23 December, 2010

We turn Christmas into one more day to survive, to check off the calendar, to hastily throw together in a rushing blaze of lights and plastic and then just as frantically tear down again until next year.

You came into our troubled existence without the aid of this show to announce Your arrival. All You needed were the beating of wings in the night sky over lonely fields - the joyful voice of a holy host - the rays of a star. You bound up Your story in these things that we will never, ever be able to re-create or out-do.

I would have liked to be in that field on that night, because I am not very good at finding You in stillness. My life is filled with noise - it is built of the lights and the plastic - it is resounding with the songs and the laughter and the empty talk that keep my mind safe from the truth of my need. I am not good at hearing You, noticing You, looking at You closely and learning from what You have to say. Two thousand years ago You came to us in silence and in solitude. Perhaps in a world free of so much static I, too, would have noticed only You and dropped everything I had to go follow You. Help me to find You today in the humble wrappings of sunlight through my window, a sister's tears of empathy, candles like stars at my bedside, embraces from my father, laughter from my mother, the scent of rosemary, the feel of a new book waiting to be read, generosity I have not earned. These are the things that cannot be torn down each year. They will always be, and so I know that in them I will always find You.

16 September, 2010

Even More Sweet Sounds Right Now

Ben Sollee
A soulful voice and a cello...What more do you need?

Matthew and the Atlas
For your daily dose of banjo and handclaps. You're welcome!

23 August, 2010

Sweet Sounds Right Now

Dawes, "When My Time Comes" - http://www.myspace.com/dawestheband
If you like Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes, and/or the Avett Brothers, there is no way you won't like the tight harmonies, vaulting chorus, and ponderous lyrics displayed by this California foursome. Check out the music video as well.

The Civil Wars - http://www.myspace.com/thecivilwars
I didn't highlight a single track because they're all worth listening to. But the one I repeat the most is "From This Valley," a live track that I found on Grooveshark. This duo sings with an intimacy and intensity that bring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova to mind - just a little "countrified." When I listen to duos like this, I find myself feeling a bit jealous -- I want to know what it feels like, that "Ah-HA!" moment when you discover your perfect vocal and stylistic match.

Christy Danner - http://www.wix.com/christydanner/Christy%20Danner%20Music
I have such talented friends. Christy goes to my church. We bonded over a mutual love of the supremely excellent band Hem. Christy recently released her first album, "Turning Corners." All of it is beautiful - I am amazed by her poise and maturity, and the delicate, precise tones of her voice do remind me of Hem's own Sally Ellison. Two tracks of which I'm particularly fond are "Mercy" and "Brennan's Song," which Christy wrote for her nephew. Since that track isn't streaming on her website, you could just buy the whole album...hint hint...
August 20, 2009 divided my life and my family's life into two distinct eras: pre-accident and post-accident. That evening I was unwinding from a day at work, fixing a gin & tonic and watching tv with my roommates. A week earlier I had gone with some friends to the Phillips Collection for a showing of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly." A great story - A beautiful film - But how sad...Good thing no one I know will ever have to experience such a trial, right? One year ago I heard my brother on the other end of the phone line tell me that "Dad was hit while he was riding his bike, and he might have a broken neck..."

One year ago I stood by my father's body, wondering if he could hear me telling him how much I loved him. One year ago I prayed that he would just live to see the next dawn - that my mother would not awake a widow. One year ago I had no idea what we would be asked to endure. One year ago I did not understand how it could be possible for joy and grief to co-exist, or how one could still praise and love a God who sends such trials.

In the last year I have seen my Savior to be so many enigmas. It is a profound mystery to me that the only hands in which we are truly safe, and from which we can never fall, are the ones that are pierced with holes...and the only hands that make us truly clean are the ones dripping with blood. Perfection can be reflected in imperfect bodies. The hour of suffering can be the hour of most glorious community. And all that He asks, He provides. I have at times prayed for the courage to be more content with mystery. This year has provided some answers to that prayer.

On the anniversary of the accident we gathered together at my parents' house with many friends from the church and the neighborhood who have been Jesus's arms around us over the last year. We bowed our heads and hearts as my Dad - alive and glad - lifted his voice in a prayer of thanksgiving almost a year to the minute since he was struck. Such a difference between that dinnertime and this dinnertime. We rejoice that one Body broken serves to guarantee that a day is surely coming when my Dad's brokenness will not even exist.

09 July, 2010

Jubilant July

It is July. The schools have exhaled the last whirlwind of students and papers and chalk dust and are enjoying their few weeks of rest before the next invasion. (The students are pretty happy, too.) The sun takes its time in setting, so that by the time we get home from work we do not feel entirely robbed of a day; there are a few hours yet in which to linger on the porch with a friend and a cold drink before retreating to bed.

For the last several weeks an unopened bottle of vanilla vodka has been staring at me from the beverage rack in our kitchen. I “inherited” it from my aunt’s kitchen after she passed away, and I associate it with the happy summer I spent with her. Often after a long day at our respective workplaces, we would come home to make dinner together. We had a short list of favorite beverages to enjoy as we cooked and unwound: the classic gin and tonic, or a liquid Orangesicle – orange juice, vanilla vodka, and crushed ice.

