"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

6.30.2006

he's so fuzzy, he's so great

You can't make this stuff up.

My friend the Maritime Security Expert says that the Japanese have no sense of irony. She said this after working outside Tokyo for six months. She said this again when giving me a keychain shaped like Prime Minister Koizumi (it looks like a caricature, with an enlarged head relative to the rest of his body). "It could have been Winnie the Pooh," she said. "Makes no difference."

But surely, surely, SURELY Koizumi knew that it would be considered ironic if he sang "Love Me Tender" to Lisa-Marie. I mean, who goes to Graceland and manages not to smirk?

Then again. There are people who take Elvis really, really seriously. Four years ago we went to Graceland for our annual girls' weekend. Unfortunately, we inadvertently scheduled the weekend for the 25th anniversary of Elvis' passing from this mortal coil. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that I don't ever expect to again see that many Elvis impersonators of such diverse ancestry. (Oooh! Apparently they have a professional organization! Must be a great place to trade tips on applying pomade and avoiding getting tangled up in the wings on your American Eagle jumpsuit.) Nor do I ever again want to have see so many floral renditions of Elvis at a graveside. Ever.

I hope Koizumi had a good time. It sure sounds like he did. It would've been better if he'd sung "In the Ghetto," but then the president would have had an awkward p.r. moment. Me, I'm still a little miffed that Velvet Elvises are for sale at neither Graceland nor the Elvis Presley Birthplace in Tupleo, Mississippi (Don't ask. Tupelo was too far.). But my attorney tells me you can take a photo and have a velvet anyone made in Nuevo Laredo. Or you can go to this website and get yourself turned into Velvet Elvis. So there's hope.

and it's Congolese Independence Day



Could not have said it better myself. When people in the DRC asked me why America was so successful and Congo, um, isn't, I'd often talk about the fact that we've had longer to develop our democracy than they have. After all, for the first hundred and fifty years of the USA, most of our population couldn't vote. Congo's only been independent for four decades, and they've only been free of Mobutu for ten years.

The other thing I frequently talked about is the principle of rule of law. What makes America different, I'd say, is that everyone -- from a homeless man on the street to a senator or the president -- is subject to the same laws. If you murder someone, no matter who you are, you are supposed to be tried, convicted, and punished, even if you're a rich man.


I always felt a little bad about putting things that way, because of course I know that the rich are far less likely to be convicted of crimes than the poor. We don't have a perfect republic, and we never will. But reminding our president that everyone is subject to the rule of law is a step in the right direction. How sad that it took a court to remind us. How wonderful that we have courts that are subject to that same rule of law. We don't have the problems that plague so many places in the world, because our society really is built on a belief that liberty and justice for some is not enough.

6.29.2006

don't remember learning how to hate in sunday school

FINALLY. The Supreme Court ruled this morning that the Bush Administration cannot try prisoners at Guantanamo Bay before military commissions because they are not allowed under American law or the Geneva Conventions. Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was decided by a 5-3 majority (Roberts recused himself because he ruled on the appeal before he was appointed to the Supreme Court).

Now. There's no doubt that many of the people being held at Gitmo are Very Bad Guys. Most of them probably deserve to be in prison. At present, it's all but impossible for outsiders to determine if some of those prisoners are being wrongfully held. It's already happened - innocent men were held there and later released.

But the fact that they have committed crimes against humanity or crimes of war or done things that are just plain evil does not mean that they are not entitled to a fair trial with adequate representation. When we take away basic rights before the law, when we use torture as a method of getting information, we are no better than the regimes we fight against. We lose the moral high ground if we don't provide prisoners with the right to a fair trial, to qualified attorneys, and to a just decision as to their guilt or innocence. If they're guilty, those men held in Cuba should be locked up for life. But they are people just like us, and as people endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, they deserve a chance to plead their case.

This decision is a defeat for the Bush Administration. It is a defeat for those who want to turn these United States into a garrison state where anything can be justified in the name of security. It is a defeat for an administration that rejects portions of laws by executive decree rather than constitutional legislative processes. It is a victory for freedom, that elusive ideal that the Bush Administration purports to care so passionately about.

6.28.2006

in all the world

Washington. I flew into BWI yesterday afternoon. Rain. I had too much luggage to take the train, so caught the Super Shuttle into the city with three other people. Two of the guys had been on my flight from Nashville and we went to their stop first. Walter Reed. One of them asked me if I was going to a particular house in the compound, and I said, no, I'm headed to the city. He and his buddy had come up from Fort Campbell. They'd both been in Iraq, and his friend got hurt, so he had to come up for an appointment at Walter Reed. We talked about how everyone has friends who are there, or have been there, or who know somebody who know somebody who's been. I thanked them for what they do for us and they got out and we drove off in the rain to fight the traffic and I thought about Nathan and Andrew and Will over there and said a prayer.

