Saturday, October 16, 2010


I will now be writing on


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Some Brief Thoughts on Proselytizing

I'm not even quite sure how to spell that word. What I mean is: evangelism in all its forms. Or even call it the active role of someone to persuade someone else that their belief is true. Sound like a general argument? Make it about religion and you have evangelism/proselytizing. An offering, presenting, of a belief to another person, stranger or otherwise, to convince them of its truth.

I'm a fan of this.

Most people today aren't and I can understand a little bit of why. It feels too harsh to establish a conversation or the temporary relationship between strangers on a street that is based on the premise of "You are wrong. I think this is truth. Listen to me."

But here is something I realized last Saturday as I sat on Ben's front porch in a suburb of Philadelphia and two very kind, very congenial Jehovah's Witnesses appeared to encourage me to "read my Bible": I'm really okay with people telling me I'm wrong. They did not notice that the Bible's were already out, pages crinkling in the breeze until a few minutes into the conversation. The tone changed very quickly. But something very interesting that my new friend Paul repeated several times, in his calming and cheerful voice, was that "We're not here to talk about who is right and who is wrong." Perhaps what he meant was that he and Marianne (the other Witness) did not have that on their agenda for that particular day. But at the core of it, that is exactly why they came to talk to us. Why else would they bother spending their Saturday mornings trying to find people with nothing to do and talk to them about God's name?

I told them right away that I was fine if they thought I was wrong and wanted to convince me to become a Jehovah's Witness. I understand that. I really do. I also realized right then that it makes it a lot easier to have an honest conversation if both people agree to those playing rules.

It wasn't meant to be, however. While the conversation led a convoluted and very interesting course (a great deal about the divinity of Christ and me openly questioning their Bible translation), I could not get them to explain why it was that they felt it so important to come talk to us and tell us that Jesus wasn't God. They didn't even get to the part about us becoming Jehovah's Witnesses to be saved. I really wanted them to. I know that is what they were after. And I saw that my desire to have them just tell their agenda instead of coxing me into it was not going with their own evangelism training. I know because I have been trained in evangelism and have done it before in different, contexts, settings, and methods.

This isn't a new frustration for me, I'm realizing. Back at WVA, age 14, I was very upset when our witnessing Wednesday consisted of giving a "survey" about the 10 Commandments and then trying to slide into apologetics from there. It is why I was frustrated with the really sweet and kind mormon woman who stopped me by the library with a survey on the prophets. I don't want to answer your survey. I want to talk to you about what you believe and what you hold onto so passionately. Just tell me. I won't hate you if you think I'm wrong and I hope you won't hate me if I think you're wrong. We can still be friends. This can still be civil. This can be honest when we say what we're after.

And then, maybe, we can actually talk about truth.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Restaurant Work

It is July 20 and I have been at the Nittany Lion Inn for over a month now. It is a steady job, steady work, very tiring, and exactly what I've needed this summer. I'm wondering what it will look like in the fall to be a server there, but for now, I'm a DRA: dinning room attendant. I set up and take down buffets, I clean things, break down trays, fill in the holes, take up room services.

It's pretty messy. And awkward at times. As my roommate said, "I'm still trying to figure out how a standard, classic like white dress shirt, black pants, and black apron could go so very wrong." I agree. First time I put that uniform on I thought "Good Heavens! I'm a marshmellow!" Other awkward moments have been waking the wrong room up to give them breakfast and really hating it when men answer the door in their pjs or won't turn on the lights. I just about told one groggy dude to pull his pants up. Other times have been wonderful, especially when I could bring food to a mom and her kids, or someone who is in State College because they are alumns and just wanted to come back for a time. I think the interactions with people have been my favorite part of this whole thing, which is why I'm training to be a server and should start that soon. While I can do the routine work and kind of like it, my favorite times are when I can interact with others and serve them somehow.

The attitude towards work is very different than any place I've yet been employed. So far my credentials include: janitor, research/lab tech person, kids crafts store, writing tutor, RA, and camp counselor. Of all of these, janitor is closest to what I am actually doing each day. However, the setting of Hershey E Free under the superb leadership of Dain Kulp and Ron Hoover, combined with crazy detailed work people like Nate Davidson, Mike Wolgemouth, hard and long and never weary workers like Josh Wagner, eternally cheerful like Amy Nicholson and Hannah Ray (oh those Disney song hours in the bathrooms!), just seem a bright contrast to the attitudes that can spread like a cold in a day care center in the Inn! Part of it could be encapsulated in a conversation I had with a server when I was lamenting not being able to hang out with the retired faculty that eat lunch with us every Wednesday. She said, "Why should you care? You'll make better money doing this. I wouldn't do this job if it weren't for money." Hm... in a way, that is very, very true. Working in a restaurant doesn't exactly count as anyone's top ten favorite things to do. Getting paid is absolutely imperative. And yet, why shouldn't hanging out with a group of older folks who take an interest in your life and you in theirs be more interesting and desirable than making tips over at this table?

Another thing about restaurants: if they pretend to be fancy... they probably aren't as fancy as they want you to think. Or half as clean.

There is quite a cast of characters who work in the kitchen. It's a whole world unto itself and I get confused if I see them wandering around real life without their different uniforms on, whether its Chef Andy without his white jacket and fluffy hat (so I don't know real names of these things yet) or Samantha or Gail without their brightly colored, cold side hats and checkered pants, or even me at the end of the day when I change into normal clothes again. Gail would be one of my favorites. She's woman from China who knows what she wants and gets it, but also remembers your name and asks you cheerfully every morning how you are doing and tries so hard when you need something from her. Chef Andy is an older chef and sings when you get there in the morning over his eggs and homefries. He also remembers names and when you ask how he is, he replies (without fail to everyone) "Oh much better now that you're here!" There is Mills, the son of a military family who walks and behaves as if he was in it himself. Wes and Jon are the clowns, the perpetrators and the brunt of every joke and snide remark that goes on. It's an interesting crowd and one that I enjoy studying, all the while desperately keeping my head out of the drama. You can smell it in the place but I'm still ignorant as to what it is and where it started, for which I am quite grateful. If I can keep this up till next summer, it promises to be excellent!

Monday, July 12, 2010

India: HOINA, Vizak, 12 Days

It is hard to believe that in 12 days I will be leaving JFK airport and flying 18 hours to India. Hard to believe? I suppose I should call it impossible to believe. I don't think I've even talked about preparing for it that much. 8 undergrad students. 2 grad students. Andhra Pradesh on the coast for 3 weeks. In a children's home started by a Penn State alumn.

I don't suppose many will have been apart of this, but I was thinking about Mom's geography/missionary class in co-op back in the day. I was remembering the day we did races and games with different bags of laundry and buckets of water balanced on our heads that we pulled up from the creek behind the church. I was out to beat Tim Warren if it killed me. I think we both attacked the other with the water buckets at the end of the day.

And remembering Aradhna music group and the cd of worship music I have from them in Hindi. Their visits to the Efree church was one of the first times that I felt... what word would express it?... solidarity? Unity? Connection? Belonging? to a church and Body of Christ far beyond the small spaces I had known.

And now I am going through Penn State for 3 weeks. 21 days. Four of which are travelling to and from. A language I don't speak. A landscape I can't imagine. Knowing that I have only known spaces that were either American or frightfully close (Denmark at age 5 does not count).

