Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A tide of changes

Back around last Christmas, when I decided that I was going to upend everything in my life (job, city, grad school), I was expecting that these changes would happen gradually.  I started by submitting resumes to jobs I might be interested in, thinking that once I got a job offer I would move to Denver.  Then in the fall, I would attend grad school part time, while working full-time to support myself.  After having a number of interviews, and no offers, I decided that continuing on business-as-usual in Boulder was not within the realm of possibility.  I needed to get out of this situation. 

When driving home from Denver one night with my friend Cristina, I was asked what I was going to do.  In the typical fashion of how these crazy coincidences work out, I declared that I was going to move in Denver anyway, irregardless of a job, and have faith that everything would work out.  This is kind of out of character for me, this sort of leaping-before-you-look behavior.  I am a bit of a planner, perhaps to a fault.  But once I made the decision to begin looking for an apartment in Denver, and let everything else fall where it may, I felt so at peace.  

So I found a new place to live, and decided I would commute up to Boulder as long as necessary.  Just two days before I moved down here, my financial aid came through from Iliff School of Theology, so that I would be able to go to school full-time, and not have to work to support myself.  This was entirely unprecedented, I was not really expecting any financial aid.  

When I first moved, I took a few days off work to get settled in.  Last Monday afternoon I received a call from a friend who works at a human services agency in Denver.  She mentioned that her organization was looking at hiring a temporary case manager until the fall, and would I be interested.  The next day I interviewed and was offered the position.  After giving all the appropriate people notice, I accepted the job.  So my last day in my current position is Friday, April 8th. 

It has only been a week, and the commute is already irritating me.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel, so I just need to hang on for a few more days. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Zen of UHaul Towing

It is no secret to anyone who knows me that patience is not one of my virtues.  I seem to always be rushing from one thing to the next, trying to accomplish a dozen things at one time, and faster, better or more efficiently than anyone else.

Well, yesterday I met my match in the form of a fully-loaded UHaul trailer.  The last few months have taken a lot out of me also, with deciding to move to Denver, look for a new job and enroll in grad school.  (More on that later)  However, when it came around to loading the trailer and moving my belongings from Boulder to Denver, I was forced to slow down and reflect.  Literally, because my Jeep could not go above 55 mph without revving the engine too high, but also metaphorically because I am so worn out, and it is mostly because of my own doing.  As I chugged along in the far right lane of I-25, going between 45-55 mph, with cars racing by me at highway speeds, I wondered where they were in such a hurry to go.  As we go speeding (literally and otherwise) through life, what are we missing?  For me, this journey was a chance to slow down and think about where I was going.  Why I am moving to Denver, and what is going to be different here.  In Boulder, I got sucked into work, giving up lots of my free time to accomplish things that probably could have waited.  I didn't spend as much time with friends because I was a perfectionist and trying to be the biggest workaholic in the office.

I chose to move back to Denver for a number of reasons, but chiefly, to rejoin the close community of friends that I have here.  Because life is not all about work, it is about community and relationships.  And I have started off my life in Denver with that in mind.  I was blessed yesterday to have 12 friends help me move in (and in my fourth floor walk-up, that is no easy task!) and welcome me into the neighborhood.  This morning I walked 15 blocks to one of my favorite coffee shops, Hooked on Colfax, and am enjoying iced coffee in the company of my friends Tracy and Jeff.  This is what life should be about.  Not working yourself to the point of exhaustion.  So that is the Zen of UHaul Towing.  Not to be confused with The Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance, because I don't know how to repair motorcycles.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Picture Blog: Steph and Joe visit Colorado

Lake and Pavilion in City Park
My good friends from Bozeman, Steph and Joe, visited me in Colorado this weekend on their way out West for Spring Break.  We went hiking in Boulder and spent a ton of time just enjoying the nice weather in Denver.
Steph and Amy at 3rd Flatiron

