Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Confused Love

There is a character in Dostoevsky's "The Brothers Karamazov" who is in love with humanity. He speaks about it, loves it, would die for it. But he cannot, will not, love the old woman who he meets. She annoys him. She is grotesque. The more he loves humanity, the less he loves the person in front of him.

Am I that man?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Naming

I met my name last month.

It was the rainiest day we've had this fall. Everything was cold and wet and had been cold and wet since early the night before. It was going on late afternoon now and I was doing some work at the kitchen table. Someone knocked on the door. Our knocker is heavy and echoes through the house, feeling like the jolt of a morning alarm, like the world is ending and it wanted to alert you to that fact before the elements started to melt. I ran as fast as I could (my socks nearly took my legs out from under me) and hesitated at the door. I don't usually expect someone to be at the front door. If it was my dorm room, this would be normal. People just don't use front doors very often unless they are on official business or are trying to sell something.

I answered.

It was our mail carrier. She held a package and a clipboard and pen. "Hello!" she said cheerfully. I wondered at how cheerful she could be since she had had to run through a puddled street to reach my front porch stoop for shelter. "Just sign here please!" I took the package, covered in chinese text (Ah yes. The dance shoes Sarah had ordered) and used it as a prop to lean the clip board on. I handed it back and was turning to go inside when she said, "Oh! I need you to print here as well. Sorry about that." I said it wasn't a problem and started to write on the line she indicated.

"What's your name?"

I looked up and hesitated. Why did she need to know that? But then again, she had my signature so she could read it if she wanted. She must have seen it already.

"Dana Ray."

She smiled. "That's mine too! Dana Ray Wolfe."

"Wow!" I said, more out of obligation to seem surprised. "Have a good day!"

"You too!" she replied and ran back across the street to the parked mail truck.

I didn't have time in our interaction to actually consider how strange it was for us to have the same name. Dana Ray. Ray must have been her maiden name, as it is mine, and just married into Wolfe, who knows how many years ago. Names carry a great deal of significance. People in the Bible name their children all kinds of things like "The Lord has abandoned me" or "We've Run Out of Food" or "Israel is a Prostitute" (see Hosea's kid's' names). Ruth's mother in law changes her name to "Maura" to show that her life had become bitter. It both says what something symbolizes and shapes what that person or thing is to become.

Someone else in the world carries my name and lives a life that is not mine. I am young, in college. She delivers our mail and smiles waiting for people to sign the forms.

I've always been told that "Dana" means "God is My Judge". When I was little, this seemed the ugliest, most cumbersome meaning I could have. It made me seem old and somber. Why couldn't I have a cool meaning like Hannah's, meaning "graceful"? After meeting my name on the front porch, I decided to do some more research.

Ray" is an English name surname. My great-grandmother was German (maiden name "Roemer") and married someone with English roots from Deposit, New York. I was named "Dana" because it "sounded nice". I agree. I like my name a lot. Interestingly though, Dana is German as well. The Germans decided it wasn't fair that only their boys could be named after someone as cool and brave as Daniel in the Bible, so they came up with their own female version. There is also some reason to believe that it comes from the Balkans (Bulgaria/Macedonia region) and was used as an addition to other names (kind of like "Anna" is in Joanna, Hannah, Susannah, etc).

I suppose part of the reason I dislike "God is My Judge" so much is that it doesn't say so much about me as it does about someone else. I'd like a name that meant a characteristic I hold. Instead, I have a name that is attached to other syllables to make them sound better. I have a name that says that I am without a say in my own justification, in what happens in my life. Rather unpleasant and weighty. Or... is it? Another issue I've had with that meaning is that it should apply to everyone. God judges the world, not just me. Judging is negative. It implies condemnation. God would never judge in my favor.

That is Dana without the gospel, the Dana that lives most of her days attempting happy judgments on herself. It is foolishness to live without God's judgment. What if I lived as if no other judgment existed? What if I lived because no other judgment exists? And that His glance at me shows Him Christ? What if I saw my name as being named, made like Christ? That would change it quite a bit.

Names are not something we get to choose. Our parents chose them. Adam chose the name for the animals. Adam got his name from God. Naming is a way of being made, of declaring what is and declaring what someone is to become. I don't know how me and my mail carrier ended up with the same maiden name. We aren't related, but we're both carrying (unintentional) symbols of where our identity does not lie. It isn't in my university studies. It isn't in delivering mail. It's in a judgment that we are not allowed to control.

