When Jonathan and I were at the King's College Choir performance I couldn't help but marvel at the purity of the cathedral boy's voices. There was a moment they were pin-drop quiet, and still rich with melody. It reminded me of when I sang in the A Cappella choir at Concordia. It was always the silent high pieces that were the most difficult. Somehow we had to find a way to reach the notes without straining, because in a silent piece, straining was heard by everyone.

The only way we reached those notes was with confidence. Without it, our voices would scratch their way to the top and our hesitancy would stain the purity of the song. It was the same situation when I played french horn. I had moments in a concert when I knew I wasn't going to hit the note, and I told myself over and over that I would fail so that when the time came, I didn't even try to hit the note. I stopped just shy and hoped that my dad (the director) wouldn't hear my mistake and that the other instruments would cover it up. It was the same when I played sports. My parents always told me that while I had natural talent, I lacked confidence. As a result I lacked the competitive nature that has gotten my brother Andrew so far this year in his senior b-ball season. Part of me grieves for what I could have done athletically if I had confidence, and part of me realizes that I did what I could and it wasn't something I wanted badly enough. But what about those things remaining in my life that I desperately want to succeed at? What about my writing career? What about my music that I have tossed to the side in recent years?

When I'm alone and night has covered the room in darkness, that's when my desires and doubts come out the strongest. That's when I feel the most ambitious and the most helpless. The only thing I can do at that point is pray for confidence--pray for strength. Because when daylight comes, it's time to act.


No Nog But Good Nog

At first I was disappointed to see that they don't sell egg nog in London. I even went to the Whole Foods on High Street Kensington hoping they would have it so I wouldn't have to buy all the separate ingredients. Alas, no nog. So I made it myself and as always, I love the homemade drink more than the storebought stuff (especially after the rum had time to seep into the flavors!)

My love of egg nog started with my Grandpa Jack (a.k.a. Captain Jack for my brother and his friends in the blue house next to David). Grandpa Jack did not serve me egg nog with rum. Instead it was virgin egg nog and 5 a.m. Christmas dates on the sun porch. Snuggled on his lap, we watched snow frost the sliding glass windowpanes, listened to his special Christmas album (he and Grandma buy a new one each year) and marveled at the lighted Christmas tree in the backyard. This was the only time I had my Grandpa all to myself. My three brothers will still snoring away in the living room, my parents were desperately trying to sleep in, and even Grandma wouldn't get up at that ungodly hour. Those quiet mornings were just for us.

This year Grandpa Jack and Grandma Glennie told me to see the King's College Choir at Cambridge for their annual "Nine Lessons in Carols" service. It's famously watched on BBC each year by the British and by the world--my grandparents included. I didn't want to stand in the queue at 9 am until the service started at 3, so Jonathan and I got tickets to their performance in the Royal Albert Hall last night. It was amazing! The orchestra and choir performed pieces from The Messiah, The Nutcracker, traditional carols, and even a carol that Concordia's Chamber Choir sang a few years ago. A giant pipe organ stood stately at the front and changed from orange to red to green with the lights. Two silverblue trees stood beneath it. At one point the director invited the audience to join in singing the carols. The acoustics in the hall magnified our voices (and all the coughing fits, unfortunately) and I loved that the name 'Jesus' rolled off of lips so easily.

It was the perfect night. I even got to go home and have a mug of Nog! Thanks Grandpa Jack :)


O Little Town of What?

I went to my first London carol service tonight. Candlelight shimmered and mulled wine simmered and the choir sang joyfully. They played my favorite version of "In the Bleak Midwinter" which is not the one I'm most familiar with in the States (I've now made it my mission to get this particular version from iTunes, because it has a melodic twist in one line of the song that makes it mysteriously beautiful).

Carol services in Britain are a bit different than in the U.S. I was happy with the Midwinter variation. I was okay with the different pronunciation of "Israel" (they pronounce it "Iz-rail" instead of "Iz-rile"). And I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the choir singers looked exactly like Mr. Bean when he wound himself up for the next line of the song. He leaned forward and his eyes and his mouth bulged open and it was weird but funny. All of this, plus the mulled wine afterwards, made for a delightful celebration.

But I was not okay with O Little Town of Bethlehem. Somebody didn't give the carol memo to Britain. Somebody needs to tell them that they sing it all wrong. How can you celebrate Christmas with the wrong tune for O Little Town of Bethlehem?

At least I got to come home to our new little Christmas tree that sits on our windowsill. Thanks for the ornaments, mom :)


A Prayer for Advent

"But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain You. How much less this temple I have built! Yet give attention to Your servant's prayer and his plea for mercy, O Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that Your servant is praying in Your presence this day." 1 Kings 8:27-28

I'm not worthy to contain you. I'm not even worthy to look into your face, seeking the approval that I crave. But God, there's a Baby coming. Through him mend my cracks and fissures and stains and make me willing. Let my gift be me, a God container full of life and love and peace as you come closer to this earth.

Fill me with your Son.


Piccadilly Santas

Have you ever seen a herd of Santas before?

Jonathan and I were Christmas shopping in London. Carnaby Street was a Technicolor Harry Potter scene—shops squashed on twisty turny alleys, lights sparkling, and shoppers twittering about their recent purchases. We were just about to catch a bus in Piccadilly Circus when out of the Underground’s stairway, three or four Santas suddenly popped onto the street like loose kernels of popcorn. We thought they must be on their way to offer a lap and an ear to some kids. But then another Santa appeared, and another, and soon hundreds of fluffy red Santas began bursting out of a bottomless Mary Poppins purse! They were singing and skipping and laughing to the Eros statue in the middle of the Circus where they piled for pictures.

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders at the absurdity, and what the hey? We crossed the street to join the picture-snapping crowds, surrounded by cheering St. Nicks.

London is never dull!



