restored.

And one day, when change and tears are past, all safe and blessed we shall meet again at last.

Be Still, My Soul
by Katharina A. von Schlegel, 1752
translated to English by Jane L. Borthwick, 1855

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.