Thursday, September 29, 2011

After Jonathan Safran Foer*

Wow, a whole week without a blog post, probably because the week was filled with more people than thoughts. I did consider posting a list of all the things I had run into in the past week, but that wouldn't have been very interesting. I also thought about posting "Church with the Homeless" and I still might at a later date.

On Tuesday night I started job training, and I have that again tonight. I think I am going to love my job, and that is a great feeling.

Loving Caleb more is also a great feeling.

Reading a book that talks a lot about people dying is not a great feeling. The book is Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and I think I am too much like the kid protagonist to read a book like this. He thinks of too many bad things that can happen, and it's not good for me to read all of his ideas about fear and danger around every corner. The story is very good and it's very intense, but I realized yesterday that I should take smaller bites. I'm almost done now... I do like reading about September 11 for some odd reason. I don't know if that's good for me either. I think part of me wants to get close enough to grief so that I'm not afraid of it anymore. I like reading about people who are able to move on through the pain, but the characters in this book haven't been able to yet. I want to punch this one guy really bad: this is the second book I've read in the last couple of months where the husband selfishly leaves the pregnant wife. I like way that the book is written with pictures and other unconventional devices. I also like all of the ideas that the eight/nine-year-old kid has. They are fascinating. Too fascinating for a nine-year-old. He is a weird kid, but endearing.

Wednesday night we had dinner at Laredo's (yummy Mexican food) with a couple from church, and agreed that we need to do more things like that because they fill up your soul. Not just Mexican food, but being together.

Also, this morning, we had perfect water for the first time in over two weeks. It was a beautiful and wonderful and awesome and secret and perfect gift. Rowing isn't fun if you can never actually go out on the water. That's why people row-- not so they can erg all the time. I got to stroke, and it was wonderful. So refreshing. Best workout I've had in weeks.

Monday at waffle night Tom Fowler presented his 2040 presidential campaign and we had a great discussion about what would happen if the states broke up and blah blah blah Hunger Games. I love talking with those people. It feels like college because everyone is from somewhere else. I don't usually have conversations about what-if scenarios because my brian doesn't work that way. That's why I can't write fiction. It's hard for me to stop seeing what is.

I got up at 4:30am on Wednesday so that I could write a letter to Dr. Stackhouse about our little article toss back and forth on beauty because I knew that if I didn't get up and write it while I was unable to stop thinking about it in bed at 4:30 am that I would never write him a letter at all. I still think I'm mostly right. It started to get too philosophical because I started talking about people's pain being based in the true reality of their circumstances or being based on lies they think about themselves, but all pain is felt pain no matter what it's based on-- lies or truth-- so then that didn't work. And I was stuck.

List of the beautiful and good: Kickapoo coffee, Kelly, Danielle, Kathy, Ashleigh, Katie Van, strip of Whitney Way with yellow leaves, weekend vacation, family coming in one week!, perfect water, Water the person and Elizabeth, Caleb, Brittaini, fall, pumpkins, purple nail polish, new job, discovery of path by pond with two long-legged birds, wearing high heels.

*This is why the tone is how it is in this piece. Once I read someone for a while, I start to write like they do. He wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This Week's Cooking Adventures

This week, we had two significant cooking adventures. For waffle night on Monday, we decided to make a feast of apple goodness since we had just gone to the orchard. We were planning meals for the week, and Caleb took down the German cookbook we had been given as a wedding gift and started looking for apple-y things. He found an apple compote with clear and very detailed instructions. I love when there are detailed instructions that answer the "why" questions. I kept looking through the book for other apple things and found a recipe called "apples in nightgowns" where you wrap an apple in pastry and then bake it. We decided on apples in nightgowns and Dutch babies with apple compote. 

Needless to say, making all of this took a very long time. This was not helped by that fact that I didn't realize until I got home that the new apple peeler/corer I bought couldn't core without also slicing, so I had to go back to the store for an additional tool. The compote didn't look very syrupy, but it tasted oh so good and we ate it all on the first batch of Dutch babies. The apples in nightgowns were very involved because I had to make the dough, and there were various phases of chilling and rolling and stretching it out over a springform pan, which I'm not sure what that accomplished or if I did it the right way. Caleb peeled and cored all the apples, and then I rolled out the dough, stuffed the hole where the core had been with a mixture of raisins, cinnamon, sugar, and marmalade, and then wrapped each apple in dough and sealed it with milk. They turned out about average as far as beauty. Some of the apples had sort of melted out of their nightgowns onto the pan. And they were not sweet at all. Caleb said that he forgot how not sweet German "desserts" are and that next time we should roll them in sugar. I'm not sure if there will be a next time.

Adventure two was yesterday. I really wanted to make butternut squash soup this week. I don't know why, but I did. It's fallish and yummy and yesterday ended up being the perfect day for it because it was cold and windy. This soup presented a slew of firsts: buying and cooking a squash, buying and cooking a leek (I still don't really know what a leek is), making a homemade soup, going to the Willy St. Co-op, and more.