Joe and Steph

Behind the 2nd Flatiron

Boulder field

Steph at City Park

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Lent has gotten a bad reputation throughout some of history.  Many view this season of the liturgical year as punitive, and "give up" something as an obligation without really understanding the thought process behind this action.  It is not about denying yourself chocolate or caffeine or swearing or whatever else to suffer during the season of Lent. It is about giving things up to make space.  Making space for reflection, service and prayer.  For me, Lent is less about giving up something than it is about adding something to my life that will provide space for reflection and opportunities for service.  I started this practice five years ago when I was serving as a volunteer working with homeless women.  That year (2006) I decided to build more open and fulfilling relationship with the women I was serving instead of attempting to manage chaos all the time.  In subsequent years I have added daily running (2007), daily journaling (2008), working my way through three Dietrich Bonhoeffer books (2009) and volunteering at a community health clinic (2010).

This year, being that I find myself operating on the edge of chaos pretty much all the time, I have decided to incorporate 15 minutes a day before bed of just sitting quietly.  For those of you that know me well, I am really terrible at sitting still and being quiet.  Last November I attended a silent retreat which was very difficult for me, but I came away feeling so open and rejuvenated.  It is amazing how caught up we can get in the tasks and over-stimulation of our daily lives.  I really crave the feeling of just being.  This time of silence is practiced in the form of meditation or contemplative prayer.  In order to stay present in the moment, a mantra is necessary.  I think the words "Veni Sancti Spiritus" (Taize chant, "Come Holy Spirit) as a way of focusing my mind on practicing silence instead of thinking ahead to work or laundry or running or whatever other distraction might be keeping me from a clear mind.

I am also practicing the following disciplines along with some fellow community members from House for All Sinners and Saints.

Day 1: Pray for your enemies
Day 2: Walk, carpool, bike or bus it.
Day 3: Don’t turn on the car radio
Day 4: Give $20 to a non-profit of your choosing
Day 5: Take 5 minutes of silence at noon
Day 6: Look out the window until you find something of beauty you had not noticed before
Day 7: Give 5 items of clothing to Goodwill
Day 8: No bitching day
Day 9: Do someone else’s chore
Day 10: Buy a few $5 fast food gift cards to give to homeless people you encounter
Day 11: Call an old friend
Day 12: Pray the Paper (pray for people and situations in today’s news)
Day 13: Read Psalm 139 http://bible.oremus.org/
Day 14: Pay a few sincere compliments
Day 15: Bring your own mug
Day 16: Educate yourself about human trafficking www.praxus.org
Day 17: Forgive someone
Day 18: Internet diet
Day 19: Change one light in your house to a compact florescent
Day 20: Check out morning and evening prayer at http://dailyoffice.wordpress.com/
Day 21: Ask for help
Day 22: Tell someone what you are grateful for
Day 23: Introduce yourself to a neighbor
Day 24: Read Psalm 121 http://bible.oremus.org/
Day 25: Bake a cake
Day 26: No shopping day
Day 27: Light a virtual candle http://rejesus.co.uk/spirituality/post_prayer/
Day 28: Light an actual candle
Day 29: Write a thank you note to your favorite teacher
Day 30: Invest in canvas shopping bags
Day 31: Use Freecycle www.freecycle.org
Day 32: Donate art supplies to your local elementary school
Day 33: Read John 8:1-11 http://bible.oremus.org/
Day 34: Worship at a friend’s mosque, synogogue or church and look for the beauty
Day 35: Confess a secret
Day 36: No sugar day - where else is there sweetness in your life?
Day 37: Give $20 to a local non-profit
Day 38: Educate yourself about a saint www.catholic.org/saints
Day 39: Pray for peace
Day 40: Pray for your enemies (you probably have new ones by now) then decide which of these exercises you’ll keep for good

Monday, March 07, 2011

Creative Cooking

Every once in awhile I get exceptionally creative with my cooking.  I dislike rules, so naturally, recipes are not my thing.  I view them as mere guidelines, and mix things up at will.  

