Wednesday, June 29, 2011


he tells her that she's beautiful
and she ducks her head and smiles
she knows that he means it
but she can't quite believe it
she doesn't see it for herself

some people have a way with words
she has a way of being
there's a light that shines within her
and it sets his skin on fire
some people have a way with words
but she doesn't have the words to say
that she's feeling something between like and love

the moon mimics her tonight
it smiles gently down
as it hides coyly behind
a cloud gliding by
and he gazes at the glow

some people have a way with words
she has a way of being
there's a light that shines within her
and it sets his soul on fire
some people have a way with words
but she doesn't have the words to say
that she's feeling something between like and love

he hears music when he's around her
her smile is a melody
as days melt into weeks
all she can see is him
and all the things they've left unsaid can wait

some people have a way with words
she has a way of being
there's a light that shines within her
and it sets his heart on fire
some people have a way with words
but she doesn't have the words to say
that she's feeling something between like and love
there's not a real word for it
but it's real enough to her
she is falling
oh, she is falling
falling for him

Monday, June 27, 2011

I could get used to this . . .

I've been to a few Christian concert events, like Soulfest, and i went to an Amy Grant concert when i was in middle school. But i've never been to a real concert, one where my friends and i said, "Hey, this band we like is playing in our town. Let's buy tickets and go!"

Until last night.

A group of my friends decided to go to the Owl City concert, opened by Unwed Sailor and Mat Kerney. It was at the House of Blues in Boston.

We wanted to make sure that we'd get a good spot, somewhere near the stage, so we showed up three hours early, prepared to sit on the sidewalk in the heat and humidity until the doors opened. We were a big group of friends, we all had phones and digital entertainment devices, some of us even had food and drinks. So we figured we'd be fine. Sure, it wouldn't be as nice as sitting on squishy, overstuffed couches, in air conditioning, with waitresses bringing us cool drinks. But we didn't mind and had decided it was worthwhile if we got a good spot for the concert. We had just settled in when this big guy in a suit came out of the building and offered us free passes to the VIP lounge. Believe me when i tell you that it is even cooler looking when you're there than it is in the pictures.

We sat on squishy, overstuffed couches, in air conditioning, with waitresses bringing us cool drinks. (Of course, we had to pay for the food and drinks, but for a VIP lounge they were pretty reasonably priced). There were bathrooms, there was free WiFi, and we still got to be some of the first people in.

It's surprising how quickly you can become accustomed to luxury. I'm now wondering why people don't offer me free exclusive passes to fancy things and places more often. I'm wondering how i can make this a part of my regular life. "What? Waiting in line at Dunkin Donuts? Isn't there a secret back room where i can sit until my order is ready to be brought to me on a tray?"

I can tell you this much: i'm going to be three hours early to everything for the rest of my life from now on.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Because I Said So

As stated in an earlier post, i have issues with the position (held by some Christians, but not all) of absolute biblical inerrancy. I won't restate my earlier disclaimers in their entirety, but i will sum them up in case you are too lazy/stupid/both to go back and read them:

Disclaimer 1: I like the Bible and find it to be greatly important in my life. I am not trying to be disrespectful of the Bible, Christians, or faith.

Disclaimer 2: I am not a Bible scholar, i have no degrees in theology/religion/philosophy/scripture/etc. I've just been studying the Bible as an amateur for 21 years, and have spent at least four hours a week nearly every week of my life in church.

I'll start by reiterating my earlier complaint: we ("we" shall hereinafter refer to "Christians") believe that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible says that it is inerrant.

Setting aside the fact that this is a pointless circular argument, let's actually examine the Biblical claims of inerrancy.

They don't exist.

Sure, there are passages that point to the reliability of Scripture, but they are both few and misleading. For example, this passage in Psalms:

     The words of the LORD are pure words,
          Like silver tried in a furnace of the earth,
          Purified seven times.
               Psalm 12:6

This passage comes from the Psalms, which are a bunch of poems in the Bible. For those of you who have never heard of poetic license, click on the link and then go yell at a teacher. For those of you who know what i'm talking about, let's all remember that "pure" and "inerrant" are not necessarily the same thing, that the Psalms are full of soaring hyperbole, and that there is some debate about which parts of the Bible can be considered the Word of God and which parts are (important, valid, but not quite divinely spoken) commentaries.

Next, we'll look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."

