five things I missed

With two weeks of school left, I'm astounded at how the semester has slipped away. Because I've been writing every week for Christ and Pop Culture, I've been neglecting this little space, but at least five notable things have happened that I haven't recorded.
1. We were confirmed as members of Gethsemane Episcopal Church.

2. I bought six chicks (more on that later).

3. Owen turned two. What I love about this boy is his sense of humor, his side-eye glance, his very cuddly nature, and the way he says seriously, "Oh, gotcha," after I answer his questions, or "cookie, yum, good, fun! Sis? Have cookie too?"

Owen's a little bit obsessed with sports balls.

My parents swung by for the birthday party. And an old friend from our ELIC days came by, too.

4. Taylor celebrated Korean Week.

5. One of my students presented original research (conducted for my class last fall) at an undergraduate research conference at Purdue. I accompanied her and a friend. We were all glad to get out of Upland for a night -- and I was very proud of Gowoon's bravery and hard work.

Kathleen Norris and the Rekabites

When I was a sophomore in college, my version of introverted-book-worm-retail-therapy relied heavily upon the local Half-Price Bookstore. One particularly low afternoon, I left there with a copy of Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk topping a short stack of impulse buys.

I had never heard of her, or of the book, but I had a growing fascination with liturgy, the church year, and monastic communities - forms of religious practice far removed from my own non-denominational Bible church background - so the book had been intriguing.

I fell in love with the soul-feeding richness of her prose, depth of her insight, newness of her ideas. Over the last decade I've written papers about her and read every book she's written. On Saturday, she was the keynote speaker at Taylor's Honors Conference on Simplicity and Sustainability, and I got to have dinner with her afterwords.

She's human, believe it or not, and kind of grandmotherly. Over cheese and crackers we talked about netflix ("It's so wonderful! They have all these documentaries and hard-to-find films."), twitter ("I can't believe someone made a twitter account for Wendell Berry quotes. He would be horrified, wouldn't he?"), which books Rosie should read (not Dakota, in case it should cause her to move out west, but The Cloister Walk - "Get thee to a nunnery, girl!"), monks ("I once stayed at a Zen Buddhist monastery where everyone was required to practice silent mediation for 90 minutes, twice a day. They poked you with a rod if you fell asleep - and not too gently."), blogs ("I read only one blog. I kept a diary for many years, and I would be mortified if it were online! I can't understand it.") and of course poetry (try Lynne Powell, she suggests).

At the conference, she spoke about the sustainability of love, and at one point noted that at the center of any major religion, you find the ethic of loving your neighbor.

Not surprisingly, she got some polite pushback from her evangelical audience on that point. Both a student and a faculty member asked her to elaborate upon the relationship of "truth and love in interfaith dialogue".

Not surprisingly, she sidestepped the question of universalism quite neatly.

I usually like to sidestep that question myself. Since Saturday - I have to admit - my little old evangelical self has been kind of worried about Kathleen Norris. Does she, with all her wisdom and study and life experience, think that loving your neighbor is enough? And if it is, how does religion differ from secular humanism?

I'm not writing this today to actually propose an answer to the question of universalism, obviously. But while I was cogitating, Common Prayer this week led me to Jeremiah 35. In that chapter, God uses the faithfulness of the Rekabites to their ancesters' commands to shame the Israelites for their faithlessness to his commands. And then he honors the Rekabites by promising that someone from their family will always be serving Him. (Matthew Henry's commentary notes: "The greatest blessing that can be entailed upon a family is to have the worship of God kept up in it from generation to generation.")

I love that God calls people to himself from every nation, from every family, and I love how these details pop up throughout the Bible, like how Melchizadek, not an Israelite, just shows up, and is refered to as a priest of God Most High. Like how God honors the Rekabites for their faithfulness to the light, to the laws, they'd been given.

I used to think that to appeal to mystery when the Bible is "so clear" (like "He predestined us" or "I am THE way") was an intellectual cop-out; and sometimes, I still think it is. In this case, I clearly need to study more. But I think it's also true that sometimes, to appeal to mystery is simply and rightly to admit that God's ways are higher than the heavens, that his thoughts are not my thoughts.