I don't know how people survived without laptops. When I work at home (or when I'm supposed to be working and play on the internet instead), I move myself all over the apartment like a crazy nomad. I have to have a change of scenery, even if it's from my bed to the kitchen table or from my desk to my futon. I find myself dragging my computer charger and stereos to different outlets, crossing and uncrossing my legs, and switching from my ipod to speakers every couple hours or so, only because I need a change.

I worry that it's the same with my life. Ever since college I've been in limbo. I lived in transition between a squished square in Nebraska that called itself a dorm room to a bedroom in Colorado. Not long after I made memories in a good-sized basement apartment in Nebraska and began my basement dwelling record-breaking, as my friend Brooke likes to say. After I was married I moved to Reno, where we lived in an apartment (second floor) for seven months. We moved to another apartment (first floor) and lived there for a year. Now we live in another basement apartment in London, and I find myself unable to stop worrying about our next move. I worry that the next place we live I'll be bored again. I'll get restless and the next year we'll find ourselves in yet another basement apartment in some random city. And on and on and on with the moving and the restlessness and the anticipating something better. Will it ever stop?

Honestly? Probably won't stop till heaven. But setting that aside, I know there are people who somehow find themselves content in every situation, comfortable with a secure life or a scary life--sorta like Bible Paul. I wish that could be me.


Hot Showers or Chocolate?

Before Jonathan and I left for Paris we were without hot water for a week. I boiled water in our tea kettle and filled the sink to take sponge baths and wash my hair. It worked, but there was this overwhelming emptiness that wouldn't leave me alone. It was an emptiness only hot showers could fill. I was a sad, cold girl.

This morning I got into a piping hot shower that made me sigh with happiness. This was when I decided that if I ever had to choose between giving up chocolate or hot showers, and I had the option to keep chocolate if I was okay with having lukewarm showers the rest of my life, then I would definitely have to give up chocolate.

Can I get an amen for hot showers?



My Uncle Randy (mom's brother) died this week. The good news is that he loved Jesus. My mom found a song that has been a constant source of comfort for her, and will hopefully be a comfort for my Uncle's immediate family. The song is by Mark Harris and called "Wish You Were Here," sung from the perspective of someone in heaven. One line runs itself over and over in my mind and almost makes me laugh with the freedom it sings. It's about him "running with the angels on streets made of gold."

There's something so liberating about that image--it robs all the heaviness that death brings to our lives, and reminds me that as painful as earthly life can be, as trapped as I feel by death, by injustice, I AM FREE. I am free to love, to laugh, to forgive, to celebrate, and to live without fear! I want my life to overflow with the joy that I have because I want people to know what true freedom looks and feels like.

"So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36

I first learned these songs at a worship conference in Dallas. The first song was led by Ross Parsley, who is the worship leader at New Life Church. I'm not sure if the song was actually written by Ross Parsley or by the Desperation Band (a worship band at New Life) but it is such a powerful song. Everyone should start their day out with it! Click on the link and you can listen to both songs.

I AM FREE by Ross Parsley/Desperation Band (New Life Church)
Through you the blind will see
Through you the mute will sing
Through you the dead will rise
Through you all hearts will praise
Through you the darkness flees
Through you my heart screams I am free

I am free to run
I am free to dance
I am free to live for you
I am free

(second verse)
For his returning we watch and we pray
We will be ready the dawn of that day
We'll join in singing with all the redeemed
Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King!

So come let us sing a song
A song declaring we belong to Jesus
He is all we need
Lift up a heart of praise
Sing now with voices raised to Jesus
Sing to the King


Why I Write Creative Nonfiction

I write mostly creative nonfiction. It’s what it sounds like—nonfiction told as a narrative, or as a series of narratives. The thing about creative nonfiction for me is that it’s not just a genre; it’s a philosophy, a principle for living. “Creative Nonfiction writers are in an ideal position to be one-person “truth and reconciliation” commissions, to uncover “the small stories that have gone missing,” as one writer put it.

I can’t help but think of the Bible as a piece of creative nonfiction—as a whole, that is. There are parts of it that are not. The Psalms is a book of poetry, and Matthew starts out with a genealogy. As a whole, the purpose of the Bible is to tell smaller stories to make up the bigger story in order to get at The Truth. It invites the reader into an experience of such heavy magnitude (an experience that is not excluding of anyone) and does it by “unearthing lives at the margin of the bigger event.” Each story told is about characters that played a small part in the grander play. And of course there's the ultimate Hero's Journey story told in the life of Christ.

Those ancient stories, interwoven between a front and back cover, still change lives today. And the lives that are changed--those are the stories I want to tell.


Emptied Rubbish

In London I walk onto the street and see mounds of cathedrals piled on top of each other. They’ve been thrown together in the rubbish pile. They’ve been stripped of their dignity, robbed of their majesty, and put out onto the curb for Friday’s trash pick-up. They still contribute to society, but not by offering a warm pew for prayer and worship. Now it happens through entry fees paid by tourists. Faith communities are now “spiritual counseling” sessions—not centered on a God outside of ourselves that we worship, but centered on the self for self-help, self-esteem, and self-improvement.

It seems disheartening, especially to people with aesthetic tastes that appreciate sacred spaces. But it’s a reminder to me that a building and a society is only a place for the Church to gather, not the Church itself. The Spirit doesn’t reside in a building, but in Christians.

They tried to throw Jesus into the rubbish pile, too. They stripped him of his dignity, robbed him of his majesty, and put him out onto the curb for Friday’s trash pick-up. But Friday’s trash pick-up came and went, and it didn’t find Jesus in the rubbish pile.

It’s going to take a lot more than dilapidated cathedrals, laws, and popular opinion to do away with the power of Christ!