2 Timothy is part of the New Testament. At the time when Paul wrote this letter to Timothy, the "Scripture" consisted of the Old Testament (and possibly the Apocrypha, the legitimacy of which has been widely debated in the Christian Church). So did Paul mean that only the Old Testament was "given by inspiration of God", or did he also mean to include the letter that he was writing to his friend? Much of the New Testament, in fact, is made up of letters. Imagine if, two thousand years after you died, people were debating over which of your emails they should use to guide their lives. Sure, Paul was divinely inspired in many ways, and he had a lot of good stuff to say, but he's also the guy who said that women should not be allowed to speak in public and that they should keep their heads covered at all times. I'm not saying that we should throw out everything he ever wrote just because he made a few bad calls. I am saying that we can't take everything he said at face value, because he was only a man and all people make mistakes from time to time. That's where discernment and the Holy Spirit come in.

So let's spend some time talking about what the Bible looks like, as a document. Parts of it claim to be (again, the Bible itself is making the claim) more or less direct transcriptions of what God actually said we should do and believe. Assuming that the transcriptionist got every word perfectly, that was still many thousands of years ago. Parts of the Bible have been lost. It only exists now because for many, many, many centuries it was copied out by hand over and over. It has been translated again and again and again. Not all of the versions that we have now are actually translated from the original texts. And it was written in a very different cultural context from ours. Even if we could all agree on the correct translation of a particular word, the connotations of that word may well be wildly different here and now than they were there and then.

Again, i am not saying that we should throw out the whole Bible just because some words might not mean what we think they mean. I'm saying that we should spend less time and energy obsessing over exact words. If exact words were that important, don't you think that God would have designed language in such a way as to reduce all this confusion and controversy? If exact words were that important, don't you think that God would give everyone a decoder ring as soon as they became a Christian? If exact words were that important, don't you think we could simply read the Bible and understand it and have no need to attend church services, read commentaries or apologetics, form Bible studies or discipleship groups with one another, or even pray?

The Bible is great, but it can't replace fellowship, discussion, debate, or prayer. We need one another, and we need the Holy Spirit. The Bible simply gives us a starting point for the conversation.

There are also parts of the Bible that are written by people, and do not in any way claim to be transcripts of anything that God has said. The authors were men of God (i'm not being sexist by saying "men" instead of people, because as far as i am aware there are no books of the Bible written by women), who walked closely with Him. Many of them had actually known Jesus personally and wrote stories of his life and teachings. Of course, these stories were written a few years after his death and resurrection and came entirely from their memories, without even the benefit of a backlog of Facebook photo albums and status updates to help them sort out the details. Still, there's a lot of legitimacy to saying, "Jesus said this," if you were actually in the room when the conversation happened. Even if you can't quite repeat it verbatim, we can pretty much trust you to get the gist of it. And as long as we can all agree that exact words aren't that important, the gist is all we really need.

But as i mentioned above, a lot of the New Testament is letters. While the authors of these letters (mostly Paul) were holy and righteous men of God, as well as being intelligent, wise, and well-educated, they were human, and they were writing what they thought. Some thoughts don't wear well with time, don't travel well to other cultures, and don't translate easily. Furthermore, Paul was writing to churches that he knew. He was not posting a Facebook note or blog update to all Christians everywhere. He was saying, "Hey guys, I'm the one who started your church, I've hung out with you a lot, I know the area where you live, I know the leaders in your church, I know the demographics of your congregation, and you just wrote me a letter to ask for my opinion on some specific issues. So here it is." He was not writing for all Christians everywhere, but to specific Christians whose situations he understood intimately.

Let's say you have two friends, Julie and Cindy. They are both in long-distance relationships. Julie and her boyfriend, Tim, have been dating for three years. They have talked about getting married, but now Tim has a new job that will keep him far away indefinitely. It has been hard for them to keep their relationship strong over long distance, but they have made it work. They love each other and are committed to the relationship, but Julie is nervous about moving away from everything she knows in order to marry the love of her life. She'll do it, and she knows that she'll be happy in that choice, but she's still nervous and a little sad about it. Cindy, on the other hand, met her boyfriend Mike online. They have been "dating" for three months, despite the fact that they have never met in person. Now Mike is saying that he doesn't want to move away from his home, and that Cindy should move to where he is if they want to stay together. Would you give the same advice to these two women? (If so, remind me not to become friends with you.)

Some of the things that you say to Cindy will apply to Julie, and vice versa. Some relationship advice is general enough and good enough that it applies to every situation. And some of the things you say to them will apply to friends who are in similar, though not identical, situations. But you can't just put together one manual of relationship advice and expect it to answer every situation every time (though many have tried). And if that won't work for human relationships, why would we expect it to work for divine ones?

Above all else, we must remember that God is not an architect trying to design a building (although there are a lot of great spiritual metaphors involving that idea. But every metaphor breaks down at some point). He did not intend the Bible to be a blueprint, or an instructional manual for building IKEA furniture or using a kitchen appliance. God wants to have a relationship with each and every one of us. We are all different, which means that each of us will have a different relationship with Him. It also means that we will all have to do different things to make that relationship work. There is some relationship advice that is good enough and general enough to work for everyone, and there are some similar relationships that will benefit from similar advice. But at the end of the day, there is no perfect formula for everyone to follow.

