Archive for February, 2009

Facebook & Fasting: A Sacramental Life

I grew up in a great church, but there were some things I didn’t really understand.  Like the church calendar.  The only thing I really got as a kid was the whole advent thing – primarily because I had to watch my younger brother and sister as kids fight over who would put up the December 24 ornament on the homemade advent calendar Mom made.  It almost came to blows sometimes…and you wanna watch out for my sister. She can hold her own.

But outside of advent – Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost…none of those really made any sense to me.  If you had put me under durress, I probably would have been honest and said that Pentecost was for those weird people with the Holy Spirit  (I was wrong), all I thought about Epiphany is that it was a good idea (I was ignorant), and Lent was what those “cathlicks (in Flannery O’Connor style)” did.  And people were always giving up stuff for Lent (I was uniformed).  In college, some of my catholic brothers gave up drinking, smoking; one gave up pornography, etc.  I saw it as a time to give up vices for a short time in order to pick them up again later after Easter.

Plus, I grew up a good evangelical kid – and I was told that we weren’t under the law, we were under grace. And we didn’t have to do those things anymore – we could be free in Christ.  So, all that other stuff was just extra.

So because of my experience, I had a pretty lame understanding of some of the deepest wells of spiritual disciplines available – particularly during the lent season.  Introduced to these in a small Vineyard Church plant in Hyde Park, and fleshing them out through becoming a Presbyterian has helped me understand some of the rhythms of the church calendar, and the power of sacramental theology – that is, an embodied spirituality. Augustine called the sacrament a “visible sign of an invisible reality.” 

I want to be careful and not think of sacraments simply as symbols – they aren’t.  Gordon Smith helped me understand this.  Think of a wedding ring.  Ask a married person, and that isn’t just a symbol. It brings them back to the moment when they put on their best clothes they ever wore, looked at their spouse, and realized this was who they wanted to spend the rest of their life with.  It’s not just a symbol – it reflects a deeper reality. 

If we think of persons as having primarily one of three centers of intellegnce, residing in the head, heart, and gut (look at the Enneagram for more on this) most of our spirituality in the Evangelical subculture focuses on the head and the heart.  We have amazing theologians who have written billions of words that help us understand more about God.  We have beautiful music and art that gives strong emotional reactions that help us be in touch with the feelings inside of us.  But for those who have intellegence in intution, the gut, there is a different kind of spirituality that typically connects well: embodied spirituality.  Sacramental spirituality.  We feel it, and our will is brought to the forefront and we meet God in a different way.

So in recent years, I’ve developed a fondness for the eucharist/communion/Lord’s table that I’ve not had before. It means a lot to me.  I enjoy Catholic mass because it centers on the Eucharist – not the head sermon, not the heart music.  It focuses on the body sacrament – a visible sign of an invisible reality.  

Lent seen as giving up a vice is incomplete to a sacramental spirituality.  It makes fasting a means to an end – where, as Scot McKnight says, fasting should be a response to a divine moment.  Grieving, really.  Grieving to respond to sin in our lives, broken relationships between us, and injustice all around the world. We are embodying the reality of our planet, and we use fasting to tell our bodies how the world hungers for righteousness and justice.

So here’s how I’m working this out in my life: I’m abstaining from facebook for Lent.  Sorry to my friends, but I’m realizing that as much as I want to think I’m indepenent of what others think of me, I still play to the crowd sometimes.  I got in the Facebook game at first because a student who didn’t return my emails said only his professors communicated through email.  I didn’t want to be seen in the category of curmodgony old professor, so I caved.  Now it’s a part of my routine, and even too much so sometimes.  After reading Al Hsu’s recent blog and Newsweek, I was further convicted and realized it’s time to take a break and abstain from Facebook for a good while.

I will make an exception on Sunday, because in the Lenten tradition, Sundays are times where you celebrate.  And I will spend some time on Facebook for Sunday to reconnect with the friends I so dearly love.  But I don’t want to be seen for my status update or my pithy comments – I want to be known for my character and perhaps abstaining for a time will be helpful for my soul.

