28 October, 2008

Como se dice...

The maintenance man in the law firm's building is a very cheerful Hispanic. He always stops to chat with me in Spanish - his face smiles warmly, but mine surely goes flaming red as I will myself to string together more than two words of this beautiful language. The best I could do today: "Estoy cansada." He never laughs at me or acts condescending when he corrects my mistakes, nor does he mind lapsing back into English when I've exhausted my supply of Spanish phrases. I see in his eyes and hear in his parting "Ciao, chica," simple, sheer enjoyment in the opportunity to share his language with another person willing to listen. Wouldn't I want that, too, if I were relocated to, say, Russia? Our language is part of our identity; when we share it with someone, we are also sharing part of our identity. When that someone engages with us on our level, in our language, they are recognizing our identity and value.

I am ashamed at how little Spanish I remember because I know that without it I can't engage in a deeper dialog with this man and so many like him. I can't communicate as fully as I want to the fact that I see them as more than a maintenance man, a cleaning lady, a gardener...I can't participate in and learn from their story, their culture.

I meant to ask what his name is, but I couldn't remember how.

26 October, 2008


I just happened to look through some old journal entries from when I was at L'Abri in March, and was reminded of a thought I wanted to explore. After one long lunchtime discussion I wrote this:

"At lunch we talked a lot about hospitality, enjoyment/pleasure (food, art, etc.), gratitude...One thought that came to me as a result of our discussion was this: perhaps GRATITUDE is what keeps ENJOYMENT from becoming GLUTTONY. I shall have to develop/unpack that later I think."

Obviously I forgot to do so! Honestly I'm not quite sure exactly how to go about "developing" this, but I'll have a go at it. I'd love to know what anyone who reads this thinks, too.

We take enjoyment from the pleasures of the created world. We take pleasure in beautiful music, beautiful art, well-made and delicious-tasting food, beautiful and comfortable environments. I don't think that this basic pleasure is, in and of itself, a bad thing. As Francis Schaeffer pointed out, God ordered the Israelites to decorate the temple with colorful images of fruit and other motifs; these didn't seem to serve a purpose aside from being beautiful, decorative, and pleasing to Him!

We do know, however, that this pleasure can be abused and taken to the extreme of gluttony. Paul warns of those whose gods are their bellies. St. Thomas Aquinas considered gluttony to be committed when one ate too soon, too expensively, too much, too eagerly, too daintily, or wildly. Any and all of these attitudes toward eating (or, for that matter, using any of the pleasing gifts we have been given) would indicate a lack of discipline or reason, an unclear understanding of what food is and how it is to be used. If you eat too much, you are listening only to the urges of your appetite when it may not be wise or healthy to do so. If you eat wildly (which I assume means hastily), you are not taking any time to think about where the food has come from, acknowledging the person who made it, paying attention to what flavors and ingredients have been creatively combined to please and nourish you. Your actions are not grateful.

So is gratitude the attitude that saves us from falling into gluttony? Does approaching food (or art, or music, or fill in the blank) with a humble heart that says, "This has been given to me for my good; I don't deserve it, and I could just as easily not have been given it," help us pay attention to it as we partake of it? And does it cause us to go slowly, stopping before we go over the edge of gluttony? I know, for instance, that I need to stop after two, maybe three drinks. To have more than that would inhibit my judgment, true; but more than that, it would render me unable to actually discern and enjoy the quality of the drink. Andy Crouch's thoughts on "The Pleasures and Perils of Fermentation" left a huge impact on me. I like how he put it:
"If we have any sense we’ll save our precious discretionary dollars for what is best—the best beer, the best wine, the best whiskey, so we will not drink often but we will drink well. We will drink from glasses that bear witness to culture at its best, to the long history of grapes and barley and wheat, to the lingering taste of soil and water and barrels and air. Jesus is the life of the party. He saves the best wine for last. Why would we get drunk, get to the point where we can’t recognize the best wine when it arrives?" This expresses gratitude; an understanding that food and drink are pleasures given by Jesus, and that they were not meant to be assembled and consumed in mindless haste. We are indebted to Him for them, and we owe Him our faithfulness in using them responsibly. Thus the way we consume is an act of gratitude and stewardship.