As this 5th of July holiday approached, my housemates and I planned to throw a cookout. I decided this would be the perfect opportunity to use the vanilla vodka -- butI realized that spiked orange juice might not exactly complement burgers and Doritos. I also wanted to challenge myself to not use someone else’s recipe, but rather to simply create something that seemed good to me. I went to IKEA on the morning of the 5th with one of my housemates to stock up on candles, napkins, etc, and as we strolled to the checkout we made a fortuitous discovery: a special on peach sparkling cider! I knew immediately that peach was the answer. We grabbed 3 bottles, paid, and headed straight for the farmers’ market for peaches and berries. My plan: dice and freeze peaches and strawberries, adding them to the drink later for a bit of cold crunch.

I probably could have been more liberal with the vanilla vodka, but I was sensitive to the fact that most people would be driving home…Future incarnations of this drink may showcase a little more of the spike and a little less of the sparkle. :-) But it was delicious anyway! As guests happily ladled out the last few drops, I commented to my housemate that we needed a name for our new drink. “Peach Jubilee!” she immediately offered. Looking at the happy faces of friends soaking up the last rays of sunshine, and thinking of similar summer dusks in my aunt’s kitchen, I agreed.

Peach Jubilee

3 bottles peach sparkling cider
1-2 cups vanilla vodka (adjust as you like – but drink responsibly, etc!)
1 ½ cups diced and frozen fresh peaches
1 cup diced and frozen strawberries
Crushed ice
(Optional: Tonic water for some extra fizz and to counter the sweetness of the cider)

Combine all ingredients in a punch bowl. Enjoy!

18 June, 2010

We were all mad, hot, tired, hungry. We shoved our way into the already-full train, refusing to accept that there wasn't room for one more in this tangle of humanity. One grey-haired man yelled at a bewildered tourist to get out of the way and let other people on the train. As I shuffled through the doors I lamented the tendency such situations have to bring out the ugliest parts of our nature.

But then I looked up. In front of me, a petite Hispanic woman was calmly pushing through the angry crowd to find a secure place to stand in the train. She said not a word, she gave not a single angry glance; her only concern was with not disturbing the miraculous slumber of the infant she cradled in her left arm. They might as well have been the very Madonna and Child - humbled smiles broke across each passenger's face, and we parted the sea of our bodies enough to make room for the young mother. Though our arms were raised to grasp the hand rails, we bent our elbows and stood on our toes to preserve the halo of space around the slumbering little one.

As the train finally began inching forward, one passenger reported that the delays had been caused by one man despairing of life and throwing himself under an earlier train. Suddenly it seemed petty to be angry about getting home an hour later, or to be angry at other commuters for invading my personal space. At least I was not going home to grieve a sudden loss. At least I was pulled from the point of such despair by the God who went down into death for me. I was suddenly mesmerized by this sleeping baby. Here was a little life that was not yet aware of the things that make people jump into the last abyss. Here was a little one who could sleep amidst the sounds of strife. Here was a child whose mother loved him and was proud of him beyond expression. Dear God, let that child never reach the point of despairing of the life you've given him.

I could see similar thoughts dawning on other passengers. Brows that had been furrowed in frustration ten minutes ago had now relaxed. Tired eyes were no longer burning holes into watches or mobile devices, but were instead resting with admiration on the sleeping baby's face. We could not bring the suicidal man back to life. But here, on this train, for these few minutes, we could help maintain a safe space for this infant and his mother. We could be reminded by looking at him that things are often really not so bad as we think; what is getting home an hour later as long as the people you love more than life are there waiting for you? What is being hot and sweaty on a crowded train when the baby you have borne is soundly resting on your shoulder, unaware - for a little while, anyway - of the sadness of life?

31 May, 2010


You left almost three months ago. Are you feeling better?

I have visited Europe twice this spring and will do so again in June. As I have planned each trip, I have had the frequent urge to call you up, to ask you where to eat when I am in such-and-such city, to ask you which museums I should visit if I have time. I want to hear your own stories of experiencing these places. But these questions go out into a void and will never return answered. I should have asked you more before you left.

When you were here I felt flustered and indignant when you obsessed over my travel plans. I wanted to be free to fall into whatever adventure opened up before me; I didn't want to have to plan every step. You gave me maps and rides to train stations and phone numbers for five different cab companies, "just in case." Only later did I understand that this was your way of loving me. I should have told you that.

You left almost three months ago, silently vacating this life in the space between one moment and the next. I did not tell you enough before you left. This weekend I will go to your house and sort through the relics of your life-well-lived. I will talk to you while I do so, though I don't know if you'll hear me. I will tell my friends about you, I will tell my future students about you, I will tell my children about you. Please, live on in the goals I pursue and the trips that I take and the objects with which I embellish my space. And please be there to hear all about it when I join you over the river.