The Bible says a lot of things about itself. I have no problem trusting those things, even though i don't like circular arguments. But the Bible doesn't say that it is inerrant. It doesn't say that it is the one and only tool for living a holy and perfect life. In fact, Jesus gave lots of instructions for things like being a good example, loving people, prayer (Jesus Himself, who actually was God, spent a lot of time in prayer. Talk about being a good example), searching for truth and understanding (and blessings), and a host of other tools for living a holy and perfect life. Go ahead and check out the Gospels. Jesus was not short of concrete information. He also said that he had come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and told us to heed and remember His words, and to share them with others. I'm pretty comfortable interpreting that as an instruction to read the Bible and pay attention to what it says.

In closing, i'll quote Paul, who in spite of a few weak places here and there in his writings, i still respect and admire and am glad to learn from: Test all things; hold fast (to) what is good.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Veritas? Quid est veritas?

"Truth? What is truth?"

However crazy Mel Gibson may turn out to be (he just keeps raising the bar for himself, doesn't he?), you can't deny that he got it right at least once. For those of who who have not seen The Passion of the Christ, the quote that titles this post may be confusing. It is spoken by Pilate to his wife as tries to decide whether or not he should have Christ executed. (Side note: if you haven't seen it, you should. It's really a great movie.) Truth is a tricky concept. Some say that there is no such thing. Some say that truth exists, but that it is different for every person, or that it changes across cultures and times. Some think that it exists, but that we will never be able to pin down a satisfactory definition of it while in this imperfect world.

It's an important question. We need to know what truth is, so that we can decide what to teach our children in schools, so that we can decide which leaders to elect, so that those leaders can make executive decisions about laws and wars and social justice. We need to understand truth so that we can relate to one another in constructive and harmonious ways.

Christians need to understand truth because we need to know how to read the Bible. There are some passages of the Bible that are clearly meant to be taken metaphorically (such as in Job 38, where God talks about the ends of the earth, or the storehouses of snow and hail, or the gates that hold back the seas). In fact, there are so many passages that are either full of poetic hyperbole or are limited by the cultural and historic understandings of the authors (ancient Jews), that it can be hard to pinpoint which, if any, are meant to be taken literally.

The big question on the lunatic fringe of both Christianity and secularism is the question of creation. When the Bible says that God created the world with nothing but the power of His words in six days, does that mean that in six 24-hour periods, life as we now know it sprang forth from the void, or does that mean that life has passed through several stages, all of which were planned, executed, guided, and intended by God?

There are plenty of writings to address that particular question, but the real problem is this: the question is not "How was the world created?" but rather, "How can we believe that the Bible is true and accurate if we can't take everything it says literally?" I have my own opinions on that topic (addressed more fully elsewhere), but my real frustration here is a question of vocabulary.

Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried has a passage about the difference between story-truth and happening-truth. It's a wonderful and somewhat tricky concept, and i recommend the book (because it's awesome, and also does a good job explaining this concept), but for now i will do my best to sum it up briefly.

Story truth (hereinafter referred to as "truth") is something that speaks to a real experience, even though it didn't necessarily happen. For example, in this post i tell a story about sitting on my grandmother's porch swing during a thunderstorm. Everything that i say in that post is real. I have a grandmother. She used to have a porch swing. There is a window behind the swing that once broke when someone swung back too far. We used to count the seconds between lightning and thunder in order to calculate the distance of the storm.

But that post is not based on one particular moment. It is a collection of moments, an impression of many memories. My grandmother moved out of that house when i was nine, so many of my memories of that house have run together into one big story. And i was certainly not reflecting on the fleeting nature of joy, or on the differences between joy in childhood and adulthood, or anything of the kind. I was counting the miles.

That post is true. It is full of "truth". But it is not a factual event. It is not a newspaper article of one particular storm. It is not an historical account.

On the other hand, let me tell you a story that displays "happening truth" (hereinafter referred to as "fact"). When 2000 came, my siblings and i were spending the night at my grandmother's house. I was a little disappointed that all electronics did not instantly explode (or whatever the new millenium threatened. People got a little hysterical in 1999). But i remember thinking, "At least we can still watch cartoons in the morning." And i remember trying to sleep while the German exchange student played computer games.

That story is pure fact. Those things really happened. Those are true, concrete memories, not a pretty quilt patched together from fragments of memory and nostalgia.

The whole Bible is true. But not all of it is factual. Some parts of it, while they tell great stories to illustrate points, are not based on anything that ever actually happened. Some parts of it use metaphor to make a point. Some parts give us guidance for our behavior by embroidering what happened.