After staying up half the night chatting with the CPP, woke up this morning (barely), and went out for coffee with Steve the Lawyer. Steve the Lawyer and his former roommate The Diplomat are battling to see who can have the worst job in their particular government agency. Steve deals with prisoner rights at a certain infamous detention facility. The Diplomat deals with human rights in Sudan. I told Steve I think the Diplomat wins simply by virtue of the fact that he has to live in Khartoum. Then again, the rest of the world doesn't hate the Diplomat. They definitely hate what Steve the Lawyer has to defend.

Seeing Steve the Lawyer is always a trip, sometimes literally. In addition to having the most expensive education of anyone I know, he's also the most well-traveled of my friends. Case in point: the Fourth of July. Some of us are cooking out, setting our neighborhoods/neighbors on fire with roman candles, and/or watching fireworks from the terrace at the Willard. Steve the Lawyer is going to Bogata. In Colombia. For the second time. For fun. So between that and the "So, how was the Congo?" conversation, it was a good time.

After that I went over to the LOC to get a researcher card to get access to the books and archives. Had to go to the Capitol South metro stop, which I hadn't been to in years. Riding up the slow, slow escalator, I was thinking about what a funny mixture of people pass through that one little metro stop, especially in the summer: sunburned tourists and their kids, youth groups and leadership campers and class trips and their exhausted sponsors, clueless interns trying to look like they know what they're doing, nervous job applicants headed to interviews, academics bound for the stacks in the Jefferson Building, along with the lobbyists and staffers and homeless guys who are there all year just trying to get by. I've lived and traveled in DC in so many of those guises: as a tourist on family vacations when I was 12 and 13, as part of a high school leadership week when I was 16, as a would-be Georgetown student at 17, as a clueless intern when I was 21 (and as a jaded and bitter intern at 23), as a nervous, dressed up interviewee for a dream job at 22, as a Responsible Adult trying to keep up with teenagers at 26, and countless times in between doing research and hanging out with friends.

And now I'm here at 28. I guess I am here as a researcher, but that doesn't explain who I am, any more than "lobbyist" describes the guys in suits rushing up the metro escalator steps while arguing on their cell phones, or than "intern" describes the hopeful nineteen-year-olds who pay crazy rent to spend a summer making copies and coffee for no pay but get to meet their heroes (and maybe a rock star along the way). We're so much more than what we look like. There's so much more to us than how we seem to strangers. And somewhere in the mix of all those years and all those identities, I'm realizing that I did figure something out. I 'm not defined by what I do, or with whom I associate, or how much I get done. In one month, I've come from one of the poorest places in the world to the doorstep of power. The trappings of accomplishments don't mean so much anymore. It's enough to just be.

two for the show

LULAC wins. Kindof. At least Laredo will get a representative for their district. In Austin, we're still stuck with the pizza-pie division that puts me in a district that reaches the Valley, and my best friend in a district that goes to Houston. And apparently Craddick is still free to redraw the map lines whenever DeLay says. (Gag, could another special be headed our way? Surely they'll wait until after failing to re-redistrict in the regular session...)

What I find really interesting about this case is who sided with the majority. You won't see Roberts, Alito, and Ginsberg on the same side of a case very often.

And the flag amendment failed, so we can put that issue to rest along with gay marriage until the next midterm election year. It's almost like I'm getting cynical.

And a salute to the Eisenhower interstate system, which turns 50 today. Haven driven about 2500 miles of it in the last 2 weeks, I am grateful for the fast lane. I also think that trucks should not be allowed to drive in construction zones in daylight hours.

baby watch (#7)

Welcome to the world, Claire! June 21, 2006, 8 pounds, 1 ounce.
Claire's mom and I have been friends for more than twenty years - we both moved to Franklin from the Lubbock area. She's a cutie!

6.26.2006

5 more seconds

Can I just say how cool this is? It's my blog, so I will: it is SO cool -- that the one and only time in my life that anything I have to say will ever appear in a big, national publication -- it is so, so cool that the cover of that issue features Teddy Roosevelt. Not so cool? The fact that one of the cover stories is entitled, "Karl Rove on 7 Lessons from T.R." (Although come to think, it's almost appropriate given that Rove shows up EVERYWHERE the CPP and I go.)