24 May, 2010

Two weeks ago I was in London for what is apparently an annual date. This was a different visit in that I was there for work rather than pleasure; that said, I did stay on for the weekend in order to stay with a potential flatmate for next year. She has a beautiful flat right on the river, with hardwood floors throughout and a kitchen that is big by London standards. I should perhaps be embarrassed by this admission, but I'm not: Our entire Saturday revolved around food. Over dinner on Friday night we had discovered our mutual love of cooking and our fascination with the wordy wonder that is Nigella Lawson. We ate breakfast, went to the grocery store to buy ingredients, came home and baked Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake. While that was in the oven, we mixed the batter for pistachio macarons. The cake came out of the oven, and in went the macarons. The macarons finished and cooled, and then we iced and sandwiched them. I washed the dishes -- but it was already time to pull them all out again and cook curry chicken & apple stew for dinner!

These macarons... I am mildly obsessed. One of my favorite indulgences when I am in London is to treat myself to something from Paul. I particularly love the pistachio macarons. Even though this global market has made it possible to enjoy pistachios year-round whether or not that is what God intended, my family still only buys them at Christmas. It is one of those deferrals of pleasure for which I'm actually rather thankful...it is good to believe that there is still something on this earth that belongs to only one season. We know, therefore, that if pistachios are on the table it must be a special event with cherished company.

I've only ever had pistachio macarons from Paul, though...When my friend suggested that we make them, I really didn't know what to expect. Could we live up to my expectations? I had to wait to find out, for we did things the old-fashioned way...AND the metric way. We used a small kitchen scale that is surely over a hundred years old by now. We calculated how many ounces we needed in order to measure out the amount of kilograms Nigella told us we needed. Funnily enough, that did not take us much time as figuring out the modern-day food processor did...Anyway, I will fast-forward to the moment at which we took our first bites. May I be completely cheeky and say that ours tasted even better than Paul's? Well, they did...

05 May, 2010

Eva dreams

There was an ocean in her way.
What a triumph it would be to someday jump that turbulent expanse as she did nightly in dreams! She had done it last night.
She laid her head down and in the next instant had lept across, carried by a midnight wind, laughing at confounded Father Time while the stars showed her where to land. Her feet sank into the soft dark soil of Felix's country - and she gasped. In the space between one moment and the next, she had done it! She had played a trick on time and space, and now filled the same hour as Felix. She took one step forward - and then another -
- and fell out of bed, stunned. Dreams are such capricious associates of time.

02 May, 2010

Eva and Felix (a draft)

His evenings passed without her, and hers without him. Indeed, they did not even have the decency to pass at the same time. As he lay his head down at night her sun was still bright, steadfastly spreading the beams that revealed his absence. Every morning when she awoke he had already lived half of that day. This made her jealous.
Love was unusually cruel to them in denying them the chance to suffer in synchronization.

21 April, 2010

Risotto Revival

At some point this winter, my motivation to cook often and cook well decided to hibernate for an indefinite period of time. Claiming that I was too tired, too busy, or too poor, I fell deep into a rut of quesadillas, pita and hummus, and - gasp - PB&J sandwiches. In the last month I began to feel very discouraged about this. Where had my drive gone? Did it die along with Gourmet, that beautiful monthly source of inspiration delivered straight to my mailbox?

Whatever the excuses, enough is enough! I am starting to go crazy from lacking a creative outlet (a really delicious one, at that)...not to mention that once you get over the nostalgia factor, PB&J every day is just boring. Cheap, but boring.

So I gave myself several assignments. On the plane ride back from Germany, I promised myself that I would watch "Julie & Julia" in the hope that it would re-kindle my desire to know the joy of cooking. Mission totally, totally accomplished. I could almost smell the boeuf bourguignon through the screen...

Task #2: Invite a new friend over for a home-cooked dinner. If having a near-stranger come eat your food is not an incentive, I don't know what is. So tomorrow night, a girl I met recently at church is coming over, and I plan to prepare chicken with a white wine & rosemary sauce, rice (or couscous?), and sauteed spring vegetables...Perhaps a plum kuchen and whipped cream for dessert? No microwaving whatsoever.

Task #3: Come out of mourning for Gourmet enough to at least peruse other foodie mags, because apparently I depend on them. They're like my culinary training wheels...I need the inspiration and the support until I'm educated and confident enough to embark on my own independent experiments. Accordingly, this week I picked up the new issue of Cooking Light, the cover of which enticed me with promises of risotto and pizza recipes galore. I have a particular weakness for risotto...so $3 later, I stood in my kitchen preparing to coax bliss out of a cup of Arborio rice.