The Shopping/Dating Dilemma

Jonathan and I went shopping at Covent Garden yesterday. Surprisingly, it was the most successful shopping day I've ever had. We found a gift for almost everyone we were shopping for. We bought Christmas cards at a charity shop. We even enjoyed the best meal we've eaten out since we've lived in London (better than the TexMex at the Texas embassy, if you can believe it).

Afterwards a friend and I discussed how rare successful shopping trips are. For us, it's because our indecisiveness gets in the way. Don't get me wrong--for the most part I love shopping. But for it to be a good shopping experience, I need to find the perfect gift. I may find something that I think, "Yes, that person will like that gift. It is a good gift." But then I wonder--is it the perfect mix of thoughtfulness, sentimentality and practicality? And I wonder if I could find something better. Because if I don't, this might be the best I can do and I'll regret not buying it--but what if it's not? I might need to keep looking until I find the "right" one, the one that makes me giddy with joy when I give it.

Christmas shopping is one thing, but I think some people encounter the same problems when they date. "He's a good guy. I like that guy. I don't know if I'll find someone better, so I think he's the guy I want." But the question remains: is he "the" guy? The right guy? And how will you know if he is, or if there is someone better?

In my experience, as in my shopping yesterday, when you find the right gift/guy you just know. You don't want to look around anymore. You know that even if you conducted a world-wide search until you were 90 years old that you would never find someone else you wanted to spend your life with as much as with this person.

It's a passionate commitment, but at its center is peace.


Content in Imagination

"Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea;
reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite."

--G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy


Love-Hate Words

Writing is a dictator. It demands and it governs and it punishes.

Writing is a lover. It sees through me and challenges me and brings out the best in me.

This love-hate relationship has me completely knackered! I think I'll go eat a mince pie.


Plant, Part II

(This is part II of a short series about the plant that lives outside my window. It is dedicated to my friend Brooke who encouraged my fictional narrative of a sappy little plant. If you missed part I you can click here.)

Fall dropped its head into the gutter. It burrowed under the soggy leaves, rolling into a tight ball to escape winter's pounce. But one little plant, living below the gutter, shouted in excitement, "Winter! Winter is here!" He'd heard bedtime stories about winter and the wind that would would snap up his leaves, preparing him for Spring. But this little plant, living in a window well, didn't get his leaves snapped up. The wind didn't care to reach into this little cubby.

"Wind can't be too wonderful," he consoled himself. "It's cold and it's probably painful and besides, who would rake my leaves? I'd be looking at them 'til Spring."

But still, Plant knew the truth: to grow taller and to sprout more beautiful leaves in Spring, the old ones must come off. To be taller then the well someday, he would need to lose his leaves. But how?

Everyday the wind blew colder and the fog grew thicker. Steam covered the window, leaving cracks like broken glass. He peered through them enviously. If only the people inside would tear off his leaves for him. As he looked at his gnarly fists, dry and stubbornly clinging to his branch, he wondered if maybe the rain could drown off his leaves. But as time went on, the leaves hung strong.

One bright morning Plant woke to the sound of bells and carols. As he looked upward to see what the fuss was about, he caught a glimpse of himself in the window. The leaves had fallen. The leaves had fallen! There hadn't been rain or wind. Instead, he saw a thick layer of white fluff glittering on the cement floor. His leaves were peaking out in dots of color as if to say, "Told you so!"

Plant smiled big and shook his empty arms. Light, refreshed and clean, he laughed about his worry. Silly worry. Spring would come soon!


My Sun is an Orange

The rain trickled down, streaking the basement well—my only view onto the outside street. So hidden and sanitized from the world that an airplane and even a loud dragging something I mistake for thunder. But yesterday there was thunder. And lightning. It calmed me. And when I had been inside all day the orange I ate made a bleak day bright despite fluorescent lights that chilled me. It was my taste of the sun. It refreshed my soul and dry mouth.

Today I ventured out onto the uneven squares of pavement. They were shiny with morning rain but I had just missed it. A drop dripped from the trees above me. I clenched my fists, a habit against the cold. But it wasn’t too cold. This week is the first week I’ve been able to see my breath, and it was frosty enough that my ears complained. But fresh air is worth the occasional chill. When I dress in sweaters and scarves and an overcoat, and I wear waterproof, rubbery shoes, I can’t complain. I’m just happy to spend time breathing air that’s not my apartment, and not walking from my car to a building and from the building to my car, like I do at home in America.

I think I’ll like winter here. Especially if I can eat an orange everyday.



Yesterday Jonathan and I went to Hillsong London for church. At one point the main guitarist got up and explained that some friends had called him up the other day to tell him they were in London, and that they wanted to visit Hillsong. Turns out those friends were the pop/R&B Christian singers Mary Mary. And they sang two songs for us in church! Jonathan and I aren't that familiar with them, but when they sang "Shackles" (their number one hit) the entire church was dancing.

Hillsong is held at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road, which is where they also show the musical "We Will Rock You." I like that the theatre is in the middle of a busy square, right by the opening of a tube station and that it doesn't look like a church. I wonder how many people have stumbled in under the giant bronze rocker's legs accidentally, wondering what all the fuss was about. Because it is alot of fuss. I've never been in such a crowded theatre--even for a performance. We arrived at 12:15 for a 12:45 service and found masses of people chatting, drinking tea, and flipping through the various programs and CDs that Hillsong produces. Eventually we made it into the theatre.

It was a worshipful experience. The musicians knew what they were doing, had great transitions and jumped and danced all over the stage. The songs were well-chosen too. The only qualm I had was with the visuals behind the musicians. I've seen some powerful presentations during worship services, whose images draw your thoughts upward and magnify your awe of God. But Hillsong's images were close-up shots of the musicians and their sweaty hair. Not exactly inspiring. But despite the sweaty hair images and a pastor that rambled, it was a good experience. We got to see Mary Mary, anyway :)


it's never too late for Santa

I struggle to understand how some American evangelicals come to their conclusions about popular culture, particularly when they ban books, movies, and TV shows. I am confused by pat answers, by formulaic solutions to the world’s problems or personal struggles. I am jealous of a belief culture that allows people to ascribe to the political stance they want to, rather than assuming there is a God-ordained position on every issue. I am tired of being told not to think. Mostly, I am frustrated with an American evangelical society that says there is a black and white answer to everything. Therein lies the greatest difference between the American evangelicals and the British evangelicals, and makes me want to live in England forever. Faith is not easy. God is complicated. Life is hard. Don’t pass it off to me as a step-by-step program to success, because that is a faith based on rules and no one will want your God.