My creative cooking has led to some major disasters over the years (the angel food cake explosion, alfredo sauce made from soy milk and served with canned salmon, the liquified cookies, among others.)  But in the last few years, my cooking has actually gotten GOOD.  Tonight I got creative for dinner and made sweet potato pancakes with curry applesauce.  I didn't have plain yogurt, but normally I would eat that with the pancakes too.

Of course I did not actually measure anything, but here are the steps for making the pancakes.

1. Grate two medium sweet potatoes on a cheese grater.
2. Dice one half of a medium yellow onion and mix in with sweet potatoes.
3. Add one or two eggs, enough to make the mixture stick together.
4. Add black pepper and salt.  As much as you want.
5. Add a generous amount of ginger, garlic and curry powder.

Scoop a small amount of the mixture into a large saucepan with olive oil and flatten slightly.  Fry on medium heat until they are golden brown, flipping halfway through to cook both sides.

To make curry applesauce, use plain, unsweetened applesauce with garlic and curry powder mixed in.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Heresy, Universalism and Christian Mud-Slinging

Textbook definitions:

Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. 

Universalism refers to salvation or life after death irregardless of religious beliefs (Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, etc) or denominational affiliation. 

Social definitions:

Heresy refers to what "the Other" believes, and by implication, that one's personal dogma is the Truth.  Common insult in interdenominational arguments. 

Universalism is a dirty word referring to the novel idea that progressive, interfaith, ecumenical, or emergent congregations are making a break with traditional religious and/or denominational dogma prescribing one way to salvation.  (ie., their way)

The link below discusses the backlash to author and Pastor Rob Bell's new book, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.  It bears mention that this book is not even released yet, (March 29) and is already getting people talking.  And engaging in Christian mud-slinging. 

What is a heretic exactly in the evangelical church?

Rob Bell is the pastor of Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, MI.  I have had the privilege of attending this church and meeting Rob Bell, and I am reasonably sure that he is not a godless heathen or a heretic directly imbued with the power of hell.  His books are thought-provoking, and perhaps more importantly, conversation-provoking.  But there will always be people who are frightened by the questions that tear open the very core of their belief systems. 

In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, "Gandhi's in hell? He is?"

"And someone knows this for sure?" Bell continues. "Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that's the case how do you become one of the few? "

The Christian mud-slinging came swift and strong. 
In a post from Justin Taylor, on the conservative Christian blog, The Gospel Coalition, comes the first criticism:

"The New Testament is pretty clear if someone preaches a false gospel… that we are to reject that and have nothing to do with them.

We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand.

I’m glad that Rob Bell has the integrity to be lay his cards on the table about universalism. It seems that this is not just optimism about the fate of those who haven’t heard the Good News, but (as it seems from below) full-blown hell-is-empty-everyone-gets-saved universalism."
The outcry was taken up by several other predominant conservative evangelical leaders, and a full-blown controversy was born.  I am perplexed by the idea that anyone can have a "high degree of confidence in what God is saying".  Dear Mr. Taylor, were you there?  Can you really ever know?  Faith by its very definition means holding something to be true without necessarily having a high degree of confidence. 
What gets under my skin is the idea that conversation between faiths and denominations is a bad thing, and that by opening up to the perspective of the other or even entertaining the idea of universal salvation, we are on a slippery slope to hell ourselves.  This argumentative fallacy has been used for hundreds of years to shut down conversation that questions established doctrine or the powers that be.   It has perpetuated power structures, marginalization and outright hate in the name of religion. 
I think that anything that invites genuine conversation and a willingness to listen is a great idea.  My personal beliefs are not entirely relevant here (although I have been accused of being a universalist and don't believe in hell).  What is relevant is not shutting down the discussion without even considering the fact that we could learn from one another.  This is something I struggle with too, and it is on the forefront of my consciousness daily.  Just as firmly as conservative critics believe Rob Bell to be wrong, I believe them to be wrong.  But why can't we meet in the middle and have a civil conversation?