The soup: the squash was perfect-- bright orange and it cooked really nicely. I didn't know how to cut it and probably did so in a very dangerous manner (I know that because I watched a youtube video about squash after I had already cut it and she kept saying how dangerous cutting it could be... whoops!). Then, once it had cooked, I didn't know how to get the skin off and couldn't find anything on the internet about this, so I used a peeler! Is this right? Does anyone know? The rest went fine, it was just kind of comical. Here's this huge vegetable that I have no idea what to do with. We put the soup through the blender in batches-- never had done that before either-- and it turned out really creamy and nice. In the end, it was a little gritty and had too much cayenne pepper in it, but Caleb liked it. We ate it with perfect buttery crescent rolls. So good. 

The store: quick word about Willy St. Co-op-- I went to the one on the west side because I suspected they would have great produce, and I was right! They also had my favorite coffee, Kickapoo Coffee. It's a local thing. It's the house coffee at Harvest restaurant downtown, and it's sold in the coffee shop Bradbury's, also downtown, and also at Willy St. It is so yummy. The aroma in the morning is like a soft blanket surrounding you. The other great thing about this grocery is the spice shelf. They have three or four shelves filled with glass jars the size that you would normally see candy in, but these are filled with spices-- whole, ground, they've got it all. I love this because instead of buying a $5 spice jar of something like ginger root that you're never going to use again, you can fill up a little bag with just the amount you need and get it for 23 cents. What a genius idea. Not for the germaphobes or those with allergies to certain spices, though.

I am learning how to choose my stores based on the item I'm looking for. For example, it's better to buy squash at the co-op vs. at ALDI because it will be a much better squash, but it's hard! It takes so much time to go to two or three different stores. I'm hoping it pays off in the end. ALDI is nice because you save money, but then I always wonder if the food tastes weird because there's something from ALDI in it. Example, I made homemade chicken fingers this week. They always taste amazing and this week they tasted awful. Was this because some of the supplies were from ALDI? Or was it because I accidently put parsley in the breading? Still learning what's okay to buy there and what's not. When I go there, I want to buy everything because it's so enticingly cheap. Caleb says it's so cheap because of the way the store is set up, but I wonder if that's not the only reason... How do you know where your food is coming from? Questions, questions.

The butternut squash. What a color. 
What's for dinner on Friday: Spinach Pie! 

Book Club: West with the Night

I'm in a book club at the local library, and I love it. My grandparents are in multiple book clubs (two, I think) and read great books with fun people, so I was inspired to find my own in Madison. The book for this month was Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It was one of the best books I've ever read, although there was great controversy about it at the book club discussion. I love book club because there are so many interesting people. There can also be annoying people, intriguing people, and people with accents. There are lots of old people, and this probably contributes to how exciting it can be. The older people who come to book club can be grouped into two categories 1) those whose personalities have crystalized on the very outspoken side so you learn a lot about them throughout the course of the evening as their eccentricities leak through every word and 2) those who are quiet and nice and only say one thing the whole night. 

This was a great book, West with the Night, and I've been recommending it to almost everyone I know, so I was surprised that there was so much controversy about it. The book is a collection of stories about the author's childhood and life in British East Africa in the early 20th century. She tells exciting stories about hunting with the Masai, learning how to train and race horses, learning how to fly primitive planes and scouting elephant from the sky. She is an excellent writer and has a couple of really powerful prophetic moments. The descriptions of the land are captivating. From a writing standpoint, it was one of the best-written books I've read in a long time. To me, the most exciting part was when she described a horse race. I read it at the airport in D.C. and I could barely stay in my chair. 

The first issue raised at book club was that the book was false advertising. The title, West with the Night, was deemed too misleading by one thirty-something woman who only wanted to read about flying, not about Africa or anything interesting. Only flying. And she elaborated her point, which, when stripped down to what she was actually saying was only that she wished the book had had a different title, for about ten minutes. A lady we will call Jane who was older agreed and suggested an alternate title, "Africa Made Me," and I laughed in spite of myself, not in a mean-spirited way, I just thought it was funny, and I couldn't believe we were disputing the title and content of the book. Usually you don't spend so much time on this in lit. class. Not only were several people upset that she had written about her life growing up, but they were also a little miffed to find out that she had been married three times and failed to mention anything about it. I was sitting there thinking to myself, "she's the author, she can write about whatever she wants. It's her book, she can choose what to include and what to leave out. She obviously had reasons for making the decisions she did. It wasn't an autobiography, it was a memoir." Someone from my side said that the Africa stories were the frame/context/background/what shaped her growing up. If she had written a book just about her flight across the Atlantic, it would have been way more boring than the book she actually wrote. An advantage of writing it the way that she did was that it was believable when she wrote so nonchalantly about the trans-Atlantic flight because it matched the way she did everything else. 