What we need instead is to be in the world, to know what the rest of society is feeling and thinking and struggling with. And that means watching movies and TV and reading books, but being discerning at the same time, so that we can contribute to the conversation. Because sometimes it’s too easy as Christians to find ourselves caught up in our comfortable lives. It’s easy to forget that other people have questions, and we might have the answers.

And then, once we’re outside our front door and in the throes of reality, that’s when we remember not to be “of” the world, as Jesus said. Our faith is unlike any other faith in that it is not based on rules—it is based on forgiveness. Apart from all the church-a-nese we may have learned, that’s what it comes down to when we’re in mainstream culture. People are desperately trying to survive, to figure out life, to have fun, to contribute to society, and the last thing they want is another institution governing their lives. What they need instead is hope, and a promise they won’t have to work for.

It’s sort of like if kids went to the Mall and sat on Santa’s lap and later found out that Santa actually worked for the mall. The man who had heard their deepest desires and who promised the sort of happiness you can only get once a year was just an anonymous stranger with a fake beard needing extra cash. And he was skinny under the pillow. When kids realize that Santa is just another actor in the commercialism of Christmas, they stop believing.

The church has to stand out. It has to be blazingly different than the rest of the world. If the church does not stand out as separate from the state, or if it conforms to the pop culture like the rest of the world, it will be seen as a governing institution rather than a redemptive community. And the world will stop believing.


a Sampling of Paris

A tribute to our autumn weekend in Paris:

of crackling leaves, Latin Quarter gyros, and MonteMarte's soaking rain.
Cheese and baguettes, warm sucre crepes, and Eiffle lights tower
sparkling like flashes of diamonds
in Moulin Rouge.
Browsing books at Shakespeare and Co., strolls on the aimless Seine
my feet hurting, his soles burning--
souls warming in search of beauty

on the bridges--light bounces

Hauntings of Notre Dame by moon and climbing 274 steps--
our Triomphe of the Arc
just in time!
to laugh at Smart Cars controlled by remote
and admire a city of lights--
sprawled out in orange trees and skyscrapers and the ancient
and the shops on Champs de Elysses.
We speak our best "Merci" and "Bonsoire" and look for the dreaded Tabac.
Climb the hill to Sacred Heart,
Hands enfolded--
until we reach for the umbrella, and tuck in a shop,
and buy a painting or two.

Return to hotel Ibis. Soak in a hot tall bath. Drink french wine till the glass is dry--my J and I fall asleep and dream of the lights--bouncing on bridges of Seine.


My Criminal Record

Yesterday I had an illegal weapon confiscated from me at the British Library's bag check.

"Ma'am, is this pepper spray?"
"I'm going to have to take this from you."
"Can I get it back when I leave?"
"Ma'am, did you know that if the police caught you with this on the street that you would be arrested and put in jail?"
Gulp. "Really?"
"Pepper spray is illegal in the UK. I'm going to have to take your name and address."

Does this mean I have a criminal record in the UK? If so, I blame airport security. They stopped to search my carryon after they screened it, but it turns out they were only looking for plyers and a carton of yogurt (which were stuck in my bag in the frenzy of moving out of an apartment and flying to London in the same morning.) They didn't find the pepper spray, though. And now I will have a criminal record. In the words of Michael Scott: yeesh.

After I left the British Library I helped an old lady cross the street. That was redeeming and I didn't feel so much like a criminal anymore. Afterwards I had some time before church and stopped by Starbucks where I had another odd situation. I smiled at a stranger (will never do that again) and he returned it too enthusiastically. He proceeded to move to the couch next to me and for ten minutes he talked about nokia phones, the war in Iraq, grace kelly, religion, the death of his mom and girlfriend from cancer, and about the strange affinity he feels with his "cousins" across the pond. He then proceeded to ask when he could see me again and if I would like his number. And he was about 50.

London life is never boring.


England Autumn: Plant Part I

Outside the basement window stands a plant. Small, alone, his fingers barely reach the cemented walls of the well, and he wonders at his significance. The sky is miserly. She gives her rain to him reluctantly, even though there's plenty for the ungrateful umbrellas.

And yet the plant has just enough to quench his thirst. Every day he continues to grow longer and stretch farther so that one day, he might touch the algae-stained walls. One day he will rise above his narrow cell and see other plants, he decides. On that day he will not be alone anymore, and he will jump and shout when the wind waves through his limbs.

But that day is not here yet. He still has growing to do. And even though he doesn't know it, the plant is making life beautiful for the people in the window. His young fingers, untouched by the dangerous elements above, paint fiery red streaks across the windowpane. The rain has kept people inside today, but he reminds them that it's autumn in England.



Rowling Admits to Christian Themes in Harry Potter

I've always loved Harry Potter. I remember the very first time I picked up the first book--probably because I was very reluctant. My fourth grade brother loved them and they were children's books, so I didn't think there was a good chance they'd hold my attention. Luckily for me my family happened to be on a two week camping trip to Alberta, Canada and the long car hours forced me to experience the joys of Harry Potter's wizarding world.

Despite all the negative responses Harry Potter has received from the Christian population, I read the books for what they were: a fantasy revolving around the hero's journey to overcome evil with good. It's a basic plot that reveals itself in most literature. As a Christian I appreciate these plots because they demonstrate that humanity seems to instinctly understand the story of our redemption, or at least to wish one for themselves. The hero's journey is always a story of sacrifice and redemption, which parallels our own redemption through Christ.