I’ll also be fasting once a week, each of those days spending time identifying with the oppressed of another continent.  Using fasting as a sacramental response to the injustice of the world will help me remember that it’s a privilege to choose what and when I eat, and the freedoms I have aren’t to be taken for granted.

This is the most extensive preparation for Lent I’ve ever made – so I hope for it to be an enriching experience where I feel the absence of something for the sake of grieving the loss, and clinging to God in the process so that my heart, mind, and body may be fully in tune with reality – a sacramental life.


Nailed Again by SWPL.

I swear – the folks at stuff white people like are stalkers…

Best line: 

Thankfully, since white people only keep their most original and creative ideas in the Moleskine, many of them will only be required to purchase one per lifetime.


Still doesn’t compare with this clip, though. I’ve considered what this kind of response would look like to the SWPL crew.

How ’bout dem apples?

Slumdog & Oscar: The Danger of “Awareness”

When Slumdog Millionaire came out in theaters, at first I was very excited to see it.  Some of the students I took to Cairo to live among the poor organized a reunion around the film so they could see it together – I couldn’t make it, so I told them to enjoy it themselves without me.

Then things with my late-Grandma Lois became the priority in my life, and seeing a movie was pretty low on the list.  Finally, I just up and saw it a couple weeks back.  I was preparing myself for it, mainly because I thought the shock value would be something that would remind me of my experience living in the slums of Cairo and continue to remind me of my commitments I’ve made to live as an agent of God’s justice, his shalom, in a broken world.

And it did. The shots in India and the subtle exposing of the caste system is something that is important.  The scene where you see the children collecting garbage and the ones who are stolen by the villain – that location could easily have been shot in Mokattam with no one knowing the difference.  

I was brought back to Mokattam once again for glimpses. The way my memory works is that emotions and imagery tap thought trails that cause me to relive experiences again.  Slumdog did that for me – it was a rush of sensations back to living among the poor, seeing their smiles and saddness, laughter and tears, sights and smells, recalling stories and statistics.

Yet at the same time, I was incredibly bothered by the overriding premise of the film that interwove itself into the gameshow, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”  While it is an incredibly effective device to create a sense of anticipation and excitement with the question, “Will he win?” I was more concerned that it created a false hope that people get out of this through such fanciful ideas.

Hollywood does a good job of exposing people to just enough of the problems of the world to make us feel a little more informed s0 we care a little more about what happens. But then the lights go up and we leave the half-eaten jumbo popcorn and box of raisinettes on the ground for the kid paid minimum wage to pick up, who makes more than some families combined and would be glad to enjoy the popcorn and raisinettes we leave behind.

Here is what is interesting to me: Slumdog Millionaire had a production budget of $14 million.  It has a current worldwide box office gross at $153 million.  Now, I don’t know about you, but a profit of $139 million is pretty incredible in a down worldwide economy.  I know that Slumdog has likely brought to the attention to people around the world more about child slavery, forced prostitution, human trafficking, slum communities, and other problems of the world.

But awareness is not our issue anymore. We are aware. We need more than awareness these days – we need real, tangible efforts and dollars to make real change. People need to be aware that awareness isn’t enough, and awareness without action is worse than ignorance.

I don’t know if Slumdog Millionaire is giving of their profits to end the problems they filmed and made a bunch of money on.  I hope they have. But if they haven’t, then I think it would be exploitative to get rich off of filming poverty and making a whole bunch of people feel better about themselves for becoming “more aware.”  Again, I hope this isn’t the case and would be happy to be shown otherwise.

It’s hard for me to imagine my friends in Mokattam among a group of people dressed in the best clothes they’ll ever wear, walking on red carpet with the paparatzzi, enjoying fine dining and waiting for their names to be called, walking to the podium giving an acceptance speech about how thankful they are, and then getting cut off by the orchestra in mid-sentence. The talking heads celebrate and say, “Wow, what a great movie. Such an important work.”