A joy in going is that I will be sharing it with my two housemates in Patty's Place next year. Both Sarah Bednarcick and Maggie Cox will be on the team of students, for which I am so grateful and excited! Maggie and I took a picnic tonight and talked about going, about all the prep work we haven't done and need to do, finding nurses pants, buying baby powder, thinking about how to shave while we're there, how will the food affect our stomachs... and just getting our minds into believing that this inevitable and significant change is coming.

But then again, I remember something that Nellie (the Peace Corps recruiter at PSU) told me: don't expect too much from it. You might go and "feel" or see nothing. It might just be okay. It might even be a below average trip. That's okay. Just wait. Wait a few weeks, or months, or years. Wait until you go somewhere else. Wait until you meet someone from there on the street in an American city. Wait until you are in class and you understand a book that you've never understood in that way before. Just wait and don't count too much on your emotions to tell you what was and was not an important trip.

And so I ask for prayers. I ask for prayers in the confusing and slow preparations and in the many ways I have no idea what I'm going for or what I'll be "doing". It is hard to even know what to ask prayer for.

So a vague list, that I trust will be filled in by you:

-preparation itself is confusing and I don't even know where to begin. Pray that I find time and efficiency and quality prayer before I go.

-I am very easily emotionally drained and I know this will be hard. Pray that our spirits hold and that we will see how best to witness to and love our teammates and the people at HOINA.

-Clarity of learning. This trip may have very little to do with what we bring to India but what India wishes us to take back with us through learning, through experience. Pray that we will learn as we ought, humbly, and see what needs to be done with it.

-The return process. We start school four days after returning. Jet lag. All three house mates moving into Patty's Place (our home) all at once on said jet lag.

-Reverse culture shock. First week of class. Sounds like a crazy recipe for disaster. I'd like it to be a fun adventure.

And what am I looking forward to (that maybe I will regret later)?

-Wearing Indian garb (pronounced "churies")

-Learning to play cricket

-Buying chai tea for less than 50cents every day.

-Reading aloud from books with the girls.

-Taking too many pictures.

-Meeting and playing with the girls at the school.

-Chapel and prayer with the kids.

-Arguing and laughing with Andy Goga.

-Helping with meals.

-Seeing mountains and the Indian ocean.

-Writing while I'm there and putting together a project when I get back!

Soon. 12 days. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Love Letter

Dear Websters Bookstore and Cafe,

I heard today that you are dying. I wanted to say before you are good and truely gone, as you are breathing your final breaths, that I love you. I couldn't let you go before I told you that.

I have so many memories with you. Of you. From you. In you. Around you. When I walked through your front door my first week of school three years ago, I knew State College was going to be home. Of all the things I have spent money on, I spent money on you. I bought books. I bought tea. I bought my first fruit smoothie in town right there and drank it in the front window while talking with Sarah Joy. Do you remember the first book I bought there? I don't. There have been so many. Many many hours of joy. And my first finals week, I went there on a Tuesday Night with all the Allen Street lights aglow and it was cold and I was scared to walk by myself so I waited inside until a friend came to go with me. I drank tea and read a book and thought, "My God, this world is a good place." And Sojourn Forum in the back corner, pushing our welcome past closing time. I took Emma to see you last week, remember? I brought Emma, the highschool student, and she said "I could come here knowing that Websters exists." Ben and I going there after our walk in the snow, cold and hungry, and eating a sandwich instead of watching the super bowl and being so much happier in that purple evening than anywhere else on earth. And the times I met with Katie Fisher and caught up with her on life. And trying to buy Katie Stick a mug of tea and she wouldn't let me. Seeing Charlotte Holmes at the counter and you mixing up our orders so that we got to talk longer and have something to laugh about together, professor and student all in an accidental and joyful encounter. And Seth Martin. Oh my, I feel like he is disappearing with you. I would come in to have him know who I was and say hello. He gave me cyan pepper tea when I had a runny nose and was so unhappy. And the days when I couldn't wake up and was depressed because of my parents... I would drink Elaine's blend and be comforted. So comforted. So many hours and days and dollars and coins. I am a college student. I don't have hours and days and dollars and coins. But I gave them to you anyway.

I loved your mugs. They were blue and green and brown and fit just so in my hand. I could even get a mug to go, one that had the world on it. Remember the time that Eric Levi and I drew on our mugs to show each other where we had been in the world and where we were dreaming of going? And smell of coffee and paper and people and fresh soup being heated up in the back. The smell of people smoking cigarrettes right outside the front door. The sound of rain off the front eaves and people sitting out there anyway in the coldest weather. The fog of the front window when it was warm and toasty inside, and cold and wet outside. The abundant, badly made fliers for local events. Local artwork that was strange and out of the ordinary. Seeing proffessors and friends and pastors and workers and everyone passing each other at the counter.

And when I was supposed to meet people at Panera, I would get tea with you and then go there. I liked your tea better. Always your tea was better.

I'm sorry Jesse and I broke the tea strainer. We didn't mean to.

I can't remember many times that I walked through and didn't buy anything. I'm sorry for the times that I did, though.

I am sorry for the times I cheated on you with Starbucks. I can say that nothing statisfied like you did. Nothing. I would take back every frappacino I have ever had in my life if that meant you could stay alive and well.

And the books. I bought a first edition of a Lloyd Alexander book. I wouldn't have known if the kind man at the counter who always finds me in the children's section hadn't told me. And Katherine Patterson. And almost every birthday and Christmas present for my siblings in three years. I even bought my dad a present there just last week. Tea. Royal Bengal Tiger. A new favorite. The education cartoons. My little brothers very first Calvin and Hobbes book that he bought with his own money. A copy of Shadow Spinner to give to a friend. Finding lots of Dorothy Sayers tucked away. The only store I know that stocks philosophy books.

I wrote most of my stories within your walls. I would sit at a desk for hours to escape my dorm room. I wrote most of the second college story and all of its revisions in a back side corner. I started drafts for Hummingbird and for The Women while drinking tea. I tried to think about Gwyn and her life on a dark and gloomy day there as well. Where am I going to go now?

I loved you so much I even started leaving tips in the tip jar. You were my first mention of why I loved State College when I moved. You and trees. What other business in the world would be equated with trees in my heart?

It can't be true. Please tell me it isn't true. You can't leave me.

Ever Yours,


Sunday, June 06, 2010

"Christian Aesthetics"; or Thoughts on Apartment Living

I have been living in State College nearly two weeks. #12 Grimmauld Place (the code name for my apartment on Vairo Blvd) is clean and in order. Jillian and I are settling into a routine of very different work lives and cooking and eating and cleaning and spending vast amounts of time at the Duplex in town. Much of it has felt like "vacation" to me and not like living in a real place at all but it begins to feel less and less so as I go about grocery shopping weekly, buying my own milk, doing laundry in machines right by my room, and having/using/cleaning a kitchen. While there are overlaps and similarities between this kind of living and the life of a residence hall dweller (I have turned the living room into a kind of "office" that my old desk used to be), there are also some significant differences. I think comparisons will grow as I move farther and farther through time away from that brief three year period of res life existence, but one that has been brought to my attention is the way hospitality and aesthetics are considered.