Also, this is appalling, but not surprising, and it's still inexcusable in a rich state regardless of whether there's been a real statistical change in the last five years or not. 23% of Texas children live in poverty. That's one in every five of the children you see in the park, on school buses, in your church. And that's only the ones officially defined as being in families living below the poverty line. The true number of Texas kids who live without adequate access to food, healthcare, and other basic needs is closer to 50%.

Low taxes + low service + a legislature and governor with messed-up priorities = starving Texas children. Why do we let them get away with it?

listen to the radiator making broken sounds

I used to not go out on Friday nights in Austin. Not because there weren't things to do (there is ALWAYS something to do in Austin), and not because I was feeling anti-social. No, the reason I made it a point to stay home on Fridays was Bill Moyers and his program NOW. NOW is still the best news program that I've ever seen on television - Moyers covered subjects everyone else ignored, with attention to detail and actual analysis (instead of screaming matches between people who barely know what they're talking about). It was so good, and it was so sad when he left, and the new host is fine, but it's not worth staying in for anymore.

But now, at least for a few weeks this summer, there's a reason to stay home on Friday nights again: the new Moyers program Faith and Reason. He interviewed Salman Rushdie on Friday night and will be speaking to lots of other figures in the worlds of faith and, well, reason in the next few weeks. There's a nice interview in the DMN on Moyers and his topics here. Happy day!

6.24.2006

empty as a monday morning church

Congo is apparently crawling with international journalists preparing to cover the elections. Here are stories from the Post and one from the Times that came out while I was in Atlanta.

The Other Diplomat told us all about how ridiculous the ballots are. They have to use pictures because so many people are illiterate. Since there are 3,000 people running for the National Assembly, the ballot has all of their tiny pictures printed. It is a logistical nightmare like we cannot comprehend.

The thing that should make a casual observer take notice is this sentence in the Post: "Some of the 53,000 polling stations are so remote that election workers will have to walk for 10 days down jungle paths to deliver the ballots."

This is because there are almost no roads in Congo. How do you have a free, much less fair, election in a place where someone has to carry the ballots for 10 days through jungles full of militias and soldiers who have absolutely no interest in real peace?

What's most haunting to me, though, are the pictures in the Times story. There's a woman sitting on a bed with her daughter, who is starving to death in the shadow of an empty IV hookup. There's no medicine to save the baby, and she knows it. She's wearing a skirt made from the cheapest type of bright pagne fabric you can buy in the eastern Congo, and her infant daughter is wrapped in the other half of that piece of fabric. It's colorful. It's turquoise and orange. It's familiar. I probably saw that fabric every time I went to that part of the market in Goma. I know I saw women wearing dresses made of it. If you flip through the photos, you'll notice that several women are wearing the same print. It's a popular choice. It's not expensive, it's bright, and the red clay dirt won't show.

How many times did I see that fabric and not even notice? How many times did I look it over and decide that it wasn't pretty, wasn't to my taste, wasn't something I'd be caught dead in?

Now it will be a shroud for a sweet baby girl. Now it will be the mourning cloth for a mother who couldn't do anything to save her child. Now it will be a haunting question: how many times were there mothers and babies did I not notice? How many times did anonymous suffering become so familiar that I didn't even see it? How many times did I overlook people created in God's image because I didn't take time to stop and hear their story, and see if we knew someone who could help? How many times?

mourn with those who mourn

So I'm famous. Okay, not exactly, but Time is publishing part of my letter to the editor on their DR Congo story in the July 3 edition. This is about as close to famous as I'd ever want to be. Apparently people were pretty upset by the orginal story and the haunting photographs of the situation in the eastern DRC. There are lots of really good letters on Congo up on their site already - you can read them here. My letter is there; I wrote it right before leaving Africa and it looks like they published about half of it.

6.22.2006

it's not the heat

Baptists. Everywhere, Baptists. But it's fun. I know a lot more people this year than last, and it's interesting. Heard a great talk at lunch today; more on that if we ever get internet access in our rooms.

6.21.2006

sink or swim you gotta give it a whirl

Sunday morning I went back to church. It was so great to be at a service that was in English and not tinged with fundamentalist overtones. And it was great to see everyone, although it was more than a little overwhelming. I was kindof hoping to just sneak in. So much for that idea. But it really was wonderful to see people and catch up and hear about all that's happened. The service itself was great, too. We sang, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" and the handbells played my favorite hymn, "Come Thou Fount." Our pastor was out of town, so Don Vanderslice preached. Don is the pastor of Mosaic, which is the emergent church that meets in our building. His sermon was entitled, "Dance Dance Revolution."