The last book in particular, The Deathly Hallows, made me wonder if Rowling deliberately included Christian themes throughout the series. I read an article in Christianity Today about an interview in which Rowling would only reveal that she did believe in God--she could say nothing more about her religious beliefs, she said, because that would reveal too much about the ending of hte 7th book. Well, now that the 7th book has been out, Rowling has admitted to Christianity being an inspiration for the books. She admits that she struggles with faith and belief in an afterlife, but clearly says that the Christian faith is a theme in Harry Potter.

Honestly, it doesn't make me love the books more or less, because whether or not she deliberately inserted the Christian storyline into her books, it was there for all to see. I think it's too obvious to miss, personally, and actually I wonder if it would mean more if she hadn't done it deliberately. But still, it's nice to know that millions of readers out there aren't corrupting their minds with trashy wizarding literature. Whew.

Click on the blog post title to link to the article about Rowling's interview.


London Reflections

Inefficiency is the key to productivity. That's what I've concluded after living in London one month.

1. SLOW FOOD. Londoners, like the French (see one of my first posts on the book French Women Don't Get Fat under the topic of "worship") believe in the concept of good, slow, quality-made food. There are hardly any fast food places in London, and those that exist come from America (McDonald's, KFC, and Subway). Food doesn't travel very far and is grown locally, so the taste is better, and there are hardly any preservatives in it. Now, an American might say that London's food scene does not cater to efficiency. But it definitely creates a more productive meal experience. Overall, it's more satisfying and nutritional.

2. PUBLIC TRANSPORT. It's amazing how much farther the mind is capable of roaming when given an extra 30 minutes (at least) waiting for buses and tubes. And if you have a long journey, you can read a book, talk to people on your "mobile" as they say, and basically devote more time to the luxury of contemplation. Efficient? Actually, aside from delayed trains and traffic, I'd say yes. But most Americans would probably argue that owning a car would be more efficient. But productive? Very. Not only does public transport do it's part in supporting our green efforts, but it's amazing what one thinks of when given time to think, and to basically do nothing.

3. BUSY CITY. London is a multi-cultural busy city. There's always something to do and see and experience, but to live in a city like this, you do need to sacrifice a sense of personal space. Londoners don't have a sense of the "right" way to walk on the sidewalk (since they drive on the left, you'd assume they'd walk on the left, but there's too many immigrants and tourists to make that a reality). So in London you spend a great deal of time bumping into strangers and smelling the shampoo of the person you're smashed into on the tube. Efficient? Again, probably not. Especially if you get impatient easily and want to get places quickly. But I've discovered that I have a greater sense of community and humanity as a result of the congestion.

4. And finally, VACATION! Most Londoners get 4-5 weeks paid vacation immediately after their start their job. Need I say more?


Wrap-Up Rule

when a reader comes to the last pages of a good book, they expect a satisfying "wrap-up" of events. similarly, a good film should tie up loose ends and avoid bringing in more problems, since the film will soon be over and any added conflict wouldn't resolve itself. the only reason this rule could possibly, maybe be broken is if there will be a sequel.

Ernest Hemingway did not abide by the Rule. and i am terribly disappointed.

i just finished Hemingway's A Moveable Feast and was thoroughly enjoying his recount of living in Paris in the 1920's as a young, impoverished writer. along the way we meet many well-known authors, such as Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. and we come to respect Hemingway as a writer with integrity. he's poor, and goes without eating meals so that his wife and son can eat. he remains true to his professionalism and beliefs and is on the cusp of writing his first novel and being recognized as a respectable author. and then he does the unthinkable (if you plan on reading this book and don't want the ending spoiled, stop reading now):

he has an affair.

on the second to last page of the novel he has an affair with a woman from Paris and continues having an affair after the book ends. it's such an anti-climatic, depressing way to end an otherwise very enjoyable book that i'm not sure i can say i like it. the book was written by Hemingway in his last days, and it's about his life at 25 years old. the only conclusion i can come to is that Hemingway viewed the book as the beginning of a sequence--the sequence of his life. which means his affair was most likely a gateway to a completely different life than the one he described in the book.

he talks about the affair bitterly. i wonder if that's where his final thoughts were.


Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

My nose has a terrific memory. In times of forgetfulness it is my unwritten travelogue, and Friday was no different. To get There, we took a tube to east London and stood next to someone who did not take personal hygiene seriously. We passed a modern museum and the stench of a dumpster. Finally we turned a corner to a fresh breeze blowing off the river, smelling of fish and industry and centuries of secrets. We had arrived.

I couldn’t help but stare at the freshly painted structure. The grass that was to be our shelter for the next three hours promised a truly authentic experience (with the exception of the modern fire retardant.) Wooden beams crisscrossed upward to form a certain solidarity that made it possible for me to pretend that the building was an original—that the famed house of entertainment had survived through thousands of generations.

We were lucky that day with warm weather. The first weekend of October could have brought rain or clouds or a thick wind. But today’s afternoon sun was friendly. It wound between people in the queue and roughed up their anticipation of the event. We couldn’t tell if many people had attended before, which was good. No matter if it was the first time or the tenth, it appeared that it was always worth coming back to. People laughed and the energy was high. Strangers smiled to strangers. An American next to me whistled a familiar hymn. A women in an apron sold programs, some people ate a quick sandwich, and one girl enjoyed a brownie (I made a mental note to buy one after the performance.) While we all took in the view across the river, we mostly kept our eyes fastened on the door that would soon be the gateway to our reason for being here.
And finally the queue started moving.