Risotto plays hard to get. It makes you work for the right to enjoy it - something that most foods today don't really require of us. Perhaps that is why I find it so intriguing. As the chicken stock comes to a simmer, I chop onions and carrots and stir them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for several minutes. It smells heavenly. Then I pour in the cup of Arborio. Risotto always strikes me as a "loaves and fishes" kind of meal -- I never quite believe that that little cup of rice is really going to multiply into several servings...Every time, it proves me wrong. The rice toasts for a minute, and then I add the white wine. Again, an aroma that takes my breath away. Smelling this dish as it cooks is almost more enjoyable than eating the finished product. Soon it is time to start adding the chicken broth, a ladleful at a time, and stirring constantly until each addition is absorbed by the rice. This is the long and tedious part of the job - but also rather fun. I challenge myself, daring myself not to stop stirring even though my arm is begging for a pause. The pot of chicken stock taunts me - every time I glance at it, it laughs, "Yes, five more ladles to go! Keep stirring!" But suddenly - finally - there is no more broth to add. As the last ladleful is absorbed I stir in asparagus, peas, and cheese. All these different raw components have somehow come together to form one beautiful, creamy, steaming dish of comfort. With the first bite I completely forget how tired I am.

This morning I awoke with a very sore forearm - Is it supremely lame to pull a muscle from stirring risotto? Probably. But that's ok. I'll have "sore muscles" for a while as I re-dedicate myself to cooking...but the pleasures definitely outweigh the pains!

15 April, 2010

Fear is the subtlest dictator. It will disguise itself as practicality, humility, or that greatest virtue, wisdom, until it has usurped the joy and peace of believing.

How to attain the faith of Peter while avoiding the folly of Icharus? There is wax in the wings...but I am told that some have walked on water.

08 April, 2010

Lessons from the Fatherland

"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us..." (Acts 17: 26-27)

This is the longest post I've ever written...Hopefully you'll read at least some of it, because I am filled to bursting with excitement over what is happening in Germany, and I want everyone to know about it.

On 1 April I boarded a plane bound for Germany armed with few expectations and many prayers. I was one in a team of 8 from my church going to Berlin to visit, encourage, and learn from the people of Berlinprojekt. I asked God to teach me something of Himself, something of myself, something of the kingdom. As I waited in the airport I journaled: "I really want to come away from this trip awed by God, humbled by Him, knowing Him a little bit better. I also want to be given a clearer understanding of what role I might play in God's work in Europe. I've been wondering if this is where God would have me...I believe that if I have any "spiritual gift" (which the Bible tells me I do) it is hospitality. That is something I desire to cultivate and something which I believe could be of service to Europe's cities."

KARFREITAG (Good Friday) - Berlinprojekt rented such a beautiful space for the service. All exposed brick, exposed rafters. A jagged wooden cross was suspended from the ceiling over the speaker, lit so that its shadow was cast twice onto the dome above it.

The service was excellent. The readings, the music, the space, the fact that these people dwell half a world away from me but in this tongue I do not know they are worshiping the Savior we share. We sang a capella "O Haupt voll Blut und Bunden." 12 readings were given, drawn from a broad spectrum of authors, time periods, and styles. Bonhoeffer, Voltaire, Plato, John Stott...I was brought to tears by the final reading, which was Psalm 22 followed by Dietrich Bonhoeffer's last words: "Das ist das Ende - fuer mich der Beginn des Lebens" (This is the end - for me the beginning of life."

Following the service we were welcomed into the home of Lydia and Friedemann, members of BP. They crammed all 8 of us plus 6 or 7 BP staff and members, and spread a tremendous feast before us with so much joy and generosity...despite having never met us. This was a glorious evening, especially given the fact that I had been reading and reflecting on hospitality on the plane, realizing that before I can truly show hospitality I must really know what it is to receive - to be the stranger in the strange land, to be the one relying on others for my daily bread...

SATURDAY 3 APRIL - Christian and Corrie led us on a tour of Berlin. We went to Alexanderplatz, the Berliner Dom, Museum Insel, the memorial to victims of totalitarian regimes, Bebelplatz, the parliamentary offices, the Reichstag, the Holocaust memorial, the Brandenburger Tor, Potsdammer Platz, and then back to Prenzlauer Berg for a meal at I Due Forni.

This day gave me some insight into the collective and individual psyche of the German people. Berliners are constantly surrounded by the past - the good, the bad, and the ugly - and cannot be other than conscious of it. The Fernsehturm looms menacingly over everything, sneaking into every photo and shattering one's attempt to enjoy sights like the Berliner Dom. It is a constant reminder of the Cold War...while Starbucks sells the holy water of capitalism in its base. Bullet marks riddle the surfaces of so many historic buildings. The colonnade in front of the Alte Nationalgalerie is rife with them, and the Neue Nationalgalerie is patched together with bricks where it was bombed out during the war. No attempt to cover the damage, or totally replace this building with a pristine new one. The material damage is there to remind everyone of the physical, psychological, and emotional havoc that man can wreak upon man.

The Holocaust memorial - I was not impressed as we approached but had completely changed my mind by the time I walked out of it. One of the reasons that the Holocaust was such a travesty was that the Jews were treated as nameless, faceless animals. I was bothered, then, when I first saw the memorial, by the fact that it is just rows of concrete slabs - nothing at all to put a name or a face on the tragedy. But I was not prepared for the impact of walking through those slabs. You walk through row after row of solemn, silent stelae and you think that you are alone - then quite suddenly someone you know walks in front of you, their path intersecting yours, and in a flash they are out of sight, like a ghost. You expect to see them again a few rows down. But they are totally gone and you are left surrounded by these grey walls too high to climb.