Now. I'd imagine that anyone who actually caught the reference thought of that crazy video game they played in Lost in Translation at the karaoke lounge. But this had The Librarian, The Attorney, and me very amused on Saturday when we found out about it for an entirely different reason, because it sounded like Don Vanderslice was making a reference to John Vanderslice's excellent new song, "Exodus Damage." Sadly, the Vanderslice song was not referenced in the Vanderslice sermon. (Although I'm sure Don knew what he was doing. He's hip to what the kids are listening to these days.) Things that were referenced in the sermon: Otis Redding, James Brown live at Stubbs, dancing in Uganda, and Breakin' II: The Electric Boogaloo. (Don (in sermon): "[something something something] greatest inspiration ever was Boogaloo Shrimp." Me (not out loud): "Did he just say...?" Rest of congregation except for The Attorney, The Librarian, and the other six people who are approximately the right age to remember such horrors: confused silence.)

Popular culture references that have certainly never been made in a Baptist church (even a moderate/liberal one) ever before aside, the sermon was great. It was all about taking risks, losing your life to find it, and choosing to get out there and dance when everything sensible says not to. It was about choosing a life that might bring failure, but one that will certainly be more fulfilling than the life of our society that has "bowed down before the golden calf of success," as Don put it. "What Jesus is after in us," he said, "it's not success, it's faithfulness. There's a big difference." And the choice we have to make, the question we have to answer, he said, is, "Do you want to live? Do you want to dance?"

And then church ended. We sang this absolutely awful hymn, one that The Librarian absolutely hates. It's in a minor key, is painfully long, and our music minister loves it. So of course I giggled through the entire invitation and sang the old words, "to the suburbs where men flee" instead of the sanitized version in the new hymnal that makes the inner city and the suburbs both mission fields. It's what we do. (Actually, it's what I do. The Librarian refuses to sing it.) But even with that, that question: "Do you want to dance?" It lingered.

I thought a lot about it on the long drive back to Tennessee. Stopped in Memphis to have dinner with The Intrepid Lobbyist and we talked about Congo and her trip to Italy and jobs and life and directions and the Dixie Chicks and calling. We talked about Buechner's definiton of vocation as the place where your deepest desire and the world's greatest need intersect. I think "collide" might be a better description in some cases. Don talked about some South African theologian's idea that there's a point of crisis where danger and opportunity reside together - the risk that makes it all worth it. And The Intrepid Lobbyist used what I thought was an amazing metaphor for the other choice. All around me people are getting on the highway to this life, she said, and there aren't any exits.

There aren't any exits. I wonder if that's true. You decide to settle down and take a job in business or the law or journalism or whatever, get the mortgage and the white picket fence in a safe place, have 2.5 kids and 2.5 cars, and live the American dream. It's success. It's what we all do. And there's nothing wrong with that. I don't think.

It just doesn't always match up well with the idea of a point of crisis where "danger and opportunity reside together." Or where the world's painful cry and your abilities and gifts and calling crash into one another in a way that makes you realize that this is what you have to do with your life -- even when you don't know what this is. And so many people get to the end of their lives and realize that they haven't really lived.

I'm reading the most interesting book, by a guy named Shane Claiborne. It's called The Irresistable Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical and it's the story of Claiborne's decision not to pursue the American dream, but to live a life of poverty, simplicity, and love on the streets of Philadelphia. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says, and the writing isn't great, but it's a challenging story. How do you live your old life when you've seen injustice on an unbelievable scale? What do you do with abundance when your friends are starving? Can success and faithfulness coexist? If you make this other, risky, scary choice, is there an exit? Do you even care?

I heard Don Vanderslice preach along with Brian Seay four years ago, right after I moved to Austin, the second time I ever visited what's now "my" church. They were getting ready to start this new kind of church in Austin, and they had prepared a service to show the church what it would be like. I didn't know anybody there; it was that strange summer when I was mostly alone except at work and when The Doctor would drive down on the weekends. I don't remember everything they said that day, but I remember that it was about water, and I remember that we sang "Come Thou Fount." How strange that so much time can pass so quickly. How strange that so much can change and that at the same time it can all come full circle in the words and music and conversations with friends. How strange that "tune my heart to sing thy grace" might, just might, mean having to learn to dance in a whole new way.

6.20.2006

nimby

Nooooooooo!!! We do not need a Wal-Mart in the middle of a great Austin neighborhood! And since when is the corner of Burnet and Anderson "the inner city"?