I'll cover another incident involving the only woman I knew by name who I remembered from a different bookclub. She had been waiting to bring up her point, because at this book club, everyone talks, and you have to fight to get your piece in. It's Madison-- everyone is smart, and everyone has thoughts they want to share. So, my friend finally got her turn and brought up the issue of Markham being a really cold person because of the way she wrote about the people she was close to. I disagreed, citing the passages when she has to say goodbye to important people or when people that she is really close to die. She always used distancing language in those passages because I think she didn't know what else to do with her emotions. There is a really powerful passage when her, well, I won't spoil it in case you read it. Then, my friend brought up another passage where Markham wrote about a destitute woman, and my friend gave a really pointed accusation that the author was cold-hearted and there was tension in the air, and then about two seconds later, another character on the opposite end of the table started talking about something completely different that didn't answer the question at all. My friend got an expression of anger mixed with disbelief mixed with scorn on her face-- that look you get when you throw your hands up in the air and say "ugh! I can't believe that!" It was not a good moment, but I seemed to be the only one who noticed. Again, I laughed, because it was a ridiculous moment. I talked to her about it afterwards, and she had an interesting theory about why certain people liked the book and others didn't. She thought it was about projections, and the people who wanted to have adventures like Markham's liked the book, and those who didn't want to didn't like the book. That fit with me because I would love to have had half the adventures she had. 

Some people thought there were too many animals in the book: elephants, dogs, horses, parrots, zebras, wild hogs, ants, giraffes, and more. They reasoned that she liked animals so much because she couldn't connect with people. How could anyone write about Africa in the early 1900's without writing about animals? It turned out at the end that the woman who wanted the book to be all about flying was a pilot herself, and that's why she was disappointed. After that information was revealed, the book club turned into flying club and everyone asked her questions about flying and where she took lessons and where she flies to and what it's like and had she ever flown at night, etc. Coupled with this, Jane, who was by far the funniest, kept asking us questions like, "Have any of you ever been to Africa?" We said no. She said, "Well, one time I went to Kenya and this and this happened..." Or, "Have any of you ridden in a helicopter?... Well, I have and it was like this..." Or, "Have any of you ever been in a hot air balloon?... Well, I have..." It was a great time and I left feeling happy, very amused, and shocked that there was so much disagreement about a book that I loved. 

Before I left, I checked out the movie Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. This movie takes place in the same community as West with the Night, and watching it was like seeing the world I had read about. I was talking to Caleb the whole time we watched it, "Well, there should be telegraph lines running alongside the railroad because she talks about all the animals getting tangled up in them." Later in the movie, it showed them installing the wires. "He's in the book! He turns out to be one of the most legendary hunters in British East Africa." It was such a sad, sad story, but the Africa was the same. I wish I could do Meryl Streep's Dutch accent. She was fabulous. I looked her up afterwards, and it turns out we have the same birthday!

I must mention that I was surprised to learn how racy the society was during this time. You didn't get any of that from the book, but the discussion leader mentioned several things about it, as did another man who found a biography on Markham. The movie did a better job at revealing how the values of the society played out in relationships, and that's part of why it's so sad.

Today, I just finished reading Roald Dahl's book Boy, and it turns out that he also went to British East Africa around the same time. I want to see if he has written any books about it and if he knew any of the same people. I have discovered a new world, and now I want to learn everything about it. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Screwtape Ch. 7 & 8

Wow, chapter 8 is amazing. I wish I could type the whole thing into this post.

It begins by exploring the theme of undulation in humans' lives. In everything we do, we have times of peaks and times of troughs, in "interest in his work, affection for his friends, his physical appetites" (pp. 37-38). Then, Screwtape talks about the differences in the way that God uses the trough periods in our lives and the way that devils use them. The following section contrasts God and the devil's driving motivations as they look at humans.

[He wants to fill the universe with] creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct. p. 39

Wow! Isn't this sweet?! That's the beauty of God, and for someone who's supposed to sound like a demon, he sure is good at proclaiming truth about God and praising him for who he is. I love these images of God because they are so freeing. They show a God who is full and flowing over-- a God of abundance who doesn't need us but wants us. The structure of the paragraph with the barrage of paired statements really makes it effective from a literary standpoint, too.

We can use this list as a measuring rod for ourselves in our relationships with people. Are we acting out the first part of the paired statements or the second part? Are we full and flowing over in our relationships or empty and trying to be filled? We can act out either of these roles, the dark role or the light role, in our relationships, and I think whichever one we act out reveals something about the state of our heart and whether or not we are living for God that day or if we are living for ourselves. It can be easy to try to suck in or control or manipulate or seek affirmation from friends, but isn't it better to already find ourselves full so that we can love them? Living a "full and flowing over" life shows evidence of the Holy Spirit in us.