This is such a basic, cursory ramble, but I'm too tired to try taking it farther tonight :) ...But what do you think?

25 October, 2008

Kyrie eleison

This world gives me such sorrow. The disparity between me and a person of color, the abuse of the defenseless, the misuse of gifts like sex and money and food, the material excess in which I too often play a part...They clobber my head and heart and leave me dumbfounded. Love, come set us free. Light of the world, come into our darkness and free the addicted, heal the abused, mend the division caused by hatred, race, and class. You have mended the gap between God and man; please now also mend the gaps between people, so that we may really reflect the community of your kingdom.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amwVyRH2B8A

There ain't no reason things are this way
It's how they've always been and they intend to stay
I can't explain why we live this way
We do it everyday

Preachers on the podiums speaking to saints
Prophets on the sidewalks begging for change
Old ladies laughing from the fire escape, cursing my name

I got a basket full of lemons and they all taste the same
A window and a pigeon with a broken wing
You can spend your whole life working for something
Just to have it taken away

People walk around pushing back their debts
Wearing pay checks like necklaces and bracelets
Talking 'bout nothing, not thinking about death
Every little heart beat, every little breath

People walk a tight rope on a razor's edge
Carrying their hurt and hatred and weapons
It could be a bomb or a bullet or a pen
Or a thought or a word or a sentence

There ain't no reasons things are this way
It's how they've always been and they intend to stay
I don't know why I say the things I say,
But I say them anyway

But love will come set me free
Love will come set me free
I do believe
Love will come set me free
I know it will
Love will come set me free
Yes

Prison walls still standing tall
Some things never change at all
Keep on building prisons,
Gonna fill them all
Keep on building bombs,
Gonna drop them all

Working your fingers bare to the bone
Breaking your back, make you sell your soul
Like a lung is filled with coal,
Suffocating slow

The wind blows wild and I may move
But politicians lie and I am not fooled
You don't need no reason or a 3 piece suit
To argue the truth

The air on my skin and the world under my toes
Slavery stitched into the fabric of my clothes
Chaos and commotion wherever I go
Love, I try to follow

But love will come set me free
Love will come set me free
I do believe
Love will come set me free
I know it will
Love will come set me free
Yes

There ain't no reasons things are this way
It's how they've always been and they intend to stay
I can't explain why we live this way
We do it everyday

17 October, 2008

Life through a Wodehouse lens

I shouldn't entertain any grand delusions about being a radiant, liberating injection of life, strewing joy and good will from my rickety mail cart as I promenade through the halls of a silent, industrious law firm. That said, I do my very best to smile and say "Good morning" to each individual as I hand them their phone bills, files from the Palo Alto office, and back issues of the lawyers' gossip rag. This greeting usually receives some type of muted response (at least a grunt, if the speaker can't look away from the computer for a nanosecond). But even if it doesn't - even if the impression they are forming of me is not one of a cheerfully efficient marvel but rather of an immature airheaded drip - I have decided not to care [too much]. I mean, really. Do we have to act like we're as starched as our pin-striped shirts? I cannot sacrifice humanity and community to professionalism. So, have a great day, darn it!

I think some things about DC might make it seem like an unvaried and boring city to some people. Take its skyline, for instance.
"......What skyline?" you ask.
Exactly.
Most major cities have a visually interesting skyline with which they can emblazon postcards, t-shirts, and Starbucks mugs. DC's fine souvenir establishments must simply feature the White House, or the Capitol, or the Washington Monument (or, if they're feeling creative, cluster them all together, surrounded by a wreath of fireworks). "Why do we have such a flat city?" was the question I pondered intelligently as I ate lunch on the roof (13th floor) and realized that I could see Virginia. The state. Across the bally Potomac. From the bally 13th floor.

Apparently there is a law in place which prohibits buildings in DC to be no taller than 20 feet higher than the width of the adjacent street (consult Wikipedia for an entirely credible history of the Height of Buildings Act). Perhaps this is to give security guards at the Capitol a good vantage point. Perhaps they were watching me eat my questionable "chicken salad" sandwich today.

I don't really mind short buildings, honestly. Skyscrapers can make one feel rather caged. DC is not a very intimidating city, architecturally speaking. Certain of its lawyers, however.......