6.19.2006

"well, there's one other do-nothing-er"

Stephen Colbert is a rock star.

safely home by thy good grace

Amen and amen and amen. There are so few evangelicals in academia, and almost all of them are very, very, very, very conservative. Not that I think this is a reason to break communion, but four years of being the least conservative person (politically and theologically!) in the GCF may be starting to get to me...

Sorry for the light posting of late. I drove to Texas and back this week and head to Atlanta on Wednesday. But I'll get something more substantial up Tuesday afternoon for sure.

6.17.2006

if i get close to it

This has been the best weekend. Austin. Until this winter, I hadn't left Austin for more than a few weeks since moving here. Being back has made me realize how much I missed it. There's just nothing like this laid-back, live music-loving city. I've been running all over town all weekend, meeting friends for lunch and dinner, hearing all the gossip, and seeing what's changed in the last few months. Last night was our annual Late Night Tex-Mex Fest. This occurs once a year when T the Consultant flies in from the Big City. T is a native Texan and she insists on going out to eat as soon as her feet touch Texas soil. Unfortunately, her flights generally arrive around 10pm, which makes it a little more challenging, but T's sister, best friend, and I have finally worked out a system that gets us to Guero's ten minutes before they close at 11 if everything goes according to plan. Generally.

Last night it didn't work. Apparently Continental had a little problem matching the number of seats on the plane with the number of paying customers out of Houston, so Guero's was closed by the time T was out. So we had to revert to Backup Plan B, Magnolia Cafe. T got her enchiladas, the rest of us had chips and queso, and we had a great time catching up on each others' lives. T's best friend works under the pink dome, so she had some good stories (Senator West in a purple velour jumpsuit, anyone? Oh, but he did.).

Saturday I got to hang out with the family whose kids I sometimes babysit for. Their older son had a concert for the end of his week at Longhorn Music Camp, so we got to hear their excellent performance. He's such a rock star - one of the only sixth graders at the camp to make the best band. Their performance was outstanding, much better than anything we ever did in high school. Here's a picture of the view from our seats during the "photo opportunity" the band director offered:

As you can see, we were much more entertained by the spectacle than we were concerned about getting the perfect scrapbook shot. This is what makes the family so great - and they really have become my family in Austin. I'm so thankful to get to be there to watch the kids grow up. We decamped to Amy's after that and then I got to see their super-cool new house. It's so much fun, to be in a place that is home, to be with people you love, and to know that the best is yet to come.

6.16.2006

baby watch 2006 (#6 in a series of 17)

My cousin had a baby. He was early and still weighed 8 pounds 6 ounces. Welcome to the world, Cutter!

6.15.2006

i would swim the seas for to ease your pain


I went to see Allie yesterday. It's been almost two months. I needed to say good-bye. I couldn't find her at first - the gatekeeper gave me directions, but I went the wrong way and ended up wandering around for awhile. Waco's cemetery is beautiful. There are ancient live oak trees and well-cared for lawns and a sense of deep peace and of long histories. Her grave is in the old part of the cemetery, amongst the plots of the families for whom the streets of Waco and the buildings at Baylor are named. You walk between the Cashions and the Penlands and the Duttons and it's peaceful and quiet and exactly what a stately old cemetery should be.

But it's the exact opposite of Allie. Not the quiet - although that isn't really her either - but the grave itself. It is dry and cracked and the earth has pulled apart so you can see the exact outline of where they dug out six feet of earth and then dumped it back in. It is so dry. And there are the stems of flowers that died, because that's what happens to flowers in a place as hot as Waco, Texas in June. And it is so the opposite of my student and my friend who was full of life and love and excitement about the future.

I cried.

And then I had to leave, because it was time to see my friends. Betsy, who just said she wanted to "stare" at me for awhile, to make sure I'm really okay. My college "family," whose lives and kids are full of joy. Evan, their seven-year-old, whom I held the day he was born, has Africa in his heart. He asked if he could come with me next time. I told him that you have to get nine different shots to go to Africa, and he said, "That's okay." Because he'd already told me, "I just want to go to Uganda and tell people about Jesus."

And on to Austin, where they play "Big City" and Johnny Cash for Flag Day on the radio, and where the Librarian and I could talk for hours about life and babies and everything that's happened, and going through five months of mail. And even going to see The Advisor and Committee Member #4, the former of whom was at least not mean and the latter of whom is always kind. And checking out our new building and new offices and finding that my new grey cubicle in the windowless corner of the basement is at least next to a good friend. And going to Maudie's and remembering that it really is that yummy.