So how do we know which parts to take literally and which parts to take metaphorically? To tell you the truth, i don't think it's all that important to make a distinction between fact and truth in the Bible. I think that all of the Bible is true, and that it is therefore all useful for instruction and guidance in the Christian life. But as long as God is speaking to you through Scripture, does it really matter whether He is using history or poetry to do so?

Monday, June 20, 2011

How to Tell I Need a Life #6

I got off work at 2:00. Instead of going to the beach, doing some shopping, or even taking a nap, i hung out with a professor, washed some dishes, cleaned my room, and organized my poetry folder.

Why I'm Glad to Follow The World's Worst Blueprint

Disclaimer 1: I believe in the power and infallibility (so far as that goes -- a topic for another post) of the Christian Bible. I believe that it is the holy and inspired Word of God, and that it provides invaluable guidance for a righteous life. I do not wish to disrespect its importance in my life or in the lives of others, nor do i want to suggest that the Bible is irrelevant to modern society. I do, however, want to take a realistic look at what "infallible" means, what "guidance" means, and what "interpretation" means, in the context of Scripture and holiness. And i want to do so in a lighthearted manner. So please do not be offended by anything that follows.

Disclaimer 2: I am not a theologian. I am not a minister. I am not a philosopher. I have no training in interpreting Scripture. I have not read the Bible in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek (or even in Latin). I have attended church (including Sunday school, Vacation Bible School, Caravan, Bible Quizzing, Christian youth camps and retreats, worship team, choir, youth group events, and chapel twice a week for four years) ever since i was born. I went to a Christian school for four years, where in addition to the aforementioned chapel services i took two religion courses (Biblical History and Literature and Christian Tradition), one philosophy course (Contemporary Questions, an honor's-level philosophy seminar), and one ethics course (Living Issues). All of my professors were Christians and incorporated faith into their lectures, and i also took a couple of elective courses that addressed issues of faith (Science and Religion and Psychology of Religion). While all of this has given me a large body of knowledge, experience, and information, i do not have any faith-related degrees. I am not an expert in any of the things i am about to say. (But it's the internet, so who cares?)

Rachel Held Evans, author of Evolving in Monkeytown and blogger extraordinaire, visited my school a few months ago. She had dinner with the Honor's society, gave a talk about being a writer in a largely virtual world, and spoke in chapel. Her current project is researching and writing about the idea of Biblical womanhood, a topic i will allow you to research on your own, if you are so inclined. I'm not going to do your work for you. I gave you a link to her site already.

In chapel, Rachel was talking about this concept of Biblical womanhood, and the idea espoused by many that the Bible contains blueprints for our behavior. "Just read the Scriptures," they say. "It's all there, very clear. Just do as the Bible says and you'll be fine." The problems with this philosophy are numerous, and Rachel addressed a few of them, but the thing that really stuck with me was what she said about the "blueprint" analogy.

"With a really good blueprint, there is no need to talk to the designer," she said. The better the blueprint, the less need for the contractor to ever have anything to do with the architect. It's only a poor architect who has to communicate with the builders.

This leaves us with three possible conclusions: 1) God is the world's worst architect, and we need to consult Him constantly on His design, 2) God is the world's best architect and we never need to talk to Him at all, 3) God is a really great architect, and if His purpose were to build a house we'd never need to talk to Him at all, but the Bible is not meant to be a blueprint, and God wants to talk to us constantly, about everything.

The Bible is great. It has a lot of commands directly from God about how we should live our lives. It has a lot of general advice about how to get along with people, grow spiritually, and avoid immorality. It has some incredible stories, some beautiful poetry, and some history (which, while not "accurate" according to modern Western definitions of historical accuracy, is nevertheless true and important to the world and to faith). But it is not a blueprint. It does not contain clear-cut, diamond-hard instructions for how we should live our lives.

While we're at it, let's take a moment to examine the claim of Biblical inerrancy. Where, exactly, does this idea come from? From the Bible. That's right: we believe that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible says it is. That's like if i went around saying, "I am always right about everything. Therefore, the statement i just made is correct. Therefore, i am always right about everything." That's not a convincing argument.

The Bible is very clear about a lot of things. But most of it, while it may have been inspired/dictated/based on things said or done by God, was actually written by people. We won't get into the massive game of telephone involved in the transcription, copying, translation, transliteration, editing, editorializing, and interpreting of Scripture over the last several thousand years (again, a topic for another day). I will say this: I believe that God often talks to people pretty directly. I know He's talked to me. But i don't know that what God says to one person in one context about one situation is necessarily true or right for every person in every context for every situation. It is helpful to see what God has said. It's like how lawyers and judges read old cases and rulings to research precedence. But at the end of the day, every case is unique, and while history may give you a sense of context and background, the final call always comes down to you (or you and God, if we're talking about faith and not legal proceedings).