When we entered the sphere, I was immediately transported to seventeenth century England. I couldn’t help but think of the commoners that had experienced laughter and tears through the original players—the masters who were the first to interpret William’s bantering. I wondered what they wore, if they had shoes, and how often they were able to come to experience it. Did they come with their families? Did parents allow their children to come? How racy was the dialogue? How violent the fights? So many questions bounced around my head as I turned in circles to look at the open-aired space around me. The brightly painted rafters told the story of the sky. The forest hung on banners in front and informed me we would spend an afternoon in the woods. Above us were decks of chairs and benches, and for a few select few, rented cushions that promised a more comfortable stay. (But we had the cheapest and the better view.)

My husband and I set our bags on a slab of cement right outside “the wedge” where only 25 people were allowed in. Our view was close, but not so close so that we would leave with neck spasms. We snapped pictures while we could. We chatted with a woman who wore a maroon apron. She was pleasant to talk with, but it was more fun to see how quickly she became stern when she needed to manage the crowd. She was not a softie by any means. (But she did gladly offer to take our picture at the end.)

The people trickled in and eventually filled the entire space. Amid the crowd conversation, we suddenly heard minstrel music. Two musicians had emerged from behind a curtain, quieted the crowd, and began to set a mood reminiscent of the Renaissance. Soon after, we were enthralled in the story.

The hilarity began.


What is Good Writing?

I write about God. I don’t think it’s for the general public. Or is it? If what we write is truly good literature, anyone should be able to read it without thinking it's narrow minded and un-intellectual just because it involves faith. People like Madeleine L'Engle and Marilyn Robinson have bridged the gap and made it possible for the general public to read novels about the Christian faith. But how do they do it? What makes their writing good?

In the past two years or so I've visited Christian publishing editor's blogs (who work with CBA, which stands for Christian Booksellers Association) who discuss at length the pitfalls and bad writing they find in contemporary Christian literature. Today’s lit is often (not always) catchy and slightly trendy, but it would not stand the test of time. It resorts to clich├ęs and formulaic writing. Discussions like that scare me out of writing because I wonder if I write lazy lit. Do I write tedious prose? Cheap dialogue? Fuzzy, feel good narratives that don’t display the delicate intricacies of our faith in a meaningful and entertaining story? I’m tired of being paralyzed out of writing because I don’t know if it’s “good” or not. And what is good?

That's why I've started to create a specific, manageable list about what makes good writing. Eventually I want the list to be short and sweet, so that after I've written something I can measure it to my criteria. I've included it here so that you can all include your own guidelines if you have them. This is what I have so far (it's a little long):

“Good” Writing Guidelines

1. Write what you know
2. Inventory your passions
3. Consider if enough is at stake to make a story
4. Do not let the writing serve you; serve the writing
5. Big picture focus through small picture experiences (universal truths with real people/s/character’s stories)
6. Increase your reader’s imaginative grasp
7. Invent the form that will best serve your subject. The form is not the point. The idea, the question, the thing to know is
the point.
8. Show, don’t tell
9. Be precise
10. Define your terms
11. Don’t generalize
12. Avoid hyperbole
13. Don’t assume your reader agrees with a word you’re saying
14. Don’t cast the subject as a dichotomy
15. Personalize the issue
16. Use indirection
17. Explain/portray/show why the issue matters
18. Avoid sentimentality, aesthetic or psychic distance, and didacticism
19. Find harmony in chaos
20. Do not be self-conscious
21. Do not censor yourself
22. The writing will depend on what the writer learns
23. Examine what you write
24. Edit what you write


Save the Squirrels

"Since the 19th century, gray squirrels, an American import, have been overtaking Britain’s native red squirrels and claiming their territory. . ."

(Click on the blog title to read more about The American Invasion of England)


a shocking realization

today i came across a terribly troubling discovery: the english detest reeses peanut butter cups! as do the japanese, the french, the italians, the chinese, and any other nationals that have stayed with our landlords here on 70 Sedleigh Road. incredible! mr. kevin main popped down into our apartment the other day to offer us a giant 5 pound bag (in weight, not coinage) of reeses cups, saying he hasn't been able to get anyone else to eat them. something about the sweet and savoury combination. we also found out that the english aren't so fond of peanut butter and jelly (cue in the ditty "it's peanut butter jelly time! peanut butter jelly time!)

anywho, jonathan and i were happy to oblige his request and took the entire bag for ourselves. hopefully they'll last through the week.


cheers to the land of literature

jonathan and i have been living in London now for two weeks. it's hard to say what it is about a place that makes it so distinctive, because it's really a whole mound of things piled on top of each other. but the thing i can't get over is it's surreal nature. i feel like a broken record, similar to hugh grant when he meets julia roberts for the first time in notting hill. but it's true! london is the quintessential storybook town. i completely understand how j.k. rowling got her idea for the twisty turny, jamaican head driven Knight Bus. the double deckers are massively disproportionate to the streets they rumble through. it seems impossible that they manage to squeeze themselves into the round abouts, and yet somehow the passengers find themselves safely on the opposite side of the road and dropped at the correct bus stop.

not only is the mode of transportation novel-esque, but the fashion, the architecture, the cheese, the tea, the ambulence sirens, the umbrellas, the quirky sophistication, and the bright red post boxes. the five year old boy of the family above us uses the word "pardon?" when he doesn't hear you correctly (mind you, it's in a classic English accent, which seems much too proper for a five year old) and even though it's only been two weeks, i find myself thinking in a british accent. i guess when that's all you hear all day, it has a way of infiltrating the brain.

it still seems surreal to be here--seems impossible to be living in a city i've dreamed about since i fell in love with reading. but here we are! i'm excited to travel, to get my masters degree, but more excited about putting my writing first, since it's always been on the backburner to other studies, work, a social life, etc. i'll do my best to keep you updated.

but now i think i might go and have a spot of tea.



Worship Styles: Cultural or Biblical?