EASTER SUNDAY - We arrived at Kino Babylon just before 10 am. Christian met us and told us of a few ways that we could help with the service. I was asked, along with my teammate Warren, to help serve communion! More on that later. The service started around 11.15. The theater was packed. People of different ages and walks of life. The songs were all in German but were ones that we knew - "In Christ Alone," "How Deep the Father's Love for Us," etc. - so we were able to sing along with our brothers and sisters even if we didn't know each German word. This was so beautiful to me...It felt like a foretaste of heaven. To be able to sing together, and to see Germans singing with such passion. Kosta preached on "The Wonder of the Resurrection." Then came the Lord's Supper. This was an intensely moving, meaningful experience for me. Warren held the wine and I held the bread. It was so humbling and such an honor to look each person (a stranger to me) in the eye and say to them, "Christi Leib fuer dich gegeben" (Christ's life given for you). To tell them in their own language of what Jesus has done for them...And it is only because of His death and resurrection in the first place that I am even here at all to do so! And because of this same death and resurrection, even if I never see any of those people again on this earth, we will be together forever in heaven. (Not only that, but we will understand each other!)
Seeing this thriving 5-year-old church has challenged me: Never think that God didn't mean it when He said, "I am with you to the end of the age," or that the Scripture is wrong when it says that He is not far from each one of us. He has not abandoned the world, He has not abandoned Europe, He has not abandoned Germany.

Later that evening we spent several hours with Christian and Corrie at the BP office, talking, praying, brainstorming.
BP began in 2005 as a group of 11 friends meeting in Christian's apartment for what they called "sofa services." By Easter 2006 they numbered over 1oo, and now several hundred people meet weekly in central Berlin. BP has 4 target neighborhoods: Mitte, Prenzlauer Berg, Friedrichshain, and Kreuzberg. Each has between 120,000 and 200,000 people. These 4 neighborhoods make up the "creative quarter" of Berlin, filled with young professionals, students, and creative types. Highly educated, dedicated to work, concerned with being a part of the right groups. These characteristics and the large amount of singles (Berlin has 3.4 million people, and over 50% of its households are single households) presents constant opportunities to mingle, network, and fellowship in a way that would be difficult or impossible if the demographics were different. In 2005, in these 4 neighborhoods there was not a single relevant or evangelical church. About 2% of Berlin's population goes to church on a given Sunday, and that is to state or mainline churches, which have really bought into legalism and existentialism. It is just unheard of for people in our age demographic - much less people who actually care about and are aware of the arts, culture, good restaurants, etc. - to be Christian. Some of the tension is cut off of approaching spiritual matters when BP can connect with people over these unlikely things.
BP wants to be a people who are living a contextual life, but who are also comitted to what they believe. Integrated into the neighborhood, but also theologically conservative/stable enough to be sustainable and to have something interesting to offer. "Be excellent in our jobs, maintain relationships and comittments outside of the church, and show the Gospel through all those things." An "incarnational ministry" that seeks to "speak the language of the culture."
People are not forced to commit to BP, but over time that freedom actually leads them to commit more and more because they want to and haven't been forced to. Christian said, "I don't feel the need to 'sell' the faith because it seems to have this magnetic effect on people - For the first time people are finding a place where they can be creative, be professionals, be Berliners - and be Christians, too. It's not as though to be Christian they must give it all up and enter some wierd subculture."
In 2007 BP started meeting at Kino Babylon, and in 2008 Daniel went to begin the Hamburgprojekt plant in Hamburg (more on that later). Last year BP planted a new church in the east Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg (you guessed it - it's called Kreuzbergprojekt). BP's denomination, the Evangelical Free Churches of Germany, has asked BP to re-plant a dying church in Friedrichshain this year, and candidates are being interviewed. In 2011 BP will plant a multinational church in Neueskoelln, the most ethnically diverse neighborhood in Berlin. Lead by a German man and his American wife, both of whom speak Arabic and are educated in middle-Eastern affairs and culture, this church will focus on reaching Arabic and Turkish people. This endeavor has great potential to contribute something significant to a current dialogue simmering all over Germany regarding how to integrate people of different ethnicities.

Over the next 15 years, they would like to see 5 or 6 more churches take root in these 4 neighborhoods - Networks in these neighborhoods really tend to overlap, so if friends and colleagues are telling each other about a good service they've gone to, the churches will become a force that cannot really be overlooked. It could really change people's perceptions of going to church. Then, by pooling their resources, this family of churches can start addressing specific cultural problems over greater Berlin.

They focus on a grace orientation/grace motivation. "We want to talk 80% of the time about the character of God, so that the 20% of the time that we do talk about ethics we have a stronger appeal, because people want to know about life with the God they have fallen in love with." One example of a difficult doctrine is tithing. Germans have a hard time coming around to this practice. They are fine with giving toward a specific project or item...but regular giving and attendance, sexual ethics, or ministry involvement are areas in which it takes a lot of time for people to understand or be willing to try. I was really moved and awed by how much God has accomplished through them despite material needs...Since at present they can't depend upon enough regular giving from congregants, they truly do need US churches and individuals to come forward and support them with finances and resources.