I love the last phrase "united to Him but still distinct" from p. 39. We are united to him through Jesus and we have peace with God, but we are distinct because we retain our selfhood and our human will. Looking back to creation, we are united to God in another way-- we are made in his image. We are like him in whatever way "his image" refers to. From creation, we also learn that God loves to celebrate. We see a bunch of diversity in creation-- really weird animals, think about it. Creatures who are not only functional, but beautiful, and superfluously beautiful, colorful, patterned, tall, small, almost invisible. Planets, galaxies, things that humans will never see but God still made them because he wanted to. And then, think about the passages that describe the body of believers-- one body, many parts. Think about all of your friends who can do very different amazing things-- artistic abilities, musical abilities, incredible brains, incredible athleticism, people who build things and know intuitively how parts fit together. People who can see beauty, people who get math, people who are inexhaustibly kind to others. When God made humans, he didn't make them boring. His plan was never "to cancel or assimilate" (p. 39) but to celebrate. His character of freely "giving out" and blessing shines in his creative design of humans and his lavishing of gifts, abilities, and uniqueness on us.

Where does the human will come into all this? It seems to be the focus of Lewis' attention in much of this chapter-- the devil wants to take more and more ground in humans to control them, but God wants humans to freely conform their wills to his. "Merely to override a human will... would be for Him useless... His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve" (p. 39). The two ideas-- the trough period from the beginning of the chapter, and the human will-- are connected through God's felt absence. Read the fascinating and powerful passage below:

He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs-- to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual temptation, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. pp. 39- 40 

What a faith! These ideas go back to one of the first chapters when Screwtape says something along the lines of "He leaves them to do it on their own" and this leads to less reliance on emotions. These trough times can be agonizing though. We just want to get out. We feel like we're in the dark and we don't know what, if anything, is happening to us in terms of "growth." And we don't really care about growth even if it is happening. Everyone has these periods of feeling forsaken by God. I love one of the lines from earlier in this chapter, "some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else" (p.38). The troughs offer us the opportunity to cultivate obedience, even though it hurts. But God doesn't demand that we execute the task perfectly. "If only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles."

Monday, September 19, 2011


The nice thing about moving to a new place is that you are no longer restricted in your pursuits by other people or their thoughts about you because no one knows you. They don't know if you can do it or not. You are your biggest limitation. Are you going to go for it or not?

This morning I played piano at church. I haven't played the piano since 10th grade and I played it in front of a bunch of people today. I told them I couldn't do it, but then they gave me the keyboard, and then I did it. That's funny. I didn't know I could row starboard either until I was stuck in a boat on that side.

Sometimes people not really knowing you and people believing in you feels like the same thing. If it feels like they think or believe you can do it, you're probably more likely to pull it off. Is there a psychological effect/name for this?

There's something really freeing about this aspect of moving to a new place-- it helps you to try new things that you never thought you could do. Why did we hold back or think we couldn't? Why didn't anyone stick a keyboard in front of me at Wheaton?

Maybe I can be a cook. Maybe I can be a writer. Maybe I can be a rower and a piano player and a bilingual program leader. Maybe I can take the intimidating German cookbook down from the shelf where it has sat for three months and make delicious apple pastries.

When I wake up in the morning, I will practice defying my own self-imposed limitations.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Appleberry Farm

Some friends from Caleb's work invited us to go apple picking with them this weekend. I haven't been apple picking since I was a kid, and this was a fun way to get my reluctant self used to the idea of fall. Four types of apples were available for picking this weekend: Cortland, Macintosh, Empire, and Jonathan. We stuck around for lunch: cider infused brats with apple onion relish on hearty buns. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable way to spend a Saturday. Appleberry Farm is open on the weekends for PYO (pick your own) and would be a great place to take kids.

Caleb getting a high up one. This picture reminds me of a book I had as a child that had to do with Tom Thumb.  Anyone remember it? Mom? It was kind of I spy ish and had lots of fruits. "Each peach, pear, plumb, I spy Tom Thumb." It was that book. 

Took this one for my brother. I'd pick him any day. 

Beehives-- you don't get apples without bees. This was the first stop on our hay ride around the orchard. We learned a lot about bees-- the lifespan of a bee in the summer time is nine weeks. The queen bee has to lay 1,000 eggs every day during the summer to get the numbers of the hive up to 50,000-70,000 bees. 

I really liked the guy who gave us the tour/hay ride. He was very knowledgeable and told us all kinds of interesting things about apples. For instance, I had no idea that they could change the roots of the trees. They can graft the tree to certain kinds of roots to make it dwarf-sized and that's better for air circulation and reaching the apples. They can engineer roots to be hardy for the winter, too. 

Map of the farm. 

They also had a couple of pear trees! I will definitely be going back to pick these when they are ready, especially after looking at the slideshow of fall desserts on the Better Homes and Gardens website. A lot of them use pears.  

Apple donuts. Yum. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Humidifier, Screwtape Ch. 5 & 6

I turn into a baby when I get sick. Any far-reaching vision that I had of my life including other people is immediately extinguished and all I can see is myself and what hurts. I didn't leave the apt. for three days I think? and yesterday Caleb finally forced me out to take some DVDs back to the library and to go to Walgreens to buy a humidifier and some Wether's Originals. Then, a bunch of our friends came over for the weekly waffle night, and suddenly I was better. I still have a craving to watch The Princess Diaries, though. All of my sicknesses are accompanied by a craving to watch a different Disney movie. When I stepped outside yesterday, my eyes were like, "Whoa!! there are trees. They are really green and three-dimensional. There's color and wind. Whoa." Yeah, it was weird. I watched a lot of tv including the US Open semifinal round with Rafa and Murray. We watched this movie about the Madness of King George III with the guy who played Bilbo Baggins. I read Lisa Beamer's Let's Roll! book and C and I watched the two hour 9/11 documentary on Sunday night.