I've always believed that our worship styles are founded more on cultural norms than Biblical guidelines. (When I refer to our "style," I don't mean who we worship or for what purpose, but the overall format of the service.) Especially since the Bible only gives us a general outline for a worship gathering.

In light of that, here's an interesting article of quotes about worship from some of our founding fathers.

Craig Groeschel is right--today's contemporary is tomorrow's traditional.


To Be or to Do?

I was praying in the car this morning when I had a revelation: I spend too much time worrying about what I do when I should be concerned about who I be.

Lesson in Theology from Shakespeare #1: to do is not even the question. (Hamlet. . . a Lutheran?)

Then I realized that Paul cares alot about the doing:

"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. No if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. . . For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me" (Romans 7:16-20).

Hamlet and Paul should really get together for a debate. Until then, I might just have to convert to Shakespearian.


The Emptying Qualities of Marriage

I hope it doesn't appear that I'm being lazy by posting quotes instead of writing my own, but this thought in particular is quite a gem:

"A life lived to please one's self is empty, and the journey to become one will finally lead you to empty yourself for the sake of one another." --To Become One, by Seay and Keager (thanks to Alaina who gave me the book :)

For those who are either considering marriage, hoping for marriage, or in marriage, I pray that one day soon, you will take joy in the sanctifying qualities of a selfless "oneness".


We Can Teach Them To Sing

Let choirs sing well or not at all. Otherwise we merely confirm the majority in their conviction that the world of business, which does with such efficiency so much that never really needed doing, is the real, the adult, and the practical world; and that all this culture and religion (horrid words both) are essentially marginal, amateurish, and rather effeminate activities. --C.S. Lewis


X-Box Story

today at work our staff was among the 80,000 some viewers who watched the Maximum Impact Simulcast. Maximum Impact is a program of prominent leaders (some Christian, some not) who share their perspectives on what makes a good leader. specifically, this year's topic was about what it means to provide a stimulating, and therefore positive and productive, work environment for employees.

tim sanders, a consultant for Yahoo!, focused his presentation on happiness--the kind of happiness that comes from a satisfying, meaningful job. our best work will not come from being a clockwatcher, he said, but from being encouraged and supported by our employer and fellow co-workers. he told us about a time once when a CEO once expressed his discontent with the social value at his office. the CEO said that he never spoke to employees face to face--it was always email. he never gave an employee more than a "satisfactory" remark regarding their work because of the fast turnover in the company. thanfully, the CEO had recognized the major problem and wanted to fix it.

sanders suggested a solution: refrain from emailing employees when they turn in work. instead, go directly to their flourescent-lit cubicle, touch them on the shoulder, and say one positive thing about their work and one positive thing about them personally. the CEO agreed and implemented the new plan immediately when he returned to the office.

the following week the CEO received a visit at his office from one of the employees. the employee handed him a brand new x-box and a game. it wasn't the CEO's b-day and he was very surprised, considering the expense of the gift. the employee's response:

"I traded it in for my 9 millimeter."

the CEO's hair stood up on the back of his neck.

with tears in his eyes, the employee explained that his mom had died two years before, and not having any other friends, he moved to Seattle hoping to start a new life. he did acquire a job, but no friends. in two years no one had made eye contact with him, talked to him, or touched him. his depression led him to suicide chat rooms about the three suicide stages, which involved buying a gun, getting used to holding it without shaking, taking off the safety, and teething: touching it to your teeth. it was while the employee was in the final stage, teething, that the CEO's face-to-face encouragement and human touch had occurred, and the employee had been so shocked that he couldn't even hold the gun anymore. he pawned his gun, and remembering that his CEO had been wanting an x-box, he used the money to buy it for his lifesaver.

i don't think i have to explain why the x-box story is powerful. it exemplifies a few truths our society is quickly forgetting. first, human touch cannot be replaced by electronic communication. i'm not suggesting that technology is the antichrist; it is important for its own purposes, but it does not replace skin-to-skin contact with another human being. second, encouragement and positive reinforcement is vital to a person's survival in work, in family, in community. we rely on each other to be reaffirmed. we can get so busy with our own life that we don't even recognize the dying soul of the man sitting next to our cubicle, or an acquaintance at church. we can become glued to our computers and forget the sound of our friend's voices.

it doesn't take much at all to save a life. but it does take a wake-up call and a realization that we are humans--not robots. how does the x-box story speak to your life?


Why Use Up the Ground?

the concept of church has confounded me now for some time, and it seems i'm not the only one. it's the topic of many conversations, especially among Concordia college friends. is it because church is the most misunderstood aspect of the Christian faith? or is there another aspect of Christianity that is misunderstood more frequently than church? i doubt it. besides the fact that church is considered to be bound within 4 walls, there are plenty of other misconceptions, such as the congregation's absurdly heavy reliance on the pastor. rather than a spiritual leader, a pastor becomes an enabler. the top-down authority is a common perspective among Christians.

i brought this up to this morning's women's Bible study group (made of women ages 40-60--I'm the youngest). the question was regarding Berea, a church in Acts. as knowledgable people, the Bereans examined Paul's teaching against their own knowledge of Scripture to make sure he knew what he was talking about. the question was asked: why was it important that the Berean's were choosey about their intake of information? how is their response to Paul an example to us? I mentioned the fact that it's important we all take ownership of our faith, rather than leave it up to a leader to tell us what to believe. the fact is, leaders/pastors/theological buffs are human. Scripture is not. it is divinely inspired and should be a daily portion of every believer's life. i explained that i became frustrated when at Bible study, our friends often "jokingly" turn down jonathan's request for them to pray for the study--for food, or for closing, whatever. it becomes a five-minute discussion because they'd rather jonathan do it. it's the same thing at many social gatherings where a pastor is present, or for that matter, a church leader is present. who is asked to pray? it's rarely laity. and yet, the priesthood of ALL believers is a core belief of the Christian faith.