That's how it is. These first weeks back are unique time - almost like kairos, really - where you have to listen and love and be loved and make decisions about how it's going to be from here on out. You have to pay attention to all of these things, because otherwise you might miss it, whatever it is, somewhere tangled up in the web of old friends and a dusty grave and seeing God's clear call in a little boy's life. It, whatever it is, is pure grace.

a sight to see

E.J. Dionne gets it mostly right in his column on this year's SBC in tomorrow's Post, although there are some factual and interpretive errors (eg, the SBC bloggers have only been causing trouble for a year or so, he almost makes it sound like the moderate/fundamentalist struggle within the convention was a lot more recent than it actually was), he gets it right that there's something happening. And he's dead-on that the evangelical church is finally, "going through a quiet evolution as believers reflect on the perils of partisanship and ideology and their reasons for being Christian."

Not that I'm hopeful that the SBC will suddenly change directions and try to get moderates back. And not that any moderates I know are interested in reconciliation, really. But. I've been reading some of the under-40 SBC pastors' blogs. Like this guy, whose blog is called "Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee." I don't agree with a lot of his theology. But he gets it. A lot of them do. They're committed to their principles, but they aren't hateful. They won't slander anyone in Jesus' name. For that we can be thankful. And maybe we can even find a way to be brothers and sisters again.

they picked the biggest ball of twine in minnesota

Interesting/appalling things noted since returning to the states:

Aaaahhhh! This is so wrong on so many levels. What is this supposed to mean? That credit card debt will crucify you? Something about cancelled debt?

This picture was NOT taken in Austin, which is pretty impressive. Democratic party, are you listening? These are the people you need to get voting if you want to win anything this fall.

And Rob Jeopardy! Marus strikes exactly the right tone in his story on Condi's speech to the SBC. Only a Steve Earle reference could have made it funnier.

6.13.2006

get me back to Austin

I have a lot to blog about, but I'm driving to Texas today, so it'll have to wait. A couple of quick thoughts:
  1. The SBC will not be nearly as exciting as the moderate Baptist press/blogosphere wants it to be. The whole ordeal is just sad. Do the young conservatives realize that the architects of the resurgence/takeover are doing to them exactly what they did to moderates a generation ago?
  2. Tapes 'n Tapes is totally overrated. Or else they're a studio act. My first live show in over four months was really disappointing. More on that later.

Happy day, back to God's country!

6.12.2006

let your heart be broken

While the SBC-ers fight amongst themselves this week in Greensboro, there are children digging for the minerals we all use in the eastern Congo. A kid named Decu comments in the story that his father can't afford his school fees, so, "That's why my life is so hard." Decu is eight years old. It's an all-too-common knowledge of reality among Congolese children. I wonder if the Secretary will talk about that.

then your face will surely show it

I was supposed to be at youth camp this week.

It's just one of those things. The Youth Minister realized with one week's notice that he had too many sponsors and not enough kids and so when I got to London last week, there was an email waiting to say, "sorry, you can't go."

It happens. I understand. And, really, a week of youth camp is probably not the best thing to do when you're still culture-shocked and trying to catch up with everyone and everything. I'm so behind on so many things that matter when you're working with teenagers - movies, television, sleep. And I cried at the grocery store this weekend (there were too many choices in the salsa aisle). Not the best mindset for a week of no sleep/intense conversations/leading a group. So it's probably for the best.

But I'm sad to miss it. My phone keeps ringing with calls from kids. With the ones from my church, it's not a huge deal - I'll see them in the fall and will hear their stories and struggles and dramas and decisions just like always. But when it comes to the kids from the other churches in our camping association, that's different. Some of them you only get this one week to connect. At camp. It's the only chance to hear their stories, to hear about how their lives were this year, to hear what they're thinking about the year to come, where they're seeing God's call work itself out in very real ways in their lives.

Plus camp is just so much fun. It's the only time of year I drink coffee -- in a bizarre ritual known as "Slammers" which involves singing a silly "Swedish" song, then quickly pouring hot coffee over ice and seeing who can down it first. A kid talked me into trying it a few summers back, and it has become part of camp. As has the late night dance party our girls always stage on the hall, which usually has the effect of sponsors from other churches coming to inform us what our girls are doing. (We don't tell them the girls are using our stereo. Or that we ordered the pizza.) As are the only two rules you really need in youth ministry (1: No blood. 2: No fire. Or anything that could lead to either of the above.). As has cheering our guys on in the basketball tournament (this'll be the last year for AFNG to play, won't it?). As has the ritual of making t-shirts to wear on the bus home ("God Squad" is still the best.). As has the amusement of tracking down the couples who've gotten lost on their way back to the dorms after the dance (hint: the dorms are not in the direction of the baseball field.). As have the near-legendary practical jokes (duct tape and saran wrap, e.g.?). As has taking pictures and playing games and running around and hanging out and staying up late and talking to friends.