This is what i know for sure: Salvation does not happen in a moment. It is an ongoing process. We have to keep searching for God's will in our lives, and keep checking in with Him to make sure we're in a right relationship. If we're really looking for God, we will find Him. God knows the difference between someone who is looking for Him and someone who is merely looking for the right answer.

Here is something else i know for sure: everything that God has ever told us to do, all of the law, the prophets, the commandments, the parables, everything, can be summed up in these words:

'And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these. -- Mark 12:30-31

These words came from Jesus. Even allowing for issues with transcription, translation, etc, they're pretty clear: Look for God and you will find Him, and love God and other people. All theology, all philosophy, all teachings and sermons and scriptures and everything else are simply footnotes to this.

I think the Bible is great. I think it has some stunning literature, some fascinating history, some important moral lessons, and some holy commandments from God Himself. But i don't think it should be our only resource for faith guidance. I don't even think it should be our first resource. I think our first resource should be the influence of the Holy Spirit. God speaks to our hearts directly, and leads us in the way He desires. Sometimes, sure, the path gets a little murky, and sometimes we need clarification, further instruction, assurance that things will turn out okay, or backup to advise a friend. The Bible comes in here, to support and clarify the things that the Holy Spirit has told us. But when we are facing a crisis of faith, or trying to make a major decision, or simply trying to deepen the roots of our souls, i think our first step has to be prayer. Talk to God. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Bask in the presence of Jesus. And then, for further clarification, consult the footnotes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Counting the Miles

Lightning flashes.
“Seventeen . . . eighteen . . .nineteen . . .twenty . . .”
Thunder rolls.
Four miles, Mommom!”
Four miles doesn’t mean a lot when you’re six. You understand vaguely that it’s a long way to walk, but a short way to drive, and you don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it.
Especially not right now. Right now, you’re focusing on the storm. Raindrops strike the roof and sidewalk like bullets, streaking furiously past the windows.
The swing creaks; the sound familiar and reassuring in the chaos of the storm. We whisper to one another, “Remember when the swing crashed through the window?” and glance excitedly at the Plexiglas behind us: the window into the cozy, well-lit living room. The window seems ominously near, and very fragile. We slow the swing and snuggle closer to Mommom.
Lightning flashes.
“Nine . . . ten . . .”
Thunder rolls.
“Two miles, Mommom!”
“Yes, it’s getting close,” she says, generously joining us in our excitement.
Everything is exciting when you’re six. You haven’t yet learned that good times end, that people move to new places, that you have to grow up.
You’d think, having learned this, that adults would be even more excited than children, that they’d want to make the most of their joy while it lasts. Instead, they mourn the good times gone.
Lightning flashes.
Thunder rolls.
The storm is upon us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flintstone Vitamins: Why Your Kid Isn't Going to College

It all starts there, with the flavored, chewy, gummy candy vitamins. I can understand making them chewable, since many small children are not able to swallow a pill. But why must they also be delicious? And then we have the bubble-gum flavored cough syrup, the chocolatey drinks to replace actual nutritious food, and a variety of websites devoted to helping parents feed their children.


When i was a kid, we had a rule: You have to try everything once. If you don't like it, you don't have to finish it, and you never have to try it again. But you have to try it. Our parents didn't make a big deal about it, and if we didn't like it, they stuck to their word: we didn't have to eat it. But we had to have some of every food group at least once a day. They were diligent and creative about finding fresh fruits and veggies that we liked, and they were careful to set a good example by eating lots of healthy, delicious foods.

I remember being appalled and a little embarrassed when the neighbor's kid threw a temper tantrum when asked to eat pizza with "green stuff" on it. (The "green stuff" was oregano.) Her parents picked off the dozen or so tiny flakes and then calmed her down so that she could eat her dinner. When my cousin was little, she didn't like cheese. So at a restaurant, when her parents ordered pizza for her, they were careful to say, "She wants plain, regular pizza," which of course meant cheese. My cousin never knew the difference.

If your kid is ten and doesn't want to eat broccoli, that's one thing. You can make him a different vegetable, or tell her to eat a fruit instead. Or, as many crafty parents have suggested, you can simply chop the vegetables finely or puree them and then hide them in spaghetti sauce or a casserole and the kid will never know the difference.

But if we are talking about a three-year-old, make them eat their damned vegetables. You don't have to yell, you don't have to cry, you don't have to threaten or bribe. But you are the parent, and if your kid doesn't respect you when you ask them to eat one bite of carrots, you'd better never let them have your car keys.

If your child refuses to take cough syrup and you give them liquid bubblegum, they have learned that all difficulties in life can be passed over in favor of something delicious. If you then reinforce this lesson with gummy vitamins and chocolate milk meal replacement shakes, your kid is never going to college.