the response i received in the women's Bible study really irked me, i'm not gonna lie. one of the women (a good friend of mine, i might add) said "but we all have different talents."

i couldn't even respond. it's not that i don't believe different people have different gifts. some people have the gift of intercession and some don't. but this does not concern the gift of intercession. this is regular, standard prayer we're talking about--and prayer is SO vital to a Christian's walk with God. i wonder--how often do lay Christians pray in their home? with their children? with their spouse? how important is Scripture study/memorization to all of us "regular people" in the church?

we had some interesting passages in church today that i don't think i've noticed before. luke 13:7 is a parable of Jesus: "Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?"

and so i have to ask myself if i am merely a consumer like the fig tree. am i using up ground worthlessly, producing no fruit? is consumerism the only art the church has perfected today? i truly believe that the fruit God is waiting to receive is what he has created us for. he has given each of us gifts, and when we are released to do what we were created to do, to love, to make music, to tell jokes, to serve, to design, etc., when we do it all for him, it will be the fruit he is looking for. but if we sit back and let those gifts go because we'd rather have the "professional" do it, then the church is missing out on the perfect plan God had for us. we all have great things to contribute and should never diminish our purpose.


Clouds Over Cemetery

a picture i found on a photo blog. it reminds me how small the earth is--how small we are.


a superbowl commercial almost made me cry

i've always been made fun of for my inability to cry--my lack of visible emotional displays.

well, i am proud to say my heart of stone is no longer! and it was a superbowl commercial, nonetheless. this helpless, unemployed little robot tugged my heart like no other commercial has ever done. and i must say, props to GM for their innovative marketing strategy! they captured america. so turn up the sound, grab some kleenex and check it out:

Obsessed Robot Watches Car Go By


pretending to remember

"[kit carson] led me back to the world, to see how close i could bring my changing vision of possibility to the rigid nature of things. the stories i read made me feel as if i were threading a needle, squinting through whatever aperture the world would allow. . . a voice in the book told me then to watch and wait; it suggested that living and creating are one and the same, that writing is an act of faith, that, perhaps all real adventure begins in the imagination" (from Dreaming of Columbus by michael pearson).

i realize now that i've never stopped to appreciate the connection of memory and imagination. the people we've known and touched, the sidewalks and lawns we've strolled, the states and countries we've traveled--they all leave a nostalgic imprint on our life that, after time has had it's way with them, look rosier and brighter. sometimes i appreciate the moments more after they've aged, like wine. the skunky fermentation makes them strangely sweeter to swallow. in the end, it really doesn't matter what happened, only how we remember them. and make-believe is a handy tool.

still, if i'm honest with myself, an imaginative memory is actually pretty deceptive, especially since we sometimes have to rely on it for a happy past. i shouldn't struggle to appreciate a moment until it's gone, or race to take advantage of every moment to make it happy. instead i want to live s-l-o-w-l-y, presently, every day, and appreciate every opportunity. i want to forget about glancing backwards or forwards, and just let things be.

some of my fear is caused by the things i'm afraid i'll forget. like, for instance, books on my shelves that sit and meekly call my name back into their pages. i wonder if they're just dusty old chests holding memories i once had, like photographs, family outings, jokes, old recipes--all life-altering pieces of life, but of a past life. and then there's the other side. how can i find time to pick up each box, blow off the cobwebs, and dig through each revelation, idea, and enlightenment for the remainder of my life? time simply doesn't allow for that much introspection.

so how is it that one can retain all the literary and philosophical influences that one's read? i think back to a countless array of conversations spurred by scholars and storytellers, and i wish i could record those too. they would be some of my most valuable possessions if they could be possessed, but they're so elusive! mr. thick wind wasn't taught manners, and instead of politely knocking, he rushes in the door of the pub and yanks all our thoughts out with him.

i have hope, though. i have a feeling that they're never completely gone, that they find a way to weave into my motivations. i can only read so much, talk so long, and i want to live more than that.


i wish i were a word factory

here's a worthy read:

"there are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer's block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock. or you look at the notes you've scribbled recently on yellow legal pads or index cards, and they look like something richard speck jotted down the other night. and at the same time, as it turns out, you happen to know that your closest writing friend is on a roll, has been turning out stories and screenplays and children's books and even most of a novel like he or she is some crazy pot-holder factory, pot holders pouring out the windows because there is simply not enough room inside for such glorious productivity" (from anne lamott's Bird by Bird).

anne lamott is a writer that can make me laugh and cry between commas. she's full of depth and honesty, and has this amazing capability to make readers smile loudly in libraries. much of her writing is dark humor, like Traveling Mercies (it took me much longer to read than Bird By Bird, just from the volume of emotions it sapped.) she also has a strong sense of the spiritual. i'm not completely convinced what religion her category fits into, but that's really not the point.

she's right, of course--about the writing. just like everything else, it can suffer the jealousy factor. since it's a very competitive field, the success of people around us can often get in the way of our own concentration. i hate to admit it, but sometimes i can't read published books or articles without feeling some kind of envy, or self-criticism. why aren't i published like that yet? why can't i be disciplined enough to get my name out there?

then of course i get trampled on with thoughts about the flaky, frivilous Christian publishing world. i start to mourn the decline of quality in our literature. i think to myself, how sad that publishing houses, especially Christian publishing houses, are making many shallow, market-directed decisions based on what we tell them we need. (never mind the fact that they put them out there because WE tell them what we like.)

STILL, despite the state of the publishing world, and despite the agile typing of our friends, there's no reason for writers to feel depressed or hopeless or disappointed when we don't see visible fruit. these are reasons to keep writing. keep disciplined. keep trudging through the marshmallowy marshes (props to dane cook) of rejections. it's a reason to set our own goals and remember that ultimately, we write for Him. he'll set our course as long as we keep our hand to the page.

that's how i get rid of this envious writer's block of mine.