It's funny what happens when you're sick-- two really good friends called that weekend both of whom I hadn't talked to since May. I got emails from friends with requests to edit creative writing pieces. I missed the Portuguese night, and the Food for All at our church. Things get so busy when you don't feel like doing anything, but when you're well, nothing. I guess that's not totally true.

I have some great memories of my childhood vaporizer-- a giant dark brown tub with a white lid and the most delicious stream of cold air that you could point wherever you wanted. I remember the sound it made while it chugged along, spouting out air. That thing was awesome. The one we got doesn't hold a candle to it, and it makes weirder noises that wake you up in the night when you're trying to sleep so you can get better...

Anyway, here's the Lewis blurb for today. Chapter five is all about war. I find it interesting how much the environment created by the war described in ch. 5 differs from the way that we think of ourselves in a war in the U.S. Undoubtedly part of that is because of the way that war has changed since WWII, this war is not being fought within our borders, there is no draft. Most Americans probably don't wake up in the morning thinking "we're in a war." If everyone did wake up thinking that, maybe we wouldn't be in one.

Lewis has a great essay as part of his collection The Weight of Glory called "Learning in Wartime" in which he outlines thoughts similar to the ones in this chapter. One great insight from "Learning in Wartime" is that being in a state of war reveals to us the condition that we are always in. War keeps us from dissociating and in the mindset that we could die at any moment. "Normal life" is insular and creates a feeling of safety in individuals. Oh yes, of course everything will always go on in this way. But wartime shows us that we are always, always, on the brink of life and death. War puts us in that state of mind and ensures that we prepare our hearts for what could lie ahead. For this reason, Screwtape says that war benefits the Enemy (God):

Consider too what undesirable deaths occur in wartime. Men are killed in places where they knew they might be killed and to which they go, if they are at all of the Enemy's party, prepared. How much better for us if all humans died in costly nursing homes amid doctors who lie, nurses who lie, friends who lie, as we have trained them, promising life to the dying, encouraging the belief that sickness excuses every indulgence, and even, if our workers know their job, withholding all suggestion of a priest lest it should betray to the sick man his true condition! And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever. pp. 23-24

I love the phrase "contented worldliness" (If you take the phrase itself out of context, I would argue that  Lewis doesn't even believe there is such a thing because he knows that you can never be truly content by filling yourself up with the world because it is empty. Contented worldliness is a never-ending quest. See Lewis' book Surprised by Joy or my blog post about it from years ago). Here I think it means "the belief that life will go on as it always has" without the need to change anything or answer any serious questions.

This is not to say that the desired state for living is a constant state of non-dissociation. In one of my psych classes last semester, we talked about anxiety disorders stemming from an inability to dissociate. Example: every time you get in an elevator, you think it's going to plummet to the bottom. Every time you get in a car, you think it's going to crash. Every time you do something that has become normal in our society, but when scrutinized, could have potential dangers... I am actually very familiar with these types of fears. I am the only one who will go hide in the pantry when a tornado is near by.

I think Lewis is saying that for the fear to be brought up is a good thing in that it forces us to remember ourselves as temporal beings on earth. But, the fear is meant to bring you to a point of resolution i.e. trust in God and the knowledge that your spirit is safe with him in the event of disaster, emergency, or death.

In chapter six, he explains that we are not to conquer the thing we are afraid of, but only our fear of it. The fear coming to us is the true reality, while the "thing" we dread is still out there in the future and largely immaterial. "It is your business to see that the patient never thinks of the present fear as his appointed cross, but only of the things he is afraid of" (pp. 25-26). Most of the things that I spend time being afraid of will never happen, and the real enemy is the fear itself, not the various scenarios I can concoct in my head. It is to my and our advantage to recognize when we are entering "a state of fear, anger or lust" so that we can then go in the other direction.

Reflection over, time to plan meals for the week and go to the store. Tune in next time for ch. 7 & 8...

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Screwtape Letters, Ch. 3 and 4

This morning I read chapters 3 and 4 at my favorite breakfast place in downtown Madison-- Marigold. The content in chapter three didn't jump out at me as much as chapters one and two. It's all about the patient's relationship with his mother and the things that can go wrong in interpersonal relationships when people live together-- focusing on quirks, believing that the person is trying to irritate you on purpose when they're not even aware that a particular action annoys you, attacking the person and then getting upset when they express that they feel attacked.

The best part was pp. 11-12 when Screwtape talked about getting the patient to think, pray, and be concerned only about his "inner life" and his mother's soul vs. her actual needs or his behavior towards her. Then he talked about separating the actual person being prayed for from the prayers on their behalf. There's this great and tragic line, "I have had patients so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment's notice from impassioned prayer for a wife's or son's 'soul' to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm" (p.13). In his kind of prayer, the pray-er's vision of the person they are praying for becomes distorted, and the compassion that would ordinarily spring up for that person in prayer doesn't spill over when you encounter the real person.