MONDAY 5 APRIL - Fridtjof took us on a boat ride down the Spree to the east Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg. Fridtjof and Benjamin pastor Berlinprojekt's daughter church there, called Kreuzbergprojekt. Kreuzberg is in many ways a very troubled neighborhood. It has the highest percentage of unemployed young migrants in all of Germany. The majority of its inhabitants are Turkish migrants and their families. Lots of artists and activists make up the rest of the community. Each year on the 1st of May, protesters and activists gather in the central square and conduct huge riots against the police. It is their way of expressing their anger at the government and at the effects of gentrification on their neighborhood. Last year the riots were so violent that the police actually left the neighborhood - they were unable to handle the force of the protesters. Kreuzberg also has a thriving drug market. Imagine trying to raise a family -- or form a vibrant church! -- in such a place. But that is exactly what God has given Fred and Benne the courage to do. They started the church this year with a core group of friends from the neighborhood and will continue test services over the next several months, trying different things to see what sort of service format will be best. Benne and his wife Mirjam just moved to Berlin two months ago, and they are expecting their first child later this month -- so they are adjusting to a lot of change! Fridtjof and Benne led us on a prayer walk through the neigborhood. We prayed that this 1st of May will be peaceful. We prayed for Kreuzberg's artists. We prayed for the few churches already present in Kreuzberg, that God would fill them with leaders who are pure in motivation and strong in faith and teaching.

That evening our team treated the entire BP and KP teams to dinner at a great German restaurant. I sat next to Kosta, whom I hadn't really had much of a chance to speak with yet. I really enjoyed our conversation. He was very encouraging -- He asked me a lot about my church background, my studies and interests, what had drawn me to come on the trip. He was very encouraging as I told him of the passion I have long felt in my heart for Europe, but my uncertainty over whether such interest or desire can really indicate a calling. Quietly but with great conviction, he looked at me and said, "I really believe that God very often works through our interests, our desires, our passions, and that we should listen to these things. So you have the desire, and now you just need the opportunity." Yes. I have made this my prayer often since; Lord, you have created me with the desire. Please now provide the opportunity.

TUESDAY 6 APRIL - We took a train to Hamburg to spend the day with the Hamburgprojekt team. HP was planted by BP in 2008 and is pastored by Daniel and Dominic. They hope to follow the same model that BP has set; from their initial plant they hope to plant several churches in other target neighborhoods of Hamburg, then, by pooling their resources, address issues faced by Hamburg as a whole. One of Daniel's goals is to found a counseling, or "life care," center in the next 10 or 15 years.

I was completely taken by Hamburg. What a beautiful city - It is a harbor city, and it felt so very open and fresh compared to graffitied Berlin. It didn't hurt that the sun was shining gloriously for the first time since we'd arrived in Germany. We were met by pastors Daniel and Dominic, Daniel's wife Kathrine, HP intern Matthias, and Jens, a member of the church who has a love of Hamburg that he can barely contain -- He was thus the perfect tour guide. Friends, I wish that you could have seen the very special radiance which poured forth from the faces of these dearhearts. They simply could not stop smiling, and they spoke of thir city with energy and joy and love...I could only look on in wonder, basking in the glory of it all.

There were two particularly striking parts of the day that I will relate. We walked to Nikolaikirche, which is a sort of sister church of Coventry Cathedral - both were severaly bombed out during WWII. Nikolaikirche has not been repaired but instead stands as a ghostly memorial. Visitors can ride an elevator up the bell tower and look out over the city. We did this, and discovered that at the top there were photos showing the city as it looked after the Allies bombed it. I have heard all the explanations of the necessity of war, doing things for the greater good, etc. - but really? 40,000 civilians? I find it hard to accept that we did such a thing.
The other poignant experience was the walk down the Reeperbahn -- Hamburg's "red light"/entertainment district. It is a very confusing experience; concert halls and movie theaters line the same streets as brothels and nightclubs, so that on a given night the streets are filled with sweet old couples out for a concert, teenagers partying, and others patronizing prostitutes. The sex trade is in your face, everywhere, blatant. I paced that street with a broken heart, but also with a humbling realization of my own lack of courage; I would not have the brave sort of love to actually reach out to such a neighborhood, to try to be Christ's love to prostitutes. Hamburgprojekt is intent upon being a very present friend to this troubled neighborhood, and invest the time and the emotional energy into forming real relationships with its inhabitants.