The word "aesthetics" (especially when I say it with confidence) makes me sound really smart and pretentious. However, I've had my own fear of that word carefully and thoroughly dismantled as I've read "Rainbows for the Fallen World" by Calvin G. Seerveld this past week. I'm not finished reading the book, but his remarks on the role of art and creativity as work in Christian life have been humbling and perspective giving. One thing he has discussed in the second chapter "Obedient Aesthetic Life" is the necessity and glory of a full, complete life faithfulness to Christ that includes a new way of experiencing and knowing even our bodily senses. That is what he means by an "aesthetic Christian life": a life where the things we choose to see, the things we choose to touch, the things we choose to hear, the things we choose to smell, and felt, are not only chosen "things" but are renewed by seeing Christ's creative and sustaining hand in them. This can be done, he suggests, by even seeking out the humor and comedy in life, in doctrine, in worship, rejoicing even as God rejoices in His creation. I've really appreciated that none of this gets and abstract head nod from him in the book. He backs it up with sections on very immediate areas that this can be practiced, places we desperately need to consider how God would have us live in this world, without giving a new list of "laws" for us to follow.

-What do our clothes say about God's delight in the created world?
-When we use styrophoam cups, what are we saying about man's craftmanship? When we serve the food that keeps us alive on such utensils?
-How and when does eating food make us delight in that food and not in its utilitarian uses?

These are simply leading questions and areas that we could consider how to give God glory in everyday things. He isn't saying we have to go buy fine china, but it makes me wonder exactly why I would choose a mug over a paper cup if I could, and even more so a mug that has a nice handle and fits in my hand over just any mug, and why if my friend Maureen (or Sarah!) made it in her ceramics class I would enjoy that tea even more than I would in almost any other container. Not elitism, which, as he points out, is an aweful offspring of humanism that espouses man's continual movement upward on our invisible tower of babel towards God. I whole heartedly agree with Seerveld when he says that this is not to take our time and attention away from other things but it is a practice to infuse all things, from evangelism to preaching to quiet devotions, teaching, etc. It is not to be an "either/or" between the question of sending money to world missions and making our worship places beautiful. And it is not, on the small scale, means that for poor college students we must go out and spend heaps of money to have "beautiful" or "high end" things. That is consumerism. I think it has much more to do with taking what we do have and making of it what we can in the moment, buying, as we do, much of our food on coupons in the local paper and clothes by second hand and hand-me-downs from friends and dumpster diving to find our couches to glorify God in the made and crafted things.

All of this seemed to speak to the different way I've experience apartment life than residence halls, and even shed light on some of the smaller things that irked (or delighted) me about those three years. There is a lot more room for crafting a space around this kind of awareness in one's own apartment. Jillian and I unwittingly participated in this desire when we cleaned like crazy women the first day we had a chance in our summer home. There was greater ease, greater pleasure in having a place when it was clean, the dishes were put away, and we had a candle lit on the side table. While I valued the housing staff in Simmons Hall, there was something important about cleaning the place myself and feeling responsible for its appearance and atmosphere that I couldn't have sharing a building with 600 people. Res Life at Penn State, to their credit, really wants to make life a communal and even "aesthetic" experience though I don't think that last word is on any of their res life goal sheets. It isn't always possible in a res hall, but they try by giving us the chance to paint our hallways or make us do bulletin boards (I can't believe I'm saying this!) or door tags or at least getting the trash into the trashcans! An aesthetic life is, in its truest form, a life of considering others better than yourself.

My second response to thinking these things was feeling guilty and inadequate. I am not a very excellent person to craft a living space around such ideas. Going into Barb Baldner's home last week to make cinnamon rolls was itself a beautiful time, getting covered in flower and deliciousness, made possible by a very beautiful kitchen. She has many details in her home that communicate ease and hospitality from small pictures to the choice of her wallpaper, things that I would be very bad at choosing on my own. I imagine that making her house so easy and welcoming through sensual details has come over time and with practice.
( Barb Baldner, my Navs discipler, teaching me how to properly roll cinnamon roll dough!)

 (The flour was flying and ended up on my nose!)

And it isn't just possible in one's own home. Again, I think of apartments that college students live in. It says a lot about values when you walk through someone's space. I visited another friend's apartment just yesterday and enjoyed how they arranged their shoes on the staircase going into the entrance, the color blue of their bowls, flowers in a vase, and pictures everywhere. The space wasn't huge but it was enough and they had clearly made an attempt to make it a good place to be in.

But as anyone who has lived with me can tell you, I am a terribly messy person. Not dirty, but my things tend to clutter up and my books fall over from their standing orders and my clothes fall out of the closet, and I tend to forget details in their entirety. Whatever am I to do? One thing I considered was that each has their own way of participating in this. Our WVA friend and faculty member, Mark Bertrand, does this through caring passionately about the production and printing of his Bible ( His wife, Laurie, through more craftiness than I've seen in anyone else I know (! I'm looking forward to living with my house mates for Patty's Place in the fall, with Sarah's care and attention for details and creativity, from making her own purses and welded and soldered bracelets (say "soldered" as "saudered", carefully and with attention. Isn't that a wonderful word?) and making each of the house inhabitants our own mugs, each colored to her interpretation of our personalities. Maggie cares for her appearance, for style and clothing; not in vanity but in wanting beauty in what she chooses to put on. It is very possible for part of this to be taking delight in the appearance of another, in the well chosen summer dress or head band or whatever.  My current house mate for #12, Jillian, does it not through visible details (I insisted on the candles) but through an appalling skill in the kitchen (ours is currently covered in flower, dough, and the smell of yeast from her bread baking adventures!) that feeds many college bellies almost completely out of her own pocket. Even the Duplex, a place not associated with care for details or aesthetics especially if you pitched it to them as such, does act on a desire for it in their expertly assembled sound system for our frequent movie nights.

I'm left asking the question of what my role in all of this glory giving to God is in this new area of apartment living. I'm not good at any of the things I just listed, so I suppose I can begin by making sure that I am paying attention enough to enjoy and point it out when I find it. But that seems like it is not enough. I want to not just enjoy but participate in the making of such a living.

Perhaps I can start with making some of those Ray classic chocolate and butterscotch chip cookies!

Friday, June 04, 2010

Bear Story

As you know, this story will include a bear. This bear, as the title of the story, will play a central role. Sorry for spoiling it but you must know that this is one of the most magnificently absurd things I have experienced.

I received a text from Mooney saying that there were folks going camping. I was immediately in on the plan and went back to my apartment after filling out work paper work to throw a sweatshirt, socks, and my glasses in a backpack. Mooney and Robbie appeared outside of #12 Grimmauld (code name for where I'm living this summer) and we visited Walmart to purchase the obligatory smore foods. While there, Mooney and I again discussed how we would handle being attacked by a bear. We had gone on a short trek up the side of a ridge just the week before and had heard strange animal noises down the ridge the other direction and this had sparked a long and humorous imagining of what it would mean for Dana to drive stick shift to get Mooney (who had valiantly defended her from attacking bear) to the hospital for severe mauling. Robbie laughed at said at least we should try not to mock anyone like Elisha and get bears called out on us. Mooney didn't know this story and it was shared with gleeful violence attached.

After many delays, we made it to the Firetower in Rothrock State Park at 9:45 or so. We sat in the dark for a long while until some other came. Started the fire, took a short walk in the woods to an overlook (which was, as I'm sure you can imagine, rather dark and gloomy with very little to see), and enjoyed not saying much of anything and eating. Our company was this: Jason Hunter, Eric Mooney, Robbie Parks, Carren Stika, and myself. Jason cooked some excellent chicken in tin foil in the fire. Carren had brought hotdogs and we ate them off of sticks since there wasn't any bread. Lots of chocolate was consummed. And then, heavy with food and warmed by the fire in the heavy, storm promising winds, we decided it was time to bed down.