Important work? But what about those whom you portrayed? They don’t get picked up for red carpets and game shows, and they need our help. Do we choose to or not?  

If not, then we should really consider that our Oscars belong with the grouch in the trash. At least the real “slumdogs” could have their just reward.

My Top 10 Love Songs

It was on Valentine’s day night when I got home and rummaged through my iTunes and began to consider my favorite love songs of all time.  It got delayed, so I figured better late than never.

Now, I claim no authority whatsoever in this arena. My music taste was stunted growing up by Christian Radio and Country. Sorry, WNWC Madison & Mom & Dad, you were a positive influence, but not very developmental to my music taste. Except Dad with the Beach Boys.  Thanks to the Delt boys, most notably Ferg, for making this list become slightly more sophisticated. Note the word “slightly…”

10. Scenes from an Italian Restaurant – Billy Joel. Not well known, but special for me. I used to work nights as a janitor in high school and the last stop was cleaning a local country club bar and grill. I played this song on the juke box initially after Piano Man while mopping the bar room floor. Eventually, I grew to like it more than Piano Man. Billy Joel at his finest – creative style, playful lyrics, nostalgic.

9. If I Ain’t Got You  – Alicia Keys. An old school woman in a new school world – and schools ’em all.  So gifted. She’s amazing.

8. Secret Garden – Bruce Springsteen. I love this song because the Boss knows lyrics like no one else. Bold statement, I know, but have you ever listened to Nebraska? My, that is a sad album. A friend introduced me to it, and it’s haunting. Anyway, Bruce nails this one and I love how he describes a woman. Rene Zellweger on Jerry MacGuire is a plus, too.  Close second for the Boss would be Rosalita. I’d be proud to be from Jersey just because of Bruce & E-Street.

7. It’s Your Love – Faith Hill, Tim McGraw. Some of you will stop reading the list now because it’s country.  That’s your loss.  But if you know me, you have to realize this is where I come from and I can’t deny my roots.  Yes it is syrupy sweet, but it is golden. Priceless memory of this song is seeing it live in Soldier Field with my late fraternity brother & big bro, Eric, and his then girlfriend and future wife sitting on his shoulders trying to see the stage. Rest in peace, Eric.

6. Sweet Child of Mine, GNR. Some of you think I’ve lost it, but yes, this is a love song.  Go ahead and argue me on it, but Axl does something pretty special with this piece. Not traditional by any means, but then again, neither am I. The crazy thing about this song? GNR wrote it in five minutes with Slash messing around on a set. No joke. This song is perfect for driving in the summer with the windows down.

5. Just Like Heaven – The Cure. I don’t exactly know why, but there is something about this song that I enjoy with each ensuing time I listen to it…can’t explain it. I could easily switch this out with “Friday I’m in Love” and have no qualms about it.

4. Something – Beatles. Like the Cure, I love this song the more I listen to it.  Harrison’s a genius. Or he smoked a lot of dope and did a lot of drugs. Or both. The lyrics fit the style of the song, too, which is just awesome.  If I were a Beatle, I think I’m most like George. Or Paul. Depends on the day.

3. A Kiss to Build a Dream On – Louis Armstrong. Old school. Syrupy. But there’s that uncomparable voice with the trumpet. Will there ever be another like him? No way. Pure class. I wish I could have heard him live at the Green Mill back in the day.

2. The Luckiest – Ben Folds. Anything I would say about this song would cheapen it’s simple, honest beauty.

1. God Only Knows – Beach Boys. Love this song. Haunting opening lyric, “I may not always love you,” but it’s a realistic honest confession of love. The harmonies trailing off in the end is the bestest…

Learning to Dream Again

I didn’t remember a single dream I had since the age of 8 until this last year.

Seriously – the last dream I remembered until recently was when I was 8 and I needed to learn judo in order to prevent being taken over by the evil people.  And I tried to convince my mom I needed to learn judo – especially since I was sandwiched between twin brothers on the elder end and a larger than average younger brother on the other end.  Apparently, the argument of a scrawny and scrappy 8-year-old boy wasn’t very convincing to my peace-loving mom.