As has watching kids lead in worship and come to experience God in ways they'll carry with them for the rest of their lives. As is listening to our youth group share what's going on and groaning before answering the Youth Minister's always question ("Where have you seen God?"). As has taking communion on the last night of camp, served by students and their youth ministers. As has going to camp to serve the students and finding that you needed the week as much as they did. As have the incredible conversations you get to have with kids who are figuring out what they want to do, where they want to go, and, most importantly, what kind of person they want to be.

It's a gift to be a part of such a community. I'm missing it already.

6.11.2006

a land that is fairer than day

You've got to check this out. Apparently, the okapis are still alive in the eastern Congo. In Virunga National Park, which surrounds Goma and borders Uganda. If the rare species has survived fifteen years of war, that's really something.

If you've never seen a picture of an okapi, it's so bizarre. It looks like a cross between a giraffe and a zebra. I'd never heard of them until my first visit to Congo last summer. But, wouldn't you know it, it just happened that I sat next to the world expert on okapis on a flight from Mbuji-Mayi to Goma in March. He and his wife came out to Congo to do their dissertation research on the okapi and basically never left. I'm sure they're glad to hear this news.

6.10.2006

never settled on a name

I must hear this album. The first song is entitled, "the best ever death metal band in denton." The second track is called, "the fall of the star high school running back." And if it's half as good as The Sunset Tree, it'll be memorable.

6.09.2006

somebody went bananas

Pictures! There are pictures from my trip to the Congo here. There are three sets on Flickr, the "Congo Trip Highlights" set is probably the most interesting (especially if you want to see more monkeys, I mean "great apes" (sorry, Ben)), if a bit long. Sorry about that; I actually culled those from about 500 shots from the whole trip. Flickr is so cool....

6.08.2006

every little thing i know to do

This has been the perfect song for my first week home:

I have wandered from my home,
My lips are dry, my feet are worn
My eyes are blinded by the dust clouds in the road
But I’m looking for a day when the rain will come and pour
My hope is in the bounty of the Lord

And I’ve traveled far away like a reckless running train
Bound nowhere, racin’ in the night
Now I’m gathered in the hands that fall in that old land
I am resting in the bounty of the Lord
Yeah, I am resting in the bounty of the Lord

And I can hear the people singing, and the sound of tambourinin’
Every member of my distant family
It’s a place that I believe in even though I’ve never seen it
I’m believing in the bounty of the Lord
Yeah, I’m believing in the bounty of the Lord
My hope is in the bounty of the Lord.

It's off the fantastic Live at St. Andrew's album from Caroline Herring and Claire Holley. "In the Bounty of the Lord" is Holley's song. You can listen to the MP3 here, or to the original recording of the song here.
(Thanks to my darling sister for the tip, and for pointing out that the song is so beautiful that it almost makes up for turning tambourine" into an atrocious verb.)

6.07.2006

et la politique, c'est pas bon

6.06.2006

look away

This book sounds totally fascinating. Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind influenced my thinking in an important way when I read it in my first year of grad school. (His daughter was also a member of the YGCF.) Noll is a brilliant historian, and he refuses to accept platitutdes and conventional wisdom. Without having read the book (yet), I'll just say that as a society we haven't done enough to think about the way that crises in our history affect our theology. The Holocaust irrevocably changed Jewish (and some Christian) thought, belief, and practice. I'm scared to think of how an age of terrorism and pre-emptive war will change ours.

been dealing with all of these feelings

Home.

It was a long trip. The flight from Entebbe left an hour late because a man from California got really sick and had to get off the plane. The flight to Washington arrived an hour late, because there were storms between there and Boston, so we had to fly over to Syracuse and then south. It was after midnight on Friday night when I cleared customs and saw the CPP and Secret Agent Man. The CPP and I are incapable of not staying up talking until all hours when we find ourselves in the same city, so it was really late by the time I finally fell asleep, only to wake up at 6:30 Saturday morning. I was nearly asleep by the time I got to Nashville that evening.

Stupid jet lag.