The chose spot was in front of a small cabin near the base of the fire tower. It was locked but we thought that if it really did rain we could get on the porch pretty easily. One place that was considered was under a pine tree away from either of these locations and toward the start of a trail, but it was rejected when we realized that most of us didn't have ground mats. Here is the location: Jason and Robbie were by the cars. Mooney and Carren were moving her hammock over to the cabin. I was ahead of the lot with all my things in my hands moving towards the cabin. And just as I got to the edge of the trees, the cell phone tower blinked in just the write way to illuminate a moving shadow. My heart caught but I was certain I was seeing things (having just scared myself silly by thinking about the book "No Country For Old Men"). I turned on Jason's head lamp and there indeed was a black bear caught in walking right across the grass where we would have been sleeping in five minutes. I backed up and got back to the cars yelling "Guys! There is a bear!"

Jason and Robbie dropped what they were doing and tried to shine the light on the bear. Mooney and Carren didn't seem to hear though and kept walking towards the cabin. We all started yelling and they stopped. My heart was racing and I had no idea what we were going to do next. So we just stopped and watched it for a few moments. Mooney and Carren finally moved over towards us and we had the cars between us and the bear. But the bear wasn't going away! It just stayed there even while we put lights on it and talked and yelled and had no idea what to do. The food had just been put away and we could only imagine it had smelled things cooking and had come to find us.

We were all moving and confused and weren't sure what to do. When the bear wouldn't leave, Mooney finally said, "Get in the car." I didn't move and at that moment the bear started coming towards us. "Dana! Get in the car!" I ran to Jason's car and the doors were locked. "Jason!" I yelled but Mooney's door was open first and I lept in and kept my eyes on the bear. I heard Jason yell, "Dana, you have to get in or no one else can!" I realized that I had stayed in the driver's seat and moved over. I don't know how Robbie got in so fast behind me and climbed to the back. Carren was in a moment later on my lap and we were laughing and clinging hands. I had not been too frightened until I saw Mooney and Jason get nervous. but we were all in cars.

That was when Mooney realized that Jason had his keys and so we were stuck for the time being with two packs outside of the car and the door wouldn't shut.


Jason called someone's phone and we were trying to come up with a plan. There were way too many plans going around when we realized that we no longer knew where the bear was. Jason thought he saw it by the fire. Then Carren and I screamed because it walked on our side of the car within four feet. Jason turned his car and and began to flash his lights. The bear backed up and began nodding its head and looked like it wanted to run at us. Jason revved his engine. The bear moved forwards and then back and then we all started the car horns at once. It ran off into the woods. We grabbed the packs as soon as we could. Mooney was quite brave in getting out the car at all in order to put out the last of the fire and get the backpacks. We were going back to State College.

We were about twenty feet down the road when this bear appeared again. It ran along side us and then out in front of Jason's car. It was big and lumbering. Mooney (a hunter) guessed 350lbs. It kept up at 20 miles an hour before disappearing again. We were flying now.

Jason took his time coming down the mountain after us. We stopped on 322 without a sound of cars in any direction. It was strange to see the busiest stretch of road in State College so empty. I got out of the car and laid in the middle of the road laughing. It seemed safer than anything else from the past hour had been and I was so relieved that everyone was safe and laughing at the ridiculousness of how we had all behaved in our fear. Jason caught up and called Mooney. "What is Dana doing?!" "Umm... I think she is letting out some jitters."

Seidle was still up when we got back to the Duplex. Mooney lept into his arms and started telling him how we had all almost died. Then he backed up and attempted to tell the story in a way that emphasized his manliness and defense of the helpless. Jason made it a comedy where he attacked the bear with a hatchet and Carren knocked it out with her maglight. Robbie just thought people were funny and wasn't scared at all. I was alternately the hero for seeing the bear in the first place or the brunt of much teasing because of how fast I got in that car. It took us til 2:30 to fall asleep in the backyard of the State College neighborhood. We were still laughing until suddenly we weren't and everyone was asleep.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

State College

My life this summer is a strange one. I'm used to running off to various, crazy activities over the summer. I'm used to living somewhere completely new and strange to me. But this summer, I am returning to a place that is very familiar and beloved: State College. For those who might not know, this town is where I live during the school year. It is the home of Penn State University.

What am I doing here? Not school exactly. I will be living and working up here for a variety of reasons: mostly I just love this town. I forget how much sometimes during the school year because there is just so little space and time to enjoy it but I've always heard that summers up here are a well kept secret. The locals like the break from us, or so I understand.

Some definite perks:

1) The green and the rain and the sun. All in perfect proportions (finally!).
2) Mountains and hiking.
3) Websters in easy access.
4) Living in an apartment with an awesome roomie (Jillian)
5) More writing and reading than I've done in months and months and months.
6) Sleeping without duty nights.
7) A job! I'm waitressing at the Nittany Lion Inn.
8) An internship! I'm writing success stories for the Penn State Cooperative Extension (a community development/urban planning/agriculture project group)
9) Oakwood Presbyterian Church, where I'm becoming a member in a week!
10) The Duplex continually offering hospitality, food, and frivolity.
11) Friends hiding around every corner, even in the library.
12) Profs who still want to talk to you and help you work on projects.
13) Writing buddies (hurrah for Jesse and Becca!)

I'm very much looking forward to living this life in the coming months. India is also coming very soon (July 27th-August 17th).

What is happening with you this summer? Can I write you a letter?

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Long While: Reflections Upon Life As An RA

Junior year is completed. The seniors have graduated and I've technically moved into their place. Who knew such a thing were even possible? In the past year, I've decided to get a minor, to graduate "on time", to take more writing classes than ever before, look at going abroad after graduation, and travel to NYC alone. That last one is probably my most intense experience and one I'm, oddly, most proud of.

The year ended with a hard run. I wasn't sure the five papers would finish themselves but they did. I wasn't sure I would get home but I did. I wasn't sure I'd get a job for the summer and I... well. Still waiting on that one, but I'm looking forward to saying "I did." Ending things has never been easy for me. Ending my time as an RA was hard and strange. I'll miss the odd way that it gave structure to my life and direction for my work. I'll miss having a measure of how I'm doing, even when I see myself missing that measure everyday. I'll miss my team of RAs, even while I didn't know them half as well as I should have liked. I'll miss being challenged all the time to do things that scared me (like address throwing up people or talking to police or not knowing what the smell of pot is but still trying to call it in or...). I've been really grateful to have had that job though. Lots of learning took place and growing.

-Learning how to work under leadership that is very unlike yours.
-Getting the facts straight.
-Not getting personally angry with violations but calmly addressing them
-Receiving compassion again and again for jobs not well done. It's hard to take that!
-Being honest about my well-being with my supervisors.
-The need for teams of people working together, eating together, playing together.
-That where your room is located influences how you interact with people.
-People like to read things while going to the bathroom and get angry if you don't provide Stall Stories on time!
-Putting up bulletin boards that (get this) aren't ugly!
-Tea brings people together. So does stargazing and parties for Bilbo Baggins.
-It is okay to be a friend to your residents. It doesn't have to be awkward (this was a lesson I still needed to practice more)
-Housing staff are the best people you will ever meet. They are kind, loving, and have a servants heart I just had no idea how to respond to.
-Forgetting you are on duty is a bad idea. Keeping a calendar is a great one.
-Be friends with people with kitchens (ie your coordinator).
-Resting is important but keeping the door open is necessary at all times/be ready to be interrupted.
-Not being idealistic, but realistic. Not being fatalistic, but hopeful.
-To quote a wise person who quoted another wise person: "Life isn't a dartboard. It is a soccer net. God is really pleased with you hitting the soccer net anywhere you can. Not the impossible dartboard."