My sister texted me this morning to tell me that she will be taking Honor's English next year. For her class, she is required to read three books. And she gets to pick the books.

I don't know if there is a list that they have to choose from. But i've seen these book lists (even the ones for private schools), and while they do contain a number of classic texts, they also tend to include pop-culture favorites. Now, don't get me wrong: i love Harry Potter and Ella Enchanted as much as the next nerd. But i am under no illusions as to their fitness for a school curriculum. I think that kids should be required to read a certain amount of the really difficult stuff and taught to appreciate it. I think they should be encouraged to find books that they love and to read them incessantly (especially since this will only make it easier for them to read the hard stuff). But if a student doesn't want to read Shakespeare, you can't substitute Twilight and call it an education just because Stephanie Meyer makes Shakespeare references. But this is what your students will expect from you, because when they were six and didn't want to eat spinach, Mom gave them chocolate milk and gummy cartoon characters.

If our parents and teachers can't be adults and enforce certain restrictions and requirements, how can we expect the children in their care to learn to be adults and to set their own guidelines? Having someone else set boundaries for them teaches children self-control, something they will badly need in college and beyond.

Guess what: not everything tastes like candy. Not everything is as much fun to read as the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (which, by the way, i was surprised to discover was pretty great). But you still have to eat your peas, and you still have to read Shakespeare. Get over it.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Blame My Mother

Three years ago, in the cafeteria, i came up with a plan B: quit school and simply become the next Anna Nicole Smith.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for cute little old men, with their cute little old manners and their cute little old hats and their cute little old too-short pants and everything. But what i never knew is that they also have a soft spot in each of their hearts for me.

One night, i was eating my dinner, when in came an absolutely adorable little old man, wearing a pin-striped fedora, and a sweater and jacket (despite the heat), even a bow tie. Let's call him "Carissa". He had these huge, bushy, pitch-black eyebrows that stood out against his bushy, snow-white hair. He was just too cute for words.

Because my mother raised me to be polite, as well as raising me with my soft spot for cute little old men, i smiled as he walked through the cafeteria. At that, Carissa came over to my table, leaned down next to me, and asked if i was Irish.
"No . . ." i answered, bemused.
"Oh. Are you Polish?" he continued.
"No . . ."
He asked me about six more of these before i finally said, "I'm a little bit German and a little bit French."
"Oh! Do you speak German?"
"No . . ."
"Do you speak French?"
"No . . ."
"Well, how come you are so beautiful?"

Between my amusement at the situation, my confusion at the leap from linguistics to aesthetics, and the general weirdness of the conversation, i began to blush. And giggle. Both of which are my reactions to uncomfortable situations, and one of which (the giggling) i inherited from my mother. I think i said something along the lines of, "Thank you. I don't know," and Carissa went back to his seat. (My friends assure me that my behavior was much more flirtatious than this, consisting of several "Yes, sir"s and "No, sir"s, all uttered with doe-eyed glances. I can honestly say that i remember none of this.)

After regaining control of myself (which took a considerable amount of time and effort, the giggles having escalated nearly to the point of making me fall out of my chair), i jumped up and raced across the cafeteria to my friend Steven, who had missed the action.

I filled Steven in on the events, and then returned to my seat, intending to collect my things and exit the cafeteria with what little remained of my dignity. But i was denied this escape by three of my friends who insisted that i stay put.
"Why?' i demanded.
"Because he is writing something on a napkin, and we think he's gonna give you his phone number," was the reply.

At this point, the giggles and blushing had me almost completely incapacitated. Falling back into my chair, i awaited my fate.

Sure enough, a few minutes later, Carissa came over to me with his napkin.

"Since you are German and French, and you don't speak any German or French, I thought you should know a few phrases," he said. Handing me the napkin, he pointed to the first one and said, "'Ich liebe Dich!' Do you know what that means?"

I actually do know a tiny bit of both German and French, so i was able to choke out the reply: "I love you."
"Yes, very good! Now, what is this one? 'Je t'aime beaucoup'?"
Ordinarily, i would have known this one as well, but at this point all rational thought was beyond me.
"Ummmm . . . " was the best i could supply.
"It's the same thing, only French," he explained.

Carissa then asked me my major, asked if i planned to get my doctorate, told me to get my master's at ENC and then go elsewhere for my doctorate (i believe he suggested a school, but i was pretty much past the point of comprehension, let alone retention, of information), and i think he may have made another observation about my beauty before leaving me. I grabbed my dishes and wallet (and the napkin, which i later had framed), and ran. My one thought was to get out of the danger zone. But on my way, the RD for the boys' dorms stopped me.