And "Dana Ray" just has a fun ring to it. Rolls off the tongue quite well.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

How to Look Like Flying

"Grounded. Cha-cha is about being grounded," Jolene insisted. I was confused but I took the pointed critique. "The problem with you two," (here she looked away from me and towards my partner, James), "and it drives me crazy to see you doing it, is the way you both live on your toes. What are you doing up on your toes?" We shuffled out feet and tried too look like we understood, like we were serious about dancing, that it had never occurred us to do anything as silly as stand on our toes (except that we did). At least, that is what was going through my mind. I didn't look at James.

The problem is that I was still confused. Why couldn't I stand on my toes? "You are in heels, Dana! You already have your weight forward from that. Stay grounded."
We tried the routine again. She stopped us three lock steps in.

"No. Look. Stay grounded. This dance is about your relationship with the ground. Your weight is always pulling you into the ground. Push into it, against it. Don't try to escape it."

We tried again. Better.

"Dana, land on your whole foot." She came over to me leaning all of her weight into my shoulders, pushing my heels onto the ground. We did the basic step. "You're still back leading. Stop leading. Wait for my weight transfers." We tried it again. Better this time. And then again. I wasn't even paying attention to my own feet pressed on the floor but almost to the feel of hers, as if I could really experience the feeling of gravity pulling on her and not me, or as if we were playing with gravity as one entity, not two people. Basic again. This felt completely different then how I had been dancing before. I tried it again with James. This felt stronger.

It's a dance with gravity, playfully teasing it with coming and going. Keeping my weight centered, pushing the ground, staying low, waiting for the weight to move over gravity:

That's how to look like we're flying.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Apartment Living: or thoughts on the aesthetic life

Taken from previous summer post.

This summer and fall, I lived as an off campus student for the first time. Jillian and I are settling into a routine of very different work lives and cooking and eating and cleaning and spending vast amounts of time at the Duplex in town. Much of it has felt like "vacation" to me and not like living in a real place at all but it begins to feel less and less so as I go about grocery shopping weekly, buying my own milk, doing laundry in the basement, and having/using/cleaning a kitchen. While there are overlaps and similarities between this kind of living and residence hall life, there are also some significant differences. I think comparisons will grow as I move farther and farther through time away from that brief three-year residence hall adventure, but one clear difference is the way hospitality and aesthetics are considered.

The word "aesthetics" (especially when I say it with confidence) makes me sound really smart and pretentious. However, I've had my own fear of that word carefully and thoroughly dismantled as I've read "Rainbows for the Fallen World" by Calvin G. Seerveld this past week. It has been a touchstone book for artists of faith for several decades now, and I am coming to it for the first time in my senior year. The role of art and creativity as work in Christian life has been a humbling perspective. One thing he has discussed in the second chapter "Obedient Aesthetic Life" is the necessity and glory of complete faithfulness to Christ, including a new way experience and knowledge of physical sense. An "aesthetic Christian life" is a life where the things we choose to see, touch, hear, smell, and feel are renewed by seeing Christ's creative and sustaining hand. This can even be done, he suggests, by seeking out the humor and comedy in life, in doctrine, in worship, rejoicing even as God rejoices in His creation. Nothing is abstract in "Rainbows". Seerveld backs it up with immediate practicable suggestions, areas we desperately need to consider how God would have us live in this world, without giving a new list of "laws" for us to follow. For example, he asks:

-What do our clothes say about God's delight in the created world?
-When we use styrophoam cups, what are we saying about man's craftsmanship? When we serve the food that keeps us alive on such utensils?
-How and when does eating food make us delight in that food and not in its utilitarian uses?

He isn't saying we have to go buy fine china, but it makes me wonder exactly why I would choose a mug over a paper cup if I could, and even more so a mug that has a nice handle and fits in my hand over just any mug, and why, if Maureen made it in her ceramics class, I would enjoy that tea even more. This is not elitism, which is an offspring of a humanistic story where man moves continually upward on his invisible tower of babel towards God. This is also not to take us away from other work but aesthetics acting as a practice to infuse all things, from evangelism to preaching to quiet devotions, teaching, etc. And it is not asking poor college students (such as myself) to spend heaps of money to have "beautiful" or "high end" things. That is consumerism.

I think it has much more to do with taking what we do have and making of it what we can in the moment: glorifying God for made and crafted things as our food comes from coupons in the local paper and our clothes come by second hand and our furniture from dumpster diving.