I'm sure that list could be longer. Two years is a long time.

And while it can be interpreted many ways, I am also really excited that so many of my girls wanted to be RAs. I can hardly count that all up to me (it pays so well!), but the fact remains that I had four girls apply for jobs, and one of them was placed in Atherton across the street!

So farewell 323 Simmons! Farewell Simmons Dining Hall! Farewell echoey hallways! Farewell amazing crew that cleans our bathroom messes! Farewell Supergroup meeting on Wednesday night! Farewell the sound of the Mifflin streak! Farewell noise requirements! Farewell GYSTing! Farewell the best team of people ever and the best coordinator ever!

Hello Patty's Place.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I told a friend yesterday that there was one thing in my life that could almost be given the distinction of keeping me sane this semester. It has been a long, complicated few months. The winter was very cold and icey and grey. The work was challenging. There was business and disconnection on all sides. There were more changes and travels than I have yet processed.

Ballroom dancing.

Kines 17 is the last of my needed gym credits. I've been wanting to take it since freshman year but it took being an honors kid to jump ahead of the line and get registered. I've swing danced before. There were those awkward attempts at learning waltz, foxtrot, and tango back in the ninth grade day for "The Waltz" at the Hershey Lodge. I even remembering Dr. Kearns attempting to teach me tango and dragged me across the floor, me stepping on his dress shoes every step of the way, when all we wanted was some swing music. I've finally learned some of those other songs and figured out how to move my feet to the music.

Jessi Morris and I were discussing this class yesterday. It is probably one of the greatest classes I've ever taken. Dancing is grand. It is the only way I've found that can take music which is completely invisible and wordless and give it a visible form. Any still art cannot accomplish it because it does not move and it lasts beyond a few moments. Dancing is just as fleeting as music, just as constrained to time, but embodies it and makes us appreciate it more. Sharing that with another person and the two of you having to give form to something like that is rather inexplicable and joyous.

I get to forget things while in ballroom. My life is far too filled with thinking and sitting activities that I forget how important and fun and necessary it is to move! I've never been able to enjoy this in running. Frisbee a bit more. Kayaking was great. But ballroom has this purpose of participating in music that one if both engaged in the mind and the body. One must listen to the music and then replicate it in the organized way that we've been taught: creative in the freedom of tried and tested structure.

Personalities and quirks and faults come very much to the surface when you have to dance with another person. While life seems to not exist when I focus on getting the steps right, other parts of myself that I don't like very much come out rather quickly and insist on being dealt with. It isn't about making you look good, it is about working together to get around the floor and enjoy it. Demanding that your partner be good so enhance your enjoyment of dancing is cruel.

Oh, and following is a good idea.

In the "Waltz" days of homeschooling, I began to see this and the fact that I am terrible at following has come back to haunt me. I can hide this pretty well when I know the steps. I can make it look great and make the guy look pretty good too but really I'm "back leading" and make us mess up eventually. I look down on someone who I consider to be a "bad lead" even when the truth is that they just aren't quite at the place to realize that I've wrenched the leading out of their hands and they don't have the confidence to wrench it back again. "I'm just a good follow for a good lead". That's ridiculous. Our instructor Jolene called me out on this when she used me for a demonstration. Apparently I both tried to lead Jolene and back lead, which meant I didn't trust her enough to wait for her movements but instead went on with my own. Boo! Tango is the clearest example of this where I did better when I learned the guy's part than in following.

I'm beginning to wonder if there is a direct correlation between how I dance and how I work with God. I'm pretty sure there is.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Poetry Month (Neglected)

It is April. It is Poetry Month. Last year at this time, I declared that I would post a poem every day for the next poetry month. It didn't happen. I didn't forget the month but I certainly forgot the resolution. I offer this poem as an introduction to the Festival of Faith and Writing that I attended last week. I also offer this as an introduction to my reconsideration of prayer: or rather, reconsidering my attitude and practice of it which is nothing like I have begun to realize it should be. Scott Cairns, the poet here, was a keynote speaker at the festival. He also gave a reading of some of his work, of which this was one that I have not gotten out of my head since.

Possible Answers to Prayer
By Scott Cairns

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Part I: Politics and Penn State

This will be a follow up blog to one I posted about a week and a half ago regarding some Penn State politics and the election for the student government president. I realized as I considered that post that there were really two posts going on and so for now, I'm splitting them up into two parts. This first one will revisit PSU. The second will look at Kingdom Theology and thoughts on Christ and Culture discussions, hopefully asking more questions than making statements.

First, I wish to state that ranting was not the best way to approach the topic. I appreciate David Adewumi's (the receipiant of my criticisms) response to the blog and his willingness to talk about it further. I hope my use of the blog will be more thought through in the future.

That being said, I would be interested in hearing responses to thoughts on Christianity and politics. For those of you who may have missed it, last week was a pretty well publicized election for the Penn State positions. Christians took particular note this year because one candidate (Adewumi) was outspokenly Christian and used it as a way to campaign for votes. Christian football players endorsed him in the collegian. He was at Navigators and was introduced by our club president as a "man of God" and then presented as the candidate to vote for. There was sudden interest from Christians in an election that had held no interest before. A brother was running and so it seemed as if there was a felt need to put him in that position. The contradiction? His opponent, Christian Raggland is also a believer. David noted this in his comment on my blog and it was something I had just learned when I wrote it the first time. However, my objection was not to Christianity playing a part in shaping each candidates ideas and beliefs. But I am sincerely questioning whether using identification with a particular faith group to elicit those votes. It seems to be based then less on qualifications (of which I am not questioning) and more on personal appeal. I also put forth the idea that perhaps this was a poor way to express ourselves to those who (at times) have legitimate criticisms of Christians and their behavior. This question has implications in a larger realm than simply Penn State. Is it permissible for a candidate to ever use personal faith to get votes? (This is a different question from letting faith influence ethics and policies so perhaps that one can be saved for another time).

Sunday, April 04, 2010


Before revisiting my last post, here is something to consider:

I love editing and revising. It is the hardest part to get to in the writing process but has always been the most exciting and rewarding for me. When I think about "writing", those moments are what the happiest meaning is comprised of.

See this news story to find out what it is about:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Encounter 2010: The List

At the International Arts Movement Encounter Conference in 2010, I encountered:
(The order of this list is random and does not reflect the ranking of those items!)

New York pizza
...and other classy food. The lay of a land often shapes itself around the food we eat in that place. While New York is so sprawling and finding a characteristic food is impossible, there were certain foods that were so wrapped up in my first impressions of the city that I felt they were worth mentioning. There was my first NYC Starbucks in Astor Place, the safe haven for my frazzled and shaking self to rest and recoup from my first metro ride and my first solo walk through some city blocks (I ordered a caramel frappacino); $1 pizza with Cameron, Courtney, and Forest near Grand Cooper Union (we discussed that there was some beauty in making pizza so fast and well that you could price it like that) in the back corner with the junior high kids with words on their shirts in glittery letters I couldn't read; the other pizza at the small store the first night on the way to Alphabet Lounge; Magnolia Cupcakes, the surprise Cameron and Courtney wouldn't tell me about until half way up the street in Greenwich we smelled heaven on the breeze; peanut butter sandwiches from Allie's house on my morning metro rides; the goat cheese on my sandwich at the coffee house where we went so often that the owner gave us a free latte; the chocolate cheesecake and mint tea around the corner from the IAM space when our feet were so tired.