"What was he sayin' to you?" he asked, suspicious.
"Oh, umm, he asked what my major was, and he wanted to know if i was Irish and stuff," i explained, not very coherently.
"So, everything's okay, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, everything's fine," i answered, still suppressing nervous giggles.
"Okay. I didn't know who he was, so i just wanted to make sure that everything was fine."
"Yes. Thank you," i managed, before bolting for the door in a fit of giggles. I think my face had surpassed red at this point and was nearly purple.

Oh, well. There's always a silver lining. I guess that if i ever decide that school is just too much for me, i can just drop out and become the next Anna Nicole Smith. I hope my mother will be proud.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In Defense of Facebook Status Updates

I wrote a post a while back about considering shorter forms of literature, such as numbered fiction and even text messages (people publish collections of letters as biographical material; why not collections of text messages?) In it, i briefly mentioned six-word memoirs, a form of literary expression that is catching on more and more all the time. I'd like now to talk a little bit more about memoirs and how we all write them every day.

Here is the difference between a biography and a collection of memoirs: They are both like a river, but they are traveled differently. When you are writing (or reading) a biography, you start at the source of the river and travel along it to the end. You move at the same pace as the water, and look at everything that presents itself to your notice. If a stone juts out of the water, you look at it. If an historical event such as a war intrudes itself upon your life, you make mention of it. You look at the banks of the river as you pass them, much as you orient the biography in a particular time and place. Context is vital. You don't often bother with going very deep into the water, because you are more interested in charting the flow from beginning to end and making sure that everything stays in order.

A collection of memoirs is like the river teeth, the hard, twisted knots of trees that lodge themselves in the river and collect things. When writing (or reading) a memoir, you don't travel the whole length of the river from beginning to end. You find one river tooth, one significant moment or memory, and delve into the deepest depths of it. You consider each droplet of water in that one space. You look at the fish, the algae, the pebbles, the mud. You look at the tiny bubbles in the water. You look at outside things that have collected within that moment, whether or not they are strictly related to what is happening (raindrops against the window, the scent of fresh-ground coffee being brewed, the scratchy feel of the cushion at your back, etc). You're not as concerned with orienting that moment within a particular time or place as you are with orienting it within a particular set of sensations and impressions. Context is important, but not necessary. Each moment, each memoir, each river tooth, is complete unto itself. You collect these moments into whatever order feels most meaningful to you, and you don't worry about connecting them. They're all in the same river.

With all this in mind, therefore, i would like to introduce my favorite form of memoir: the Facebook status update. While it is true that the FB status is often used for things like song lyrics, more often than not it is actually a tiny memoir. Here is a sampling of statuses on my newsfeed at this moment:

*Nicole: I wish I could get rich by smashing pots and cutting grass clumps.

*Emma: misses friends near and abroad.

*Kelly: Seriously wishing I could find my wallet ugh

*Kim: Another wicked scorcha here today!

*Ben: is bowing at the alter of e. e. cummings right now.

*Steve: Got to help an Australian guy understand his first ever baseball game, and talked about the benefits of a salary cap with someone from Denver. Season tickets are great.

Sure, not all of these plumb the depths of human experience and emotion. But they are baby memoirs, existing only within a single moment. They do not bother to consider a larger context. They make no attempt to tell a longer story. They are an expression of a moment, a recognition that something has touched them. Some are more than six words, some are less.

Like the FB status, six-word memoirs are prone to cheesiness, as well as emo-ness. Sometimes it's just a generic statement about "my pain" or "no one gets me" or "life is lame". They are not all gold. But just because it is possible for someone to use an art form badly does not mean that the art form in and of itself is bad or unworthy of consideration. Lots of high school students write bad poems, but poetry itself is not bad. Lots of people are bad dancers, but dancing itself is still an art form. Just because some Facebook statuses are stupid, or some six-word memoirs lame, does not mean that beauty and art cannot be expressed in a condensed form on the internet.

*names changed

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

vocabulary rant

I'm going to have to take some time before my rant to set up some history. Those of you who are familiar with the "four loves" can skip this part and start at the asterisk. For the rest of you, hang tight. I'll make it quick.

Much has been made in the Christian community of the different loves. It's a really cool concept that is based on two things: Greek and the complexity of human emotions.

Basically, there are four different kinds of love, each with its own word (in Greek). There is storge, or affection. It's based on familiarity and companionship, and has been compared to the love of a parent for a child, or of siblings for one another. It's not based on commonalities or shared experiences, but on becoming accustomed to another person's presence in your life.

The second type is philia, or the love of friendship. This is based on commonalities and shared experiences. In fact, Lewis himself once said that friendship is based on the moment when one person looks at another and says, "You too? I thought I was the only one!"

Eros, romantic love, is not (according to Lewis) the same as sexual love, but the distinction is meaningless for the purposes of our discussion. Eros desires a romantic connection with its object, whether you define "romantic" as sexual, emotional, or both.