All of this seemed to speak to the different way I've experienced apartment life than residence halls, and even shed light on some of the smaller things that irked (or delighted) me about those three years. There is a lot more room for crafting a space around this kind of awareness in one's own apartment. Jillian and I unwittingly participated in this desire when we cleaned like crazy women the first day in our summer home. There was greater ease, greater pleasure in having a place when it was clean, the dishes were put away, and we had a candle lit on the side table. While I value the on campus housing staff, there is something important about cleaning the place myself and feeling responsible for its appearance and atmosphere that I couldn't have sharing a building with 600 people. Res Life at Penn State, to their credit, really wants to make life a communal and even "aesthetic" experience though I don't think that last word is on any of their res life goal sheets. It isn't always possible in a res hall, but they tried by letting us paint hallways or bulletin boards or door tags or at least getting the trash into the trashcans!

An aesthetic life is, in its truest form, a life of considering others better than yourself. Possible anywhere, I hope.

Hospitality is key aesthetics. In late May, I went to my Navigator minstry discipler's home to make cinnamon rolls. The day was wonderful, covered in flower and deliciousness, all made possible by her beautiful kitchen. She has many details in her home that communicate ease and hospitality from small pictures to the choice of her wallpaper. I imagine that her hospitality through sensual details was a skill that came over time and with practice.

(The flour was flying and ended up on my nose!)

I think of apartments that college students live in. Using space a certain way communicates value. I've enjoyed the shoe arrangement on an apartment staircase, blue bowls in a cabinet, flowers in a vase, and pictures carefully chosen and hung. The space isn't spacious, but well loved.

Aesthetics is in the details of what we have and make as well as in the spaces we live. Mark Bertrand, writer and facultry member at Worldview Acadmey, does this through caring (and blogging) about Bible production and printing (http://www.bibledesignblog.com/). His wife, Laurie, has more craft skills than anyone else I know (http://www.liquidpaper.typepad.com/).

My housemates in Patty's Place (yes, we named our home after "Anne of the Island" by L. M. Montgomery) continue to teach me every day about this life: Sarah's care and attention for details and creativity, making each housemate her own mug, colored from interpretation of our personalities; Maggie graceful clothing style, acting as our advisor in ever matter of appearance, or even the expert of placing the vase of flowers just so on the kitchen table. Jillian does it through an appalling skill in the kitchen, which is currently covered in flower, dough, and the smell of yeast from her bread baking adventures! Even our dear guy friends practice this in their duplex, with an expertly assembled sound system for our frequent movie nights.

But as anyone who has lived with me can tell you, I am a terribly messy person. My life tends to clutter: my books fall over from their standing orders, my clothes fall out of the closet, and I forget the details. Am I lost in a world without practicing aesthetics? No. Surely not. This is a practice for the world and not simply for those to whom order comes naturally. My first response the "aesthetic life" was defensiveness. I simply felt inadequate to do anything that somehow made life more beautiful. My baking skills are limited to my family's chocolate chip cookies. I'm bad at organizing. I have no ability to craft or sew or set up a sound system. I could begin by making sure that I am paying attention, enjoying beauty when I find it. But that is not enough. I want to not just enjoy but participate in the making of such a living.

I continued to feel this way as apartment life turned from a few week into five months, and Maggie's birthday arrived. We threw a small party for her, and at the end of it, she asked me to read some poetry. I was surprised, but read Rossetti and Yeats and Hopkins. I read a poem that I had written about a trip we had taken together to New Orleans a few spring breaks ago. I'm rarely asked to read something I've written and found that I enjoyed the evening a great deal in sharing those words with the party. In a note, Maggie said, "Thank you... for the poetry reading. What a blessing it is when you are who you are!" Why do I more often attempt or experience frustration at my lack than my reality?

Perhaps, then, it is, as Seerveld would agree I think, less about meeting specific requirements and more about a practice or a way of seeing. Each has a different set of eyes/skills/talents. I can use what I have been given and rejoice. I can live an aesthetic life, grateful.

In the mean time, at least I can bake more cookies.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Faith for Thought Conclusion

October 2010
Conclusion of Faith for Thought:

I was once accused of attempting to sort out my judgments of the world like one sorts the laundry: lights and darks. It is pretty obvious when you look at it this way. The problems came when I couldn't tell what I was dealing with. As a college student, you start to realize not just the imperative of sorting things appropriately but your complete inability to do so. I've spent a long time frustrated in college, desperate, afraid of being wrong in how I was going about my studies. I couldn't have told you what this would have looked like. It is kind of paralyzing.

But maybe it isn't like laundry at all. Maybe it's a lot harder to know what to do with this world. Take, for example, this ridiculously cool parable that Jesus told his disciples.