Jens gave one of the most insightful talks of the whole trip. While we were at Nikolaikirche, he began to talk about the impact of WWII on the German psyche (individually and collectively), and how that has actually negatively impacted the church in Germany. Germany basically lost an entire generation of men; those who did return from the war were emotionally and psychologically finished. This meant that the next generation of children had no male role models, and the women were forced to stifle their emotions and take on the men's work, simply to survive. For decades no one talked about the war or dealt with its emotional fall-out. After a couple of decades, what Jens described as "an economic miracle" took place -- things were recovered enough that if you could have a house, a spouse, a car, and a television, you were set. You had a good life. Everything was based on these external measures of achievement or worth, while the inner person was not taken into account. Jens feels that this has had a huge negative influence on the church in Germany; buying into this way of thinking, the church has become very legalistic, paying more attention to your external deeds than to your entire person, including your inner motivations and emotions. Jens shared his own testimony, saying that he spent years in the wrong career, trying achieve success, not knowing how to deal with any of his emotional struggles (and not having anyone willing to counsel him, anyway, as no one really talked about such things). A couple of years ago he completely burned out and sunk into a deep, terrible depression. But he met Daniel and became involved with Hamburgprojekt, and was told of God's grace...He stepped back from his career and took the time to evaluate his life, to work through his emotional and psychological burdens, and found a safe place to do so in Hamburgprojekt. His words brought tears to my eyes: "Hamburgprojekt gives me hope for Germany. Because of this church, I have hope for all of Germany." Would that every church were such a faithful balm in the broken places of this world.

On Wednesday the 7th we had to leave. I could hardly bear it; I had only been there for five days, but I felt as though my heart and soul had melded to this place, these people, this work. I wanted to stay.

I am challenged. Challenged to actually DO something for the place in which God has put me. I don't know my neighbors, I go to the city for work every day and then I come home and relax with my housemates. My entire social life is within church circles. I am not putting into practice any of the things I say I believe -- and which BP is faithfully, faithfully living -- about spreading the Gospel through authentic, redemptive relationships with people in all walks of life, about sacrificial love for cities...In the coming weeks and months I will try to face this challenge and be a more faithful steward of the life I have been given in this place, at this time.

On another personal note, this trip confirmed what has been a suspicion of mine: I believe that I am called to Europe. It is not just an interest, it is not just some obsession that will fade in a month or two - It is a work for which God has made me. I really, firmly believe that now. The details? Well, those are for God to fill in -- I stand at attention with an eager, hopeful heart, ready to go when He opens the door again.

Oh, what spiritual curiosity is already present in so many Germans; there is indeed a seed planted there, ready for watering and tending.

...I suppose this would not be a real Ginny blog if I didn't also comment of the food! One of my favorite meals was a baked breast of guinea fowl with a honey and schwarzbier sauce, roasted vegetables, and tagliatelle tossed in walnut puree. Also good was sauerbraten with red cabbage. And our neighborhood was littered with ice cream parlors! A scoop of pistachio gelato is the perfect companion on the walk home from a good meal.

So, goodbye for now, Germany. I trust that I will see you again before long.
Back from Germany. A long post, with pictures, is coming. My word, how I wish I could've stayed.

10 March, 2010

A word brought a world into being
and a final breath has made it new.
This is your mystery -
for this I love you -
that you bind up your endless power in these gentle, holy sighs.

03 March, 2010

We are learning all of life now. Marriage, birth, suffering, death. The span of years in which the generations dwell together - knowing strength and health at the same time - are coming to a gentle end for my family, ushering some over the last abyss and leaving others to bear their legacy. I held my dying aunt's hand last night and wondered why the world is so strange. I knew that during the hours that we were saying the long goodbye, somewhere else in that city a young couple was probably celebrating their engagement, or a young woman was holding for the first time the child she'd carried inside of her for nine months. God asks us to take our turns receiving joy and bearing sadness, and the sun persists in rising.

10 February, 2010

Space, place, and grace

The following is a short essay I wrote for a scholarship application. It was my effort to briefly articulate the connections I see between the field of design and the Christian life (more specifically, Christian hospitality). These ideas are still simmering, but I was fairly satisfied with this initial attempt.


In his essay “Longing for Home,” Elie Wiesel said, “Our century is marked by displacements on the scale of continents…Never before have so many human beings fled from so many homes.” In recent years the developed world has experienced a great influx of different races, religions, cultural priorities, and modes of expression. There are many "strangers within the gate" who are seeking space. Yet in order to really flourish they must not just have space; they must have place.

Design responds to both the realities and the fantasies of our lives/of a time period and culture. It is our response to the way things are, and our vision of the way things should or could be. It can move beyond space to make place - home, belonging - possible. As Christine Pohl writes in "Making Room," "body, soul, and spirit are fed by attention to small details...Attention to these details expresses an appreciation for life which has more to do with taking time than with having money." Showing people that they have worth and belonging - essentially, showing hospitably - is a key component of the Christian calling. Therefore, design is profoundly relevant to the Christian's mission of making the invisible Kingdom visible, for it provides a material/aesthetic language in which to express those truths. Museums and design historians are essential in preserving a record of design's past application to lifestyle (showing us what the "horizons of the possible" have been, to borrow Andy Crouch's phrase). This preserved and disseminated knowledge gives us the foundation necessary to understand our present relationship with design. It also opens our eyes to design's potential role in making the world what it ought to be - and the way we trust it will be, if we believe the Bible's redemptive narrative.
The Modern era has made man out to be little more than a machine, or at best, an animal. This skewed identity has been reflected in design movements that have stripped warmth from living spaces, reducing them to their basic functions. Removing the possibility of creativity and individual expression denies man the exercise of his God-given, God-imitating creative urge. Aside from Francis Schaeffer and his colleagues, where were Christians during this malaise? I think that Christians can offer a better understanding of what it is to be human, and we can do so in part by acknowledging the unique exchange between people and design. In my vocation I want to challenge this incomplete definition of man and the sense of futility present in much of modern and contemporary design. I wish to bring this sense of the fullness of life to my scholarship as a design historian, to my exhibitions as a curator, and to my teaching perspective as a professor.