And finally, we have agape, which is love pure, free, and unconditional. It is the love of God for people, and Lewis says that it is the love that all Christians should strive to show one another.

* So here's the thing: in ancient Greece, you could be hanging out with your friend and say, "Hey, buddy, I philia you" (or however the grammar works), and they would know that you meant that you loved them with the love of friendship. In modern America, we just say, "I love you!" when our friends say or do something that reminds us of why we are friends with them in the first place.

You could tell your mom that you storge her, you could tell your kids that you agape them, and you could tell your significant other that you eros them.

But what if you and your significant other (a) speak English and (b) are not at the point of saying "I love you" yet? There are moments with John where i want to say that i love (philia or storge) him, but i don't want him to misinterpret that as me saying that i am in love with (eros) him. Like isn't strong enough, but love is too strong. So usually i just kiss him, and then we end up making out, which is great. But i like to use my words.

The other part of my frustration is that i am falling in love with him. I'm falling hard and fast. And it's scary and wonderful and strange and fun and confusing and crystal clear. When i'm with him, i think, "This is right. This is how it's supposed to be." I'm not quite ready to drop the L-word (or the E-word, if we're using the Greek), but i know that it's coming.

In the meantime, i guess we can just keep making out. I just wish i had better words for what is happening to my heart when we do.

Friday, June 3, 2011


It's been almost a month since i "walked the plank" (to borrow my grandmother's phrase), and it still hasn't quite hit me that i'm a college graduate.
Occasionally, i'll be struck with a small wave of realization, like when i realize that i will never again have the opportunity to study poetry with Kathleen McCann, or pretend to pay attention in class while really editing a poem and texting Emily, who is sitting next to me, also pretending to pay attention while texting me and reading Failbook. (By the way, for all those out there who are bothered by the use of cell phones in class, you should know that Emily passed her English senior comps with distinction and graduated cum laude, and that i passed my psych comps with distinction, my English comps with a high pass, and graduated magna cum laude.)

But mostly, it feels like nothing has changed. This is due in large part to the fact that very little has actually, concretely changed. For the last two summers in a row, i have worked at my school's admissions office. I am still working there now. The only difference is that now, i commute from my apartment instead of living on campus. Plus i have a slightly flashier title. In the fall, i will be taking classes at the same school where i got my undergraduate degrees. Granted, they will be graduate classes and will meet in the evenings, but i will be in the same buildings where i have always had classes, with some of the same professors and probably some of the same students. And there is an excellent chance that i will still be working in the admissions office.

The thing is, i really don't mind being stuck in the college mindset. Everyone is right when they tell you that your college years will be the best of your life. There is something about taking four years to do nothing but learn that is a totally unique and incredible experience.

After college, you're supposed to be pretty much done (barring any post-graduate degrees). College is a time of experimentation, but once you've switched that tassel, experimentation is over. You know who you are and what you want. You've got you all figured out.

During college, you are encouraged to make mistakes. That's how you learn. If you don't know how to do something, you can try anyway, and learn from trial and error. If you don't know the answer, you can find it. It's okay to ask; you're there to learn. You can randomly switch directions without anyone making any judgements. You can change your major, change your haircut, change your sexual orientation, go vegan, start a new sport, join a club, run for student council, break up with someone, whatever. How are you going to find out what you like unless you try everything?

After college, you are encouraged to use the lessons you have learned to do things right. You've already learned. If you don't know how to do something, why not? Did you skip class that day? Don't even try. You're just going to mess it up. Let someone who is qualified handle it. You're not here to learn, you're here to do, so stop asking questions. Why are you trying to change your life? Are you going through a midlife crisis? Don't you already know who you are and what you like? Come on, you've had over two decades to figure that stuff out. What did you do with all that time?

I wish i could be a permanent college student. I love learning. I'm a huge geek. I had two majors in college (i just used the past tense and it's freaking me out all over again), and would gladly have packed on two or three more plus a handful of minors if i'd had the money. If i could do anything with my life, i'd spend the next twenty years or so collecting multiple degrees from multiple colleges. Think about it: in twenty years, i could attend five four-year colleges. I've already got my psych and English degrees, so i could do journalism and history next. Then maybe religion, with a philosophy minor. Then secondary education (which is what my master's will be in), with maybe a minor in business administration. (Side note: by and large, i think that business degrees are bullshit. But a minor in business administration would allow me to have some legitimacy when i try to take over the administrations of various school systems). I'd want a music degree at some point. And i could finish up with environmental science and government.

But more than my thirst for knowledge and my hunger to distinguish myself (can you tell it's almost lunchtime?), i want to stay within the safe space of college. I like being allowed to experiment. I like being allowed to not know things. I like being allowed to change my mind, to take on a new challenge, to make mistakes. And i really like ramen noodles.