Chapter four was all about prayer. Some of the insights from this chapter have stuck with me since I first read the book in high school. Sadly, I do not practice them as often as I should.

First, Screwtape explains that re-converts can be persuaded not to have regularity in their prayers if they remember how rigid their childhood prayers were. He says:

 In reaction against that, he may be persuaded to aim at something entirely spontaneous, inward, informal, and unregularised; and what this will actually mean in a beginner will be an effort to produce in himself a vaguely devotional mood in which real concentration of will and intelligence have no part. One of their poets, Coleridge, had recorded that he did not pray 'with moving lips and bended knees' but merely 'composed his spirit to love' and indulged 'a sense of supplication'. This is exactly the sort of prayer we want...

He then mentions the actual physical posture used during prayer, "they can be persuaded that the bodily position makes no difference to their prayers; for they constantly forget, what you must always remember, that they are animals and that whatever their bodies do affects their souls" (p.16). I am not in the habit of kneeling when I pray, but I wonder if he has a point here, somewhat relating back to what he said in earlier chapters about getting distracted by "real life." If I wanted to get more out of "real life," would I get on my knees more to try to create a definite break with the "normal"?

Another way to prevent good prayer is to "turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves" (p.16). Screwtape talks about the pray-er looking inwards too much and trying to create different moods in himself. "When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and never notice that this is what they are doing (pp. 16-17)." He goes on to say, "Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling; and never let them suspect how much success or failure of that kind depends on whether they are well or ill, fresh or tired, at the moment."

Here's the emotion piece again. Both in the first example with trying to create a feeling or 'composing the spirit to love' and in the second with measuring success by feelings, he's right, it's pretty vague. It's about how we feel vs. who God is. This is why we have to look at him and not at ourselves. True worship has the quality that we see God, and, seeing him, everything else mysteriously fades into the background. It returns to where it has belonged for the whole time, but we haven't been able to keep it in perspective and God in his rightful place in our hearts.

In the next section, Screwtape actually talks about how humans see God, or don't see him. He talks about composite images and pieces stuck together and urges his nephew to keep his charges praying to "it," the made up image, rather than God himself. He says:

For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers 'Not to what I think thou art but what thou knowest thyself to be', our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their mere subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it-- why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation-- the real nakedness of the soul in prayer-- you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose. There's such a thing as getting more than they bargained for!

I realize I'm quoting huge sections of the book, but that's because it's so good. How can you add to it?

From what he said in the first chapters and what he's saying now, it seems that there is a new area that we need to find in terms of real life, real needs, and spiritual needs. In the earlier chapters, Screwtape distracts a man from thinking about matters of eternal consequence by getting him to think about his lunch instead, but in this chapter, he wants the man to think/pray about his mother's soul instead of remembering her actual felt needs and sufferings. The first man escaped his eternal thoughts by "a good dose of real life." He saw newspapers and buses and the world outside. He was distracted by the present moment. But perhaps the difference is that "the world outside" didn't have a claim on him in the same way that a person's mother has. The first man needed to attend to his own questions and the second man needed to care about his mother's rheumatism more than her soul, or let caring for her physical needs be a means of caring for her soul? In the section with the mother, Screwtape says, "his ideas about her soul will be very crude and often erroneous." This is where the chasm gets created and the person in prayer and in real life are completely different. Is he saying that when it comes to another person, it's better not to make assumptions about their soul but to go on what we know and pray for that?

Trip to DC

Caleb and I traveled to Washington DC this past weekend before a friend's wedding in Delaware. I'll give you the play by play. 

At the beginning of the day. I snapped a pic here because I thought, "Oh, you can see the capitol." Little did I know we would get a lot closer to it than this by the end of the day.

Standard White House pic. Gotta have it. This was our first stop. 

Door pic for Mom. It says at the top, "Dedicated to Art." 

Snapped this one on the way to the Holocaust Museum. 

Vietnam Memorial with Washington Monument in background. 

Caleb and I were both really excited to see the Reflection Pool. I had seen it in a bunch of Bones episodes-- they sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and look out at the pool. Kind of lame that I wanted to see it so much because of a tv show, but what can I say? However, when we got to the Lincoln Memorial, this is what we saw. No pool. This may have been the biggest disappointment in the whole trip. 

I loved the Lincoln Memorial, even with its lack of pool. There's a small exhibit under it that was actually really good. It was very moving to see all the ways that the Lincoln Memorial has had significance to so many groups, esp. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. The exhibit had about thirty tv screens playing different clips of performers or speeches or rallies that took place at the memorial. The place was leaking deep significance. I was glad that we stumbled upon the exhibit. They had a wall showing all the different countries that had made a postage stamp with Lincoln on it. Here's a man whose message continues to be used by different groups who continue to add layers of meaning. 