So when people describe their dreams, I was always interested because it was like describing a different country or a different language of sorts.  I just didn’t have the receptors to understand.

How did I figure this out?  Well, my current line of work often times means communal sleeping arrangements with students.  Cabins, bunkhouses, floors, etc.  And my friends told me I had a weird snoring problem.  Not like a rhythmic snore – like a “whoa, are you gonna die dude?” snore.

It did have it’s benefits.  If I had to tell students that I wanted them to go to sleep, I often told them that I would give them a 10 minute head start before I went to sleep.  I advised them to take it.  They laughed the first night.  Then I turned on the snoring jets.

They stopped laughing and went to sleep the next night.

So I scheduled a sleep study and a couple nights before my then housemate and I were watching Top Gun one night, watching Maverick & Goose and dreaming of we joked about my snoring.  The idea of a sleep study was kinda funny, but also just weird.

Eventually, I went to the doctor to have a sleep study where they hooked me up with 20-some wires and told me they would probably wake me in the middle of the night and put what looked like a pilot’s gas mask on my face.  I went back to sleep.

The next morning I awoke, and the nurse was laughing under her breath.  I said, “What’s so funny?”

She said, “Well, you seem to be the kind of guy who can laugh at himself.  When I woke you up this morning to put on the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) you looked at me confused and said, ‘but Goose is dead?'”

I laughed.  I asked if she thought I had sleep apnea, and she responded, “Well, that would be me interpeting the results of the test before they are analyzed by the doctor.  But here,” and she handed me a sleep apnea support group brochure.

I got the subtle hint.

The doctor later told me in a consultation that I typically got 10 minutes of REM sleep a night, which was well short of average.  When describing my condition over the course of the last 10 years, he said, “Andy, you have a sleep debt the size of a the national debt of a small African nation.”

Dreaming typically happens in REM sleep, and I didn’t get much for most of my teens and twenties.  I talked with my housemate about this, who has very active dreams.  We typically talk about them over breakfast.  He would describe this amazing dream with multiple recurring plotlines, irony, humor, color, action, etc.  He says that dreams are the mind’s way of processing our unprocessed thoughts and emotions.

Mine aren’t that exciting.  I told him I had a dream one night – it was of a cell phone under my bed.

“That’s it?”

“Yep, that’s it.  Dude, I’m like a baby dreamer.  Still life is all I got.  I didn’t dream for 10 years.  What do you think that did with all of my unprocessed stuff?”

“It probably altered your brain chemistry.”

Gasp.  That night I had a dream of playing Connect Four with Hurley from LOST in a mental institution.  Perhaps I was making up for lost time processing emotional baggage.

But I have been dreaming more lately – they are quite pleasant.  But I’m not sharing…they are too revealing for the internet. 🙂

I’ve had a lot of conversations with people lately about difficult things in life.  Divorce, break-ups, lost jobs, disillusionment – all are really shattered dreams.  Having my fair share over the years, they don’t seem to get easier.  You’d think that persevering gets easier with age. No way.  Because at first we persevere because we think it’s just a fluke we didn’t get what we wanted.  But after the second, third, or tenth times…you begin to question whether the dreams and desires will ever become reality.

I’m at a point in life where I’m beginning to dream again – both literally and figuratively.  Dreaming literally as an adult after not having so many for so long means that the images are fresh and new, and perhaps some day may come true.  It’s been freeing to dream figuratively again as well – to consider what opportunities might be out there, to dream of what the next 10 years could be like.

Daring to dream means destined to be disillusioned as well.  It’s not safe to dream.  But it’s good.

At least I hope so.  Hope is what keeps disillusionment from becoming despair, and perseverance is the way in which faith is refined. Love from our loved ones who remind us of our dreams is what keeps us going along the way.

*     *     *     *     *     *

Proverbs 13:12

Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

Psalm 126

1 When the LORD brought back the captives to Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”

3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.

6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.

February 2009
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