Winthrop Artists
The first people I laid eyes on when I dragged myself and my suitcase into Grand Cooper Union were two curly headed chaps who looked about my age. When I registered behind them, I wondered if perhaps they were part of an answered prayer I prayed in the smelly Chinatown bus: I needed friends for the next few days. And they were. Cameron and Stephen came over not a minute later and sat down beside me on the only couch in that lobby area and introductions were made. In a few moments, Calli and Courtney came up and I had been offered their company for the duration of the conference. I took them up on it, following Cameron and Courtney around for pretty much all of it. They were from Winthrop College in Rock Hill, SC, each having lived in NYC before or visited the conference itself. Photography, non profit arts teacher and administrator for youth, and illustrator. Students and a graduate. They thought differently than me and I learned from the way they doodled their notes and expressed their thoughts. The first hours we spent together were in a coffee house, sharing stories and college experience, where our theology leans, our love of the arts and our craft, and reading aloud passages from "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" and "The Writing Life".

The Metro
This was the scariest, most challenging, and, therefore, my proudest aspect of the trip. It is strange even now how all my fears about this stand out as part of the things I learned from the trip as bearing the red, "most significant" badge somewhere in my mind. I encountered the unique mosaics that each station has along the walls; my favorite was wandering through a larger station where the mosaics depicted tree roots coming into the ground and the station and finding a way to live there. I encountered performers, one really good violinist, and an Italian band that people started dancing to. I encountered the homeless; my final day a man got on the metro and began to yell at all of us for taking up space in his "home" which turned into a folk tale about his wife who beats him and a way for him to ask us for money (definitely was ready to freak out during that one). I encountered the fun of traveling in a group; the most fun I had was when I read aloud the poetry winner for the Encounter (quietly) in a crowded subway to Courtney, and then when the PBU folks were there and we traveled for a bit. I encountered New York at night through my trips alone back to Allie's apartment. I encountered how scared I was of many things and the ability to fix my mistakes when I went the wrong way. I also encountered my own racism and this is the part that I am most ashamed to admit; there is no way to avoid that I considered myself "safer" the more "white people" were on there with me.

Fantasy Fiction
Yes, I revisited my beloved genre through Jeffrey Overstreet's "Auralia's Colors". I read it the last morning on the metro and on the bus ride to Philadelphia. It is not a genre (when well written) to be outgrown. I have missed it.

I did not stay in one place very long. I did not even get to go into any museums or very many tourist spots. But we wandered, taking the metro from one city into another (it seemed) and wandering the streets and finding interesting things to notice and remark upon. It was good for me to wander. My thoughts were wandering just as my feet were, trying to learn a city and a new way of thinking about art and faith at the same time. Again, I followed Courtney and Cameron in this and we went many places that had no remarkable name or appearance (mostly because there were too many things to notice) , suddenly rounding a corner, and finding something very worth exploring. We wandered the floors of the library this way (Hannah and Mom, do you remember doing this so long ago?), found the Guttenburg Bible and tried to read its print. I wanted to get caught sliding down bannisters but didn't have the courage to do it. We also wandered to the IAM space and helped an artist carry his installation up the stairs. We wandered purposefully through Grand Central so I could see it (it was rather a flabbergasting sight). Cameron made us wander at a rapid pace through Greenwhich in the dark for a very long ways so he could find a photography gallery. I wandered with the group from PBU and the ever dear Tim Hurd through a rather different, older, shorter part of NYC down towards the bay and wandered on the Highline, an old raised railway that has been turned into a boardwalk of sorts. Some stress and worry disappeared in those streets, easing out my tired feet, my head heavy with walking and sleep each night.

The Sky
The sky in NYC is hidden and focused up and thin above the tall buildings. It is hardly noticable, as if the city carries its own sun that runs through the streets and allies at certain times, turning dull electric orange with its fatigue. It was hard to notice the sky. Cameron noted when we had been blown about in dust and trash on a late night walk to the metro, that a city like this almost created its own weather patterns and ecosystems. It was its own living order and the sky and wind reflected that. There were no stars at night. There was never much reason to look up and the crowded sky scrapers held each peripheral vision.

Dreaming, Visioning
I'm not sure that "visioning" is a verb that is actually to be used but it is one of my favorites anyway. I was definitely in the company of dreamers during those few days. Some of those dreams I'm  hoping to talk about more on this blog. I was able to talk to some of my Nav staffers this morning and they asked about my break and realized how little I've been able to see how all of what I was learning could apply to Penn State. I rather miss having the people around me looking ahead 10 years and asking, "How then shall we live and make art?" What is success? What is making art with love? How shall we tell stories? It was a visionary group of people and it began to rub off in those hours of talking and thinking we did together. It was also how I love to spend time, trying to see ahead, trying to plan and dream up crazy plans that could change the way everything works. There is something very exciting and comforting simultaneously to write and think about these things in a group of people.

... more to come!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


  • Say You're One of Them by Uwem Akpan A hard book that made me wish I could close my eyes and stop the images I was reading. Powerful doesn't cut it. Devastating might work. (Please ignore the Oprah Stamp of Approval)
  • Auralia's Colors by Jeffrey Overstreet It can never hurt to read some good fantasy. I've heard the sequel is even better!
  • The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, Lovely in all respects and may be one of the best things that has happened in my life in the past two months.
  • Shadow Spinner by Susan Fletcher An old Sonlight Classic! Still just as good as I remembered.

Highly Recommended: The Readers List of the IAM Reader's Guild

What are you reading? Any recommendations or books to stay away from?

Thoughts on "Roadblocks": A Panel Event

This past Monday, the work of several months culminated in an event for the Schreyer Honors College: "Roadblocks to Conversation: A Panel Discussion on Faith and Student Life." I've been helping brainstorm and vision out this event since January, working with another friend and Steve Lutz, a campus minister with the Coalition for Christian Outreach here at Penn State. (Just to jog your memories, CCO is the group that was responsible for the project/community I lived in last summer in Ocean City). Together, we created a format, a topic, a vision, and gained the approval of the Honors Community to host it in the area that I live and work as an RA. I've been excited about this since we started. There is starting to be a shift in the way ministry is done here, focusing more on location and cultural groups rather than on the isolated ministries drawing people in. This also involves other ministries working together. The panel was to accomplish both of these things; drawing on the residents of Atherton and Simmons and designed/organized by folks from Navs, Cru, CCO, and the Honors College. The Dean himself acted as our moderator, being as he is fluent in these kinds of discussions from his academic role and his position as an Episcopal priest.

My job the night of was to be on the panel itself. We were looking at the role of faith in student life. Define that last term as you will. There were five of us: Andy (atheist), Katie (Catholic), Mattie (Jewish), myself (Protestant), and Munjireen (Muslim). We had met the Thursday before to decide on some opening questions. We didn't beat around the bush:

  • Why do you believe what you believe?
  • How does your faith/worldview impact your approach to schoolwork, jobs, life plans, etc?
  • If you could change a stereotype of your background, what would it be?
As much as I've thought and wrestled with these questions throughout my life, I found them incredibly difficult to craft into an answer that I could give out in two minutes in front of a group of my peers. That irked me a great deal but was excellent practice. Saturday I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to say the first one. My response was to want to give them a list of books to read to get my answer. That wasn't enough. Here was I, proud and haughty WVA alumn, and I really couldn't come up with anything worth saying! Lesson: never assume you know why you believe anything until you've actually practiced saying it. Outloud. To people who will most likely think you are crazy and/or dumb for saying so.