Matthew 13:24-30 (ESV)
24He put another parable before them, saying, "The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, 25but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?' 28He said to them, 'An enemy has done this.' So the servants said to him, 'Then do you want us to go and gather them?' 29But he said 'No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'"

So what can we tell about the world from this parable? Augustine once said, "All truth is God's truth." And the fabulous Kuyper said [as Byron has quoted today already, I'm sure!], " "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" So how do we see better, and put ourselves in the way of goodness when things are so complicated and tied up?

I think what he's after here is not to give up but enter into the difficulties we have with the conviction and knowledge that we will not rescue anything on our own. It is hard to differentiate between truth and lies, between light and dark, between wheat and weeds. They are all tangled together. Their root systems go down deep into the same soil. God did some awesome wheat planting in the world and its going to take some awesome God work to get them untangled, and I think He starts to show us part of that even now.

So I would like to share with you a few things that have been important in my life during the past four years. A few "practices" from my story. Of trying to see and know.

For example: Faith for Thought! It's been a significant starting point for me to really start grappling with questions like these. Being confused. Really wondering what the heck the difference between wheat and weeds were, knowing I wanted wheat, knowing that the earth was sown great but that something had gotten in it. Out of these times I've found people who have been partners with me on the journey. People who took me to Jubilee where I got to see some amazing people doing things out of the knowledge that they can do nothing on their own. Drag people along with you. Don't do this figuring out thing alone. Your brain and heart is just not big enough to comprehend all that God is doing. With a group of you, it'll get more confusing but probably a lot closer to the reality of faithfulness to every square inch in our lives, to the Glory of God.

But what has this looked like in my own life? It took a class last fall to show me one way that it could be done. I was in over my head from the first day. We were reading theory and talking about the meaning of life, what it means to be human, all without any kind of context for thinking about faith in the midst of it all. These were important questions and I had no idea how to form a "third language" to speak truth or even make a case for pulling in Scripture as a valid back up to my points! So who did I contact? Byron Borger of course!

I wrote:
"It may have taken me two years, but I'm ready to start doing some "double study", as Derek puts it. I'm in several classes this semester that I'm not sure I can keep clear thinking in without some help. I saw in the first class that the issue of disability and how culture views the body can't really work without an idea that the world was good and now is fallen and there isn't any hope if something isn't going to redeem it. So if you know of any good books (Christian or otherwise) that address theory related topics regarding the body and culture's response to "disability", let me know."

The response? "Our faith is more than ideas and propositions, and yet, "spiritual warfare" rages, also within the world of ideas".

God bless that man and his hearty answers to all book questions! I had more resources than I could use. I bought two books and devoured them. The result? I was able to present in class a way that "spirituality" could speak into the questions surrounding culture and disability in a way that dealt with all of our questions honestly, and resulted in a 20 page paper that not only did my professor support but one that started to articulate my own faith in a scholarly language.
Spiritual warfare. That's pretty intense. And I'm pretty sure that I wasn't the one making the way clear, making my mind clear to understand and articulate those things.

Now I know some of you are thinking: "Dana! Hello! None of us get the chance to present an alternative worldview in a classroom! We are engineers. We never discuss the meaning of life!" And to that I would say... yeah. But I would also put this to you: if God has not claimed every square inch of engineering for his own, is it worth doing? I would put a lot of money I don't have that He has claimed it and seeks to redeem it, even if all that can look like right now is you just barely getting homework done! I can't answer the questions of what it looks like in practice for you. I just know that it can be done and that it must be done.

The whole wheat and weeds situation is tough. Many situations don't end up as prettily as that one class did for me. But do not be afraid or overwhelmed. It seems impossible. And... it is. That's the truth. You can't do it. If there is one thing you need to know before you go out and practice anything, it is that you are incapable of saving yourself first of all, much less the world God has you in.

Preaching this gospel for yourself is probably the most important practice that you can have for yourself. Christ lived. Died. Was resurrected, is the atonement, the greatest expression of Christ's love.

Our Lord is more than capable of bringing in the harvest, and will sort the wheat and the weeds in His timing. We are supposed to work but all of that has to come out of rest in the Gospel of Christ. We do no good thing on our own. It is only knowing that any growth, any real conversation, any well played game of frisbee, any hard day, any great essay, any bad essay that you learn from, it is all because Jesus died for you. For your field of study. For the world. And that is the greatest hope in the world because He is alive and making all things new. All of your practicing, all the things you just wrote down on that piece of paper mean nothing unless He makes them good. How can we have anything but hope as we begin to practice?

Jesus concludes the parable like this: 41The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.