From my earliest years I recited the first question and answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man?” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” I am finally coming to understand that that “forever” can – indeed, does – begin now, through our efforts to imitate (in every realm of culture) the creativity of God. The fullness of life that Jesus promised in John 10:10 begins now. If even the ships of Tarshish can present their glory to God (Isa. 60:9); if God Himself cared that the curtains of the Temple bear beautiful figurative decoration; then surely our material surroundings can and do matter in more than a temporal sense.

20 January, 2010

It is winter, work is stressful, the nights are long...and so I have a renewed enjoyment of cooking. It is so nice to come home, close the door, put my purse and any reminders of my professional self to the side, and start creating something nourishing.

I love the sense of anticipation that comes with pulling out vegetables, garlic, chicken, spices, wine...disparate things requiring different preparations, combined together at various times and temperatures...Will something coherent (and -- please, God -- delicious) actually come of this? Each time it's still a little surprising to me.

This recipe is one that has become a favorite of ours over the last few months. I must admit, we use chicken, not being huge tofu junkies. The recipe calls for peanuts to sprinkle over top, but I also love to top with shaved coconut. Best enjoyed with a good Riesling and good company.

04 January, 2010

stammering fragments

I read it in your word, learn it from the story
of those gestures with which your hands
cupped themselves around each fledgling thing -
warm, encompassing, wise.
You pronounced live strongly and die softly
and ceaselessly repeated: Be.
But before the first death murder came.
With that a rent tore through your perfect circles
and a scream broke in
and scattered all those voices
that had just then come together
to sing you,
to carry you about,
their bridge over all abysses -

And what they have been stammering since
are fragments
of your ancient name.

-Rainer Maria Rilke, from The Book of Hours (1905)

03 January, 2010

Milk's leap toward immortality

One of the best gifts I received for Christmas was a giftcard to the Cowgirl Creamery, a DC cheese-lover's mecca. This is a small wonderland of [live and active] cultural gems from all around the world...As I walk in and am overwhelmed by the air's pungency, I am at the same time mesmerized by the wheels of cheese on the counter. Each one is distinct and beautiful...Some distract with their lightning bolts of blue and green mold rippling through them. Others are rubbed smooth and conceal a creamy pure interior under deep red or grey rinds. They come from England, Italy, Wales, France, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands...Diverse manifestations of human exploration of the possibilities in milk, curds, whey, air...

So in the photo above, starting with the top right:
-Red Hawk, one of Cowgirl Creamery's own cheeses. It's a pungent triple-cream cheese that is only aged for 4 weeks, during which time it's rinsed in a brine solution and develops a lovely pale orange rind.
-Wilde Weide Gouda from South Holland. Normally we think of Gouda as a smoked cheese, but this was not -- the girl in the shop used the descriptive "butterscotch" when she recommended this to us, and it did indeed have a wonderful subtle sweetness. I did pick up on a butterscotch or caramel sort of taste. I liked this one quite a lot!
-Pecorino Ginepro from Emilia-Romagna, Italy. This was very intriguing! The rind is rubbed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then covered with juniper berries, giving it the very dark rind you see above. One of my friends smelled it before tasting, and recoiled in disgust, saying that it smelled like a foot....I must admit, it did...But as we all tried what was subsequently dubbed "the foot cheese," we were surprised by how mild, pleasant, and smooth it was. Cheese is a deceptive food, indeed.
-Stilton from Nottinghamshire, UK. Very strong, very rich, very delicious!
Wensleydale with cranberries (not sure where this was made...a friend brought it)

The two favorites of the evening seemed to be the Gouda and the Pecorino, although each cheese was greatly enjoyed by all! I might ask for another giftcard for my birthday next month...because there is so much good cheese in the world, and so little time!

01 January, 2010

We are quiet most nights. There is much that we need to say, but our words are too childish for the task. So our eyes meet and apologize, and we hope that just being together is enough. We hope a lot of other things, too. It is the day for arranging hopes into lists and resolutions and daydreams about a year from now. Even the trees are supplicant, stretching their naked branches to the clouds for covering until spring comes to relieve their shame.

We hope that our parents are proud of us. We hope that our siblings do more with their youth than we did. We hope that sorrow teaches us to love more, not less - to open our arms to all of life rather than follow the urge to bury our faces in our hands 'til it's all over. We have these big hopes and we have small ones, too: we hope that we will read all of the books on our lists, that the blue jeans won't be quite so snug someday, and that spring will come quickly to bring blossoms to the apricot tree and color to our father's cheeks.