What's not a mystery is this: that God is good and that he is just and that he is merciful; that he has revealed himself in the world and in the word and in the Word made flesh.

Kathleen Norris has enriched my life, and I pray God blesses her as she has blessed me. Go read her books, y'all!

{PS: She says she's thinking about a new book, one that will be about home in its many forms. I cannot wait to read it.}

simplicity and sustainability - suggestions?

In two weeks, Taylor University will hold its annual honors conference.  This year, the theme is

Simplicity & Sustainability: Flourishing in an Age of Excess

The conference will feature keynote speakers Dr. Read Shuchardt of Wheaton College and poet and author Kathleen Norris (be still my heart; this woman has been like a mentor to me through her books for the last decade, and I can't wait to meet her).

We'll also have breakout sessions:
Brent Aldrich, on art and communities designed for sustainability and flourishing

Ragan Sutterfield, on “Feasting and Fasting: Disciplines of Simplicity and Sustainability”

Dr. Michael Guebert, on “Sustainability and Stewardship: Cultural Cliché or Christian Calling?”

Panel: Jane Cramer, Karen Crandall, Megan Miller, Amy Peterson, & Michelle Welker “Simplicity and Sustainability: Practical Solutions for Everyday Life”

I'm so excited about this conference.  As a companion to our panel discussion, I'm putting together a resource sheet for attendees, and I'd love your input.  What books, films, websites, apps, etc have helped you make steps towards simplicity and sustainability in your everyday life? (Here's what I have so far.)

Leave ideas in the comments!  Thanks.

do I stay or do I go?

It's been almost exactly two years since we moved from Seattle to Upland.

(photo by Jim Garringer)
We were thankful for the job, but it's fair (and perhaps an understatement) to say we had some trepidation about the location, and all we were leaving behind.

Upland.  Four square miles. No stoplight. Really, less a town in the middle of cornfields than a cornfield with a few buildings in between the stalks. The dictionary definition of a Christian bubble.  We told ourselves that we'd try it for three years, and then maybe move on (like back to the mountains, and the oceans, and the downtowns).

(At new faculty orientation, they told us that's what all the incoming faculty say, and then they all stay here forever. We laughed nervously.)

This summer we've decided to try to buy a house. A hundred year old bungalow, a place with a little land.  A place that will need some work - that will require investment.  A place where we'll plant trees.  Where we will put down roots.

I've never been one for roots. And although this decision to stay feels right to me,  this week it's been throwing me for an existential loop along the lines of "We are all going to die one day!  What are we doing with our lives?!"  I'm all set to tap-dance out of here looking for a newer, bigger, better adventure.

It sounds silly, but I'm serious. Life is short, and is this the right way to spend it?  In a small town in middle America, raising two kids, teaching ESL to rich international students?  Remodeling an old farmhouse, growing blueberries and corn, swimming at the lake every day with our friends? Experimenting with more sustainable ways of living, reading a lot of books, watching too much tv?  It sounds like a pleasant life, but is it a well-stewarded life?

It isn't exactly how I envisioned my life. For a girl who was raised on Amy Carmichael and told to do "big things" for God, to change the world, somehow saving the My Little Ponies from the (invisible) monsters every single day just doesn't feel quite as meaningful as saving child prostitutes in another country.

 No matter how much I know in my head that there is no sacred/secular divide - that God is as present in the changing of the diapers as in the changing of evil regimes - that the first shall be last, and the last shall be first - I have to work, hard, every day to reorient myself to the realities of this upside down kingdom.

But at the same time - even while I learn to value the quotidian mysteries of faith and life - I do believe it's right to question my assumptions. It's fair to ask if this is where we belong, and if this is the best way to steward our gifts.  Is my restlessness a selfish restlessness, or a holy restlessness?  Am I valuing comfort and safety more than I should be?

Amy Carmichael wrote, "Verily, the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul," and I don't want to totally quiet the voice that tells me not to get too comfortable here.

Growing rooted, but staying open. How do I do it?