But the night was a success, my panic not withstanding. There were soft pretzels to consume, good company to talk with, great answers from the panelists and even better questions from the audience. There were about 35 folks there. I'd put about half of them as Christian, another portion as skeptics, another portion as atheists, another (small) portion as community leaders (like Dean Brady, Elizabeth Estell, Steve Lutz, etc). They were willing to discuss respectfully, passionately about everything that came up. We were faced with questions like, "Do you think it is ever okay to reevaluate a religion?" (I said, yes, because I'm a protestant and a big fan of the reformation), "What if you're wrong and you die" (yes, that was from another wva alum in attendance), "What happens if a person is not pursuing their calling", "How does science fit into all of this?" "Have the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts influenced your life as a student?" "How about the Iraq war?" "Can there be a just society as long as religion still functions?" I was impressed. There is an unfortunate tendency for such questions to never be asked. Who knew that there would be so many living on the floors around me who want to have these conversations across religious and ethnic lines, and really want to hear the answers? It was crazy and amazing and I could hardly sleep afterwards. Folks stayed for 45 minutes after everything was officially over, discussing the differences in Catholic and Protestant thought, what is the after life, why would a God design the world so that everyone is required to worship him, if there is such a thing a free will, and where to find more of these conversations that everyone had been wanting to have.

Above and beyond what we could ask or imagine? Yes.

It was so incredibly humbling to be up there and talking about my faith like that. It was exciting and joyous too. This is my heart's love and it is very hard to find when the right time to talk about such things freely is. In a place like this, all is allowed to be discussed. There are not the constraints of the authority figures in the classroom to prevent this, even subconscious fear of saying something wrong or offensive. We didn't even get to touch on why such a fear exists for all of us! But I have also been reminded in the reflection process, as if with a fading but potent echo, of something that Steve Lutz reminded us of as we sat around a table beside the tea counter in Redifer commons: are we out to have conversations? Or are these conversations out to preach the gospel and present Christ to the world? Do we want to have exchanges or do we want them to awaken to the truth that is the salvation of the world? No, we are out there talking and engaging because we are convinced with every ounce of our being that God has opened our eyes and made us new and that He has made the world good and that we need saving. I want that. It comes over pretzels and around panels and in the back corners of coffee houses and over dinners and late nights of Apples to Apples and movie discussions and homework and this shared life we have. We have been told: "Preach the Gospel; if necessary, use words." There is merit to that but not full truth. We must use our mouths. We must speak. We must listen and know those that we are being taught how to love. I have to learn how to do this in a more winsome and effective way, not letting my own ignorance and foolishness get in the way of Christ being seen. But words will be used.

I'm really looking forward to having these threads start spreading out and seeing where they lead. I'm excited for more folks to show up at Websters on a Thursday night to have more conversations and hear the truth even as I hear their thoughts. I'm looking forward to more panels and official events and seeing how God keeps moving in this wacky, wonderful world of Penn State.

PS. If you want to hear another take on this, Steve Lutz posted about it on his blog. He is discussing some of these changing ministry norms and talks about the panel in the last paragraph.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Philadelphia Walk

Written Yesterday Evening

I just returned from my walk with Lindsey. We wandered for three hours over the city, packing a dinner and getting tea at Coffee Bean on the same street as Independence Hall. I saw the liberty bell and toasted it with my peppermint tea. The day tasted like melting snow, wet earth, the rivers on either side of the city, trees brushing the air still-ly, and peppermint. We brought girl scout thin mints with us and ate them by the river, near the Irish statue, in the last bit of golden sun before it truly turned into sunset. There were lots of couples walking today, lots of runnings, a group doing a faux band photo shoot with a friend, dogs, and one couple playing loud music and slowly making out while sitting on a short cement barrier. Very awkward. The loveliest, most charming, walk came through the old parts of the city. All the red brick homes, the cobble stone streets, and the trees that lean across the roads to link fingers. There are old churches and opened iron gates to let us into graveyards and old history. There are small paths between buildings, one way paths between the rows of houses that are quaint and clearly loved. There was a park full of children and their parents, just a small jungle gym with some trees and benches in the middle of the houses. No cars seemed to exist back in there. The kids were running and screaming in their brightly colored coats, hats, and stockings. Even the winter coats seemed to hint at spring. I was nearly run over by a young lad in a blue sweater and flying hair, racing a pink baby doll stroller along the cobble stones.

The buildings in Philly are short enough for the sun to fall between and find its way along the streets. It is good for the soul on these days to see such sun and walk in it.

Breaking for Spring

This year looks a tad different from past years. Instead of heading off  (usually south) for Navigators Spring Break, the right pieces fell into place for me to attend an arts conference in New York City. And so I went. Last Thursday, I abandoned the last two days of classes before break, rode a shady white van to New York, and made my way around the city for the IAM Encounter Conference. Now, I am hanging out in the lovely city of Philadelphia with Lindsey Smyth (and company), seeing a CCO metro Philly area director at work and loving every minute of it. I wish I could explain more of how exciting, challenging, and restful these days have been. I'm more and more sure that I am not a city girl, but it takes spending time in the city (and even loving that time) to see such a thing. I'll be glad when I take the train to Harrisburg and then to Hershey and our house on a hill where the night times are so quiet that they hang heavy outside our windows, almost louder than any city noise. (Though I would say that cities are not half as loud at night as State College on a weekend. Epic Fail SC, epic fail).

To come: my list of "encounters", Makoto Fujimura and a meditation on Love and Art, my Philadelphia afternoon walk, poetry and craft, Cities and Dana Ray, and more.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Lent Fail


I woke up groggily today. I was not ready to face the day. So I do as I normally do: hit the power button to the laptop, wait for the bright light to hit my eyes, perk me up a bit, and deal with any panic emails sent in the night. I typed in my address and password and hit enter. It was halfway through the page change that I realized that I had just been welcomed back to facebook. Epic fail. In my fatigue, my fingers had gone by habit to check facebook.

These days are rather harder than I thought. But then again, what else do you expect in a fast, especially when you've never quite successfully pulled a real one off?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Another year of the Jubilee conference has come and gone. I returned from Pittsburgh on Sunday, completely exhausted. What surprises me right now is that I do actually feel rested though the weekend itself was anything but restful. In fact, I was overwhelmed there as I had never been overwhelmed before. There was so much to learn and take in; so many old friends to catch up with; so many fantastic sessions; so many chances for conversation (and so many of those chances lost); so much unexpected fun and frustration. I was just stressed by how completely unpredictable one moment could be from the next. In many ways, it was the best Jubilee I have been to yet. It is equally true that it was definitely the hardest. I had much on my mind and heart going into this weekend. There were things at school that I was mulling over, from the ministry that is slowly finding its feet and focus in my building (from CCO partnerships) to my vague and frustrating thesis mulling and my current disconnect (due to time constraints) at Navigators. I was also trying to be with my dear ones from Ocean City Beach Project and others I have not seen in a very long time (like the fabulous Jen Davidson and run ins with Stephen Rayner). All in all, it was a rewarding, if exhausting time.