We also got to go to the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. This is the entrance. 

It was encouraging to see the numbers of black people who came to this memorial. I got really excited about it. The government finally decided to say, "Here is a piece of Washington/ the National Mall that is just for you and for your stories. Here is something honoring your history and legacy as a race." I think it's awesome. The people we saw were really into it, too. Of everything we saw in DC, this was the only memorial with a significant number of black people in attendance.  

On both sides of the entrance, different quotations from MLK Jr. are engraved in stone with the date and place that he said them. 

Here's an example. 

Jefferson Memorial across the water. This is the view of it from the MLK Jr. Memorial. 

Once we reached the Library of Congress, we were both really tired and looked like this. This is why: after we went to the Holocaust Museum, which was very intense and about two hours long, we tried to find some lunch. We searched for restaurants on our GPS and found a Potbelly with a couple other places close by and headed off in that direction, but when we got there, everything was closed. I get extremely grouchy when I haven't eaten for a while and my feet were killing me. There was a CVS and a Starbucks open. So we bought a bag of potato chips and ate almost the whole thing. Then got a frappucino while we planned our next move. That was, to go over to the Library of Congress and the Capitol before they closed and buy a hot dog on the way if we saw one. So, we walked more and finally found the metro station we were looking for. No hot dogs. We blitzed the Library of Congress, just one of the buildings, and then walked over to the capitol. 

The beautiful capitol. I had no idea it was this big. Unfortunately we were prevented from going in because of some security scare. Bummer. 

The backside of the capitol. Still pretty. 

After this, we wandered extremely tiredly back to our hotel. We got hot dogs on the way, but it was the worst hot dog I've ever had and there was mold on my bread. The metro station closest to us was closed on the weekends, so we had to walk even further to get to another one. I think we walked about 10 miles that day. I've never walked so much in my life, even in England. Definitely should have worn different shoes. 

One of the coolest things on the trip, I don't have any pictures of, and that was the National Archives. We went on Monday before our flight. It was kind of unnerving to go to the room, and see these faded pieces of parchment that our whole government is based on. I read lines on the different documents and thought to myself, "Oh, that's why it's that way." Because the founding documents said so. It made me realize how little I know about our government and why it is how it is. I was impressed that the government is still running on the principles/rules that were originally set forth for it. I loved reading the information in the exhibit and seeing how revolutionary it really was for them to try to unite the different states. I couldn't believe that they had written one of them in a period of only three months. That's how long it took them to design a government, and it's still working okay. These guys weren't professionals. What a cool time to have been alive. They had little idea of what they were creating, and they went for it anyway*. It was extremely educational and definitely worth seeing. 

*The information in this section is not strictly fact. Please don't base anything consequential on it. Go to the exhibit yourself or do some research. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Screwtape Letters, Ch. 1 and 2

I picked up The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis) to supplement my reading this morning. I haven't read it since I was in high school, and I always love going back to a book full of wisdom to see what will jump out at me that I didn't take note of the first time or that I have since forgotten. Here are some observations from the first two chapters. For those unfamiliar with the premise of the book, it is a series of letters written from one demon to another, his nephew, on the subject of tempting humans. It is written from their perspective and so refers to God as "the Enemy" and the devil as "Our Father Below." The chapters are short but packed full of insight into the human condition and spiritual life and realities.

The first thing that struck me was that the tempters know what is true themselves, at least, in a twisted sort of way. I had been under the impression that they were always trying to persuade humans to believe what they believed, but that's not the case. They try to keep humans from God, but they themselves know that there is a God and that he is powerful, etc. They are trying to keep people from the truth, not persuade them to believe in what demons believe in, because even they acknowledge the existence of God (and shudder, James 2:19). So what they're trying to sell fits into a different category and I'm not sure what to call it. I don't think it's a positive thing like "belief in x," but more of a negative thing like "any way of living or believing that does not acknowledge God." As long as that criterion is met, they would probably be happy, because, no matter what kind of life a person lives, in the end that determines who has victory over a person's life. Their job is distraction and distortion...

In a passage on p. 2, the uncle Screwtape says:

By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can forsee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it 'real life' and don't let him ask what he means by 'real'.

Here is a fascinating passage. Screwtape goes on to relate the story of a man he tricked out of thinking about deeper issues by getting him to go eat lunch instead. He's distracting people from the unseen with what is seen and felt. But the problem with that for people is that what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor. 4:18). "Real" life, our surroundings, can be deceiving.

Another example of the difference between the seen and unseen occurs on p. 5 when Screwtape talks about the church:

One of our greatest allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate...

How often do we forget the true image of the church or trade it for the image we see on Sunday mornings?

He goes on in this chapter to describe the people in the church, their faults and areas of inadequacy to the human eye, but also their appearance to him, "you may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy's side" (p.6). In this book, and in The Great Divorce, Lewis does an excellent job at contrasting the reality that is seen with the eye to the eternal reality. In The Great Divorce, there is a section describing a seemingly ordinary woman, who in heaven is completely transformed, or rather, revealed in her true form of beauty and grace. We are at a great disadvantage when it comes to seeing things as they really are. We cannot recognize "great warriors" when they sit in the next pew.

