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,