It's so good to be back. It's so hard to be back. I'm getting used to it. Seeing friends in Washington was good. Seeing my family was wonderful. Remembering Allie, and seeing how sad the CPP and SAM are was hard, but it was also good. One thing I learned this spring is that it's really important to be around people you love when something terrible happens. Nobody can bear the sadness alone. We need our friends. The CPP gave me the program and the cd from her memorial service. It made it real. She's really gone. It's hard. But we could be sad together, and that makes all the difference.

After so many years, you'd think I'd be used to the culture-shock that happens when I get back to the west. It's always harder to come back than to go. Friday on the plane I was seated next to a woman who'd never left Uganda before. The flight attendant asked me to help her make her very tight connection. Can you imagine what Heathrow airport looked like to her? I felt terrible that we had to run - she couldn't believe how big and expansive and abundant everything was there - but we had to hurry and she didn't get to absorb it all. I've found myself wondering what she thinks of Toronto a lot this weekend. There's so much stuff, so much food, so much.

Re-entry is hard. I went to Target yesterday and managed not to cry until I got back out to the parking lot. This always happens, there or at the grocery store or someplace else. There are just too many choices, and all of them are so out-of-reach for my friends in Africa. It's hard.

E told us one night about how shocked she was when she first arrived in America to see how much food the students at the university wasted. She and C knew what it was to be hungry, and she would get very angry at people who took more food from the cafeteria line than they could possibly eat, or who threw away perfectly good food when her friends at home needed it. What bothered her the most, though, was that in just a few weeks, she was doing the same thing.

It's amazing how quickly you forget. I have yet to finish a meal in a restaurant since getting home, even at Hard Times on Saturday. There's just too much. I went back to Target today, and bought some clothes (different clothes! excitement!) and some stuff, none of which I really need, but all of which I can afford. And I didn't cry. I picked up a copy of a book I've been dying to read and an album that really is that good, and I didn't even really think about the Congo, until I got home and read an email from Mr. Florida about what's been happening in Goma, and I missed it a little. But only a little.

Saturday after lunch, the D.A. and I had a long talk. It was like it used to be, only it wasn't, because it can't be. Nothing is the same anymore. You see things that are too awful for words, or you see trust broken, or you see unreasonable hope, and it changes you. Forever.

He asked me what all this - this Congo thing, this PhD thing, this life thing - was going to mean. He didn't get a good answer. I was in a hurry; I had a package to mail and a flight to catch. It's too hard of a question, and the jet-lagged day after 26 hours of travel was not the right time to answer.

Or maybe it was. Knowing concretely that Allie is really gone, reconnecting with old friends, the shock of choices, hugging your parents - this is a strange, temporary space that disappears before you know it. It gets easier and easier to forget that people are starving, that children are dying, that armies are fighting. What will this mean? I'm afraid to answer. But I do believe in "the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling," and I have to believe that the experience of Congo and the reality of home and the sense of injustice and the piercing question you can't escape adds up to something.

It's hard, but it's good.

6.05.2006

baby watch

Since fifteen (wait, no make that sixteen with the last incoming email) of my friends are having babies this year, it seems like there should be some acknowledgement of their arrivals on the old blog. So....

Welcome to the world, Jake (Tuesday, May 30 - 8 pounds, 2 ounces)! Have I got some stories about your mama and her sisters from college...

And, welcome to the world Holland (Friday, June 2 - 7 pounds, 13 ounces)! Remind me to tell you about the time your daddy wanted to scale the railings to the upstairs porch on my parents' house at a party. Oh, the memories.

And sorry to Teresa and Daniel, who both arrived earlier this year.

6.02.2006

benediction

For once the French got it right. The word in French for blessing is the same as the word for benediction. Don't give them too much credit; it's all because the Latin root word is the same. But nonetheless, I always loved hearing them talk about blessings at church in Goma, because hearing the word reminded me of the benediction my pastor back home gives most Sundays. Since I'm leaving Africa today (it's 5:30 in the morning here), a benediction seems like the right thing. I'll leave with these words running through my mind, and with this picture of the land we were able to buy for the pygmy families in Sake -- a blessing in tangible form:
"The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and give you grace. Grace not to sell yourself short, but grace to risk something big for something good. For the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love. So may God take your hands and work through them; may God take your lips and speak through them; and may God take your hearts and set them on fire."

Amen.

6.01.2006

blessed some rains down in africa

It's my last day in Africa. Wow. Time flies. Tomorrow I will wake up at a ridiculously early hour, hop on a plane to London, then change planes to Washington, whre I'll arrive late, late Friday night. Then it's DC all day Saturday, back to Nashville that afternoon, and in Franklin for a week before youth camp. Hope everyone has a great weekend; I won't be posting until the jet lag's gone. Woo-hoo!