My favorite section from the first two passages touches on some of the themes I've been exploring in this blog, namely, discipline and getting where you want to go. Lewis calls it "the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing." Here is the section:

Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman. The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who has been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His 'free' lovers and servants-- 'sons' is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals. Desiring their freedom, He therefore refuses to carry them, by their mere affections and habits, to any of the goals which He sets before them: He leaves them to 'do it on their own'. And there lies our opportunity. But also, remember, there lies our danger. If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.

God doesn't force us. He leads us to the path and then the rest is up to us. Perhaps it takes a little longer, but there are lessons for us along the way-- the lessons of hard work and the lesson Lewis points out-- less dependence on emotion. That's a big one I need to learn. Sometimes emotion can't be trusted and it just needs to be put aside. I wish there were an easy way to do this. God's goal in this is our freedom. How interesting.

Tune in next time for chapters 3 and 4, or, go pick up the book yourself and read it along with me. It's quick in the reading, but provides thinking material to occupy hours and hours...

Thursday, September 1, 2011

College Kids and a Letter to Mom

College students. I just love them. I went downtown with a couple people from the MAC (Madison Alliance Church) today to hand out invites to our preview service on 9/18. Picture this: people from a bunch of churches with all their stacks of paper inviting students to come to their events, free iPad drawing by the Catholic group, people from banks, people with football ticket info, Navigators, Campus Crusade. Everyone was there. Then, the students get off the bus and walk towards the stadium for their next orientation event. There are swarms. And you try to get them to take a flyer by holding it out to them when they pass. Making eye contact is good, smiling, wearing a cute outfit, saying hi. Those things generally worked. We ran out of invites.

The Kohl Center where we were--
imagine going to orientation
in a place so huge!
But the greatest thing of all was that I had forgotten how much I love love love students. It was total bliss. Even though we were just handing out invitations as they all lumbered past (need some livestock imagery here because they were a giant herd. When I think "lumbering" I think cattle or other small-brained but large-in-size animals), I loved seeing their faces. I don't know if I was the only one who could read their minds, but I could. Some were excited, others indifferent, some irritated at being thrust so many pieces of paper, others curious. Some of them looked like they really wanted/needed a friend or were homesick-- they hadn't found a little group to go around to the events with-- and those were the ones I had the extreme desire to pull out of the line and ask, "How are you really doing? Are you doing okay? I know you're not having very much fun right now. Orientation sucks, but it will get better. You will make friends. You will love college. You will discover who you really are and what you love." I wanted to hug them and tell them it was going to be alright. They were the ones who were looking for somewhere to go where they would really be seen and valued. They needed a little hope and love and not to feel alone. The worst is feeling alone when you're surrounded by thousands of people and no one sees you, at least, not the real you that you know you are.

Man, I loved it. I walked out of there on cloud 9 with so much energy going through me, I think I was annoying to the people I was with. It reminded me of OCO days and talking to students about SMP trips. I never thought I would reminisce about the ministry fair. Hah! But I think it reminded me of Wheaton because of the students. Being a freshmen in college is such a unique experience because you can be anyone you want to be. You can try new things and no one will know that it's totally different from who you were in high school-- for me, I tried crew (there were people recruiting for UW crew there today, too. I would have handed out their papers too if they had asked me). That was definitely different for me. College is the time when you're looking around to see what really matters to you. Freshman year is fun, but the rest of college (maybe freshman year, too) is one of the most formative times when you learn what you love and what you are for (in the sense of being for or against something). I loved talking to students at Wheaton who were a couple of years younger than me and watching them wrestle with important questions and grow and change and see who God is and who they can be. It's a time that's full of potential, and that's why it's so darn exciting.

My sister is a freshman this year at Wake Forest, and any one of those students today could have been her.

In other news, I had a moment today when I realized that I sounded just like my mom. I would like to dedicate the rest of this post to her:

Dear Mom,
I hope you realize what you've done. Somehow, in raising me, you imparted to me, along with all your noble qualities, your idealism, indignance, directness, strong will, and disregard for the establishment (Mandy and Jon probably have them, too). Today, I was talking on the phone giving a fairly routine spiel on all the reasons why the things an institution is doing are wrong, and then elaborating the way the institution should be and why. It was crystal clear. Then, the person I was talking to said, "Well, do you think God's put you in this position so you can learn submission?" And then I said no and that I didn't believe in submission. Midway through the conversation, when I was contemplating a loaf of French bread, I realized that I was saying the all things that you would say if you were me (or, if I was you, which is more likely!). So, thanks. Neither one of us got to be hippies, but this strand of brazenness will probably inevitably continue through the generations and you and Grandma will be legends. Why is it weird to be women like us? I don't get it. I guess I did get some of it from Dad too, so I can't blame you entirely ; ) Watch out that I don't turn into some kind of radical living in Madison, WI. The climate here might trigger my Roann-like-ness to grow to even greater depths.