I think the highlight for me was hearing Makoto Fujimura speak on John 11-12 Sunday morning. I had been waiting eagerly to hear him speak and he was as eloquent as I imagined he would be after reading Refractions. He talked about Christ's compassion in weeping with Mary and Martha at Lazarus's tomb. He did not come with a "magic wand" seeking to solve the problem of death in one moment. Fixing the problem was not enough. Instead, he stood and wept with them. He mourned. Christ was anything but utilitarian. And in response to this gift of weeping, in response to him giving life, Mary (and Martha in a sense) offered the extravagance of perfume to annoint him for his death. Again, the further thing from being "useful", but a beautiful obedience and worship. I was reminded by these words and those of the other writers I listened to, the power of art, of writing, to worship and to weep with one another; that writing is a way of giving shape and body to grief and to worship in one motion; that to do so requires attention and compassion, neither of which is humanly achievable without Divine Grace. Ack... I sincerely wish I could express this as Mako did! This was an encouragement I desperately needed in the months when my writing has painfully stalled, and even blog writing is a chore that I find great reasons to avoid rather than complete.

Through this, I also accidentally came upon the realization that I was asking all the wrong questions concerning my thesis topic. I'm most definitely leaning towards doing some sort of creative writing project, giving myself a chance to creatively respond toward these ideas through fiction, poetry, and spiritual memoir, rather than trying to construct an analysis of community and identity. I am not at a place where I have enough experience to discuss this subject with any authority and so little has it been explored... I'm not even sure I know what I thought I was asking anymore.

Jubilee itself seemed to be a matter of gracious extravagance for me this year. The moments of joyful madness and play gave strength to limbs and heart, even as I wandered discouraged through so many of the weekend events. There was swing dancing on Saturday night, running into old aquaintances (like Stephen Rayner!) and dancing like mad (and pretty well, if I do say so) with some of the staff; there were two hours spent over chai tea with a dear friend rather than going to a session; there was apples to apples late in the night in which I won Rusty's green card every time; there was sprinting through open spaces to get hugs; there was buying the book of Wendell Berry poetry and mulling over it sleepily during the drive back.

Breaking by Wendell Berry
 Did I believe I had a clear mind?
It was like the water of a river
flowing shallow over the ice. And now
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see that what I thought
was the light is part of the dark. 

So all in all, it was a lovely time. It was hard to focus, to stay where I happened to be with both heart and body, and to focus on the people around me. It was scattered, but it eventually gathered and ended. My thoughts turn towards the Encounter Conference in two weeks and I am excited by the thought of going to New York City for the second time (the first was in highschool).


Two other wonderful friends of mine also responded to the weekend. The first are the thoughts of a CCO campus minister from Penn State. He was responsible for leading three sessions and brought two students (who were brilliant and so much fun) who would describe themselves as atheists. The second is a video by my friend Kent Mast (from OCBP last summer) which is a lovely appreciation of some key thoughts in the main sessions and how it all tied together to be a very worshipful weekend.

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Convicting Point

This was a blog post that rather cut me to the core. Enjoy!

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year ala Philadelphia Snow

Not writing a blog post on January 1st seemed inappropriate. However, I was not quite sure how to begin yet another year of online composition. Previously, I've done "Year in Reviews" but found my answers this year to be a bit lacking. They shall not be shared. Take your complaints to the editor.

In its stead, as you sit around your houses, verbaling espousing new years resolutions and inwardly avoiding all nagging demands of commitment, eating the last of the Christmas goodies, reminicing about past years, and drinking your sparkling cider or other beverage of choice, you can be entertained by my Philadelphia celebration. It acted as a 24 space between the 30 and the 31st and neatly capped off the year.

This past year, Philly as seen more of me than I had imagined that it would. I have also seen more of it than I had imagined I would. The two are not exactly the same thing, though at this exact moment I am baffled as to what the difference may be. It began with excursions to outlying villages such as Fort Washington, first in May (to see Tim, Leah, Kristina, Jon, and the other Hurd family), then in August (same), and then in early November to attend the Philadelphia Biblical University's Worldview Conference (with previously stated Hurds and Miss Mundell) and then to drop in on Lindsey Smyth. Now this Lindsey character was a staffer at the Beach Project, my home this past summer. She is now the Area Director (ooooooooo, aaaaaaaaah) of the metro Philly/South Jersey regions for the CCO, abiding in the interesting region of South Philly. The November trip was the first time I had spent any recognisable time in the actual city. I rather liked it. Philly is its own world, completely unique unto itself. Most cities are like that, I have found, but Philly has quite a history and current goings on that it has a particularly strong personality. This personality resists judgement; is not particularly welcoming; is undoubtedly attractive and strong.

The thing about Philly is that while it has its own unique character, it is also rather diverse in how it plays itself out. South Philly seemed to be a really dynamic expression of this. Or perhaps I just associate it with my first hair raising trip to Lindsey's house in the dark, where I drove the wrong way down a one way street, failed to parallel park correctly, and couldn't find the right house. Arriving a second time on her door step (while the parking issue was the same), was a much more lovely experience. I was there to celebrate the Beach Project with a small reunion. I had seen most of the folks present at some time during the semester but it was lovely to be with them all again. Risa (my roommate), Lindsey, and I cooked up a Beach Project classic for dinner (egg plant parmesian) and by 6pm eight of us were gathered around the table to share what crazy things God had been up to over the past few months. Though the location was different, the sense of security, hospitality, and joy that marked the Beach Project community was very present. It has been quite the semester for us all. We gathered in the living room afterwards, full of warm eggplant (I assure that eggplant tastes better than the name implies) and laughing, crying, ranting, sympathizing in turn. I forget how much God taught me through these people, through this past summer, until I am among them again. It can be hard to remember when very few in my direct circle at school even remember that I had spent my summer in Ocean City, encountering things I didn't know I needed to encounter. I have grown in ways necessary for all that unfolded for the ministry I have been able to participate in at Penn State this semester.

The guys eventually left and the girls enjoyed a long night of talking, book recommendations, a trip to Wendys (where they were out of frosties, frenchfries, and spoons), McDonalds, personality types, and the like. In the morning, we slept in, ate pancakes from homemade batter, saw Risa off to the airport, and stopped by a local coffee house. The driving let those of us unfamiliar with the area get to enjoy the strange inconsistencies, quirks, and life of Philly without being responsible for the driving. To quote Lindsey: "Driving here is like performing in a circus without rules. I love it!" Weeeelllll... I wouldn't be able to live there, but the strange way parks crop up out of nowhere, the way the trees stand self-consciously behind small fences, the way the sky scrapers reflect the sky and look like they are full of snow, make it a place that I can somehow imagine having an affection for. This is even including my intense hatred for the roads and traffic which had me gridlocked behind City Hall for a very long time. It was the first time in my life that I think I truly experience panic (but that is another story for another time). Even with all of this, I was sorry to leave when the time came.

The 24 hours there were a reflection on the semester, the summer, the year, but one we were able to share together. We scattered to our homes to be with family and other friends but I sense that those hours were the true marking of a change in time. Weariness, fatigue, doubt, and fear mended themselves in the background. I am more than a little grateful for those folks in my life and for the freedom I have among them. While I have various "resolutions" or desires for the next year (ex. reading more Doestoevsky), I think keeping an awareness up for His community will be key. I want to be aware of it and seek it out, knowing that in those places the growing and changing happens. It comes everywhere: my dorm hall, my family (key!), at Navs, next year in Patty's Place, discipleship, the local church (Oakwood at school and wherever I may be in the summer), my writing workshops... looking for these will make this quite an exciting year.

And to quote the spiritual that Alex sang the last Sunday in 1st Pres of Ocean City (which I take to be talking about my Savior and His provision through His people):

"I've been washed up/ I've been beat up/ I've been misunderstood./ But with you I belong/ and you help me be strong./ There's a change in my life/ since you came along."