I Beg Your Pardon

Before we get into Thanksgiving things, I want to have a little international relations moment. If you were unaware, the province of Bougainville–a part of Papua New Guinea–is currenly conducting an independence referendum. It is official, if non-binding, and it is highly likely that the results will strongly favor independence. Who knows what that may actually mean, in terms of Papua New Guinea possibly making them stay and that possibly restarting civil war, or a timeline of creating a new country. But I just thought you should know (and you can read a teensy bit more about it here).


I find the American tradition of a presidential turkey pardon for Thanksgiving to be just so odd. It’s also not as old as a tradition as I originally thought: a formal turkey presentation to the president started in the 1940s and the whole pardon idea didn’t really start until Reagan and it wasn’t a fixture until H.W. Bush. But, if you’ll bear with me a sec, I think that while bizarre, a pardon is perfectly in line with the holiday.

If we’re honest, we could all use a pardon or two. Not in an avoiding-execution kind of way or even a religious Jesus-is-merciful way (though also definitely that way) but just in general. We know none of us are perfect. And, when giving thanks for all that we have, I think it’s important to take a moment to pardon the ways in which each of us falls short.

It isn’t difficult for me to take things personally. Not typically in an offended sense but more just imagining that people are putting a lot more antipathy into their (in)actions toward me when, in reality, it’s just busyness or forgetfulness or misunderstanding. I am aware that I do this and it’s something that I’m trying to combat, slowly but surely. I hope. So if I come across as paranoid or overbearing, please consider a pardon. Not everything should be pardoned, and not everything can just be sloughed off. But still.

In the meantime, I turn to what I know to be evidence of people caring about me. Words and time and action and all that I definitely do have. The people whose love and care I don’t have room to doubt. For that, and for the surety that can get me outside of my own insecure mind, I am very grateful. The helpful side effect of this is that I end up thinking more about other people and their actual lives, rather than just being concerned with what they’re thinking about me, which I think is both healthy and productive. Empathy matters but it takes work, you know?


Anyway. I was having a conversation with a family member this past week and I was trying to assure them that the rest of the family did, in fact, love them. Beyond understanding. It’s just that my family is–as we all are–imperfect lovers. There is a baseline of love but the stress of a day or year or life can weigh down on us in ways that make us express that love in different ways–or maybe even not at all, the baseline still existing but being obscured.

Some of you may be familiar with Nadia Bolz-Weber, a pastor and writer. This week, she had this to say about Thanksgiving, family, and belonging: “…unlike your family, your identity in God is simply unaffected by the limitations of human beings’ ability to love each other well.”

I think, in a certain way, that’s what pardoning should be all about. It’s not ignoring misdeeds, letting people go back to doing the same bad things. It’s stripping back all the obscuring stress and actions and words and hurt. Revealing once more the baseline. Showing what’s really underneath: another turkey. Another human being, just like us. Another imperfect lover who might ask for a pardon.


I read Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol for the first time a couple days ago. I don’t know how I managed to get this far in being who I am without having read more than a few excerpts before but here we are. And, for any readers who may be uncertain, it’s pronounced redding jail.

There’s a lot to unpack in that poem and I don’t really want to get too into it here and now but if I may, I would like to draw your attention to one couplet. A theme that is repeated across the work, though Wilde himself wasn’t particularly religious.

But God’s eternal Laws are kind
And break the heart of stone.

Whatever laws and punishments, justice and just deserts human society may invent, God will always peel back our layers and love us all the same. It’s good to be grateful for all you have today (and each day) but there’s a couple thoughts on extending mercy and grace–that is the real language behind pardons, after all. If we are to be thankful that we receive mercy then so too should we extend it to others, undeserving as they may be.

To echo St Francis, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.

Ah! Beautiful

This week has been a week. Not even that it’s been tiring, mentally or physically, or even that a lot of things happened. But just. Interview on Monday, waiting on tenterhooks ever since, hoping to hear back. Worked a little. Daydreamed a lot about what my life might look like if I had a for-real income and maybe moved to the (widest possible extent of the) greater Seattle area. Tried without too much success to coalesce some thoughts around topics from the conference the other week. Read. Baked (just some simple soda bread, love a good no-yeast bread recipe).

Been trying to think about what to get people for Christmas. One gift is bought and one is chosen but not yet purchased. Everything else is still very much up in the air. Annoyingly, I’m the kind of person who prefers choosing the presents I receive (for the most part) in a desire to minimize waste and make everyone including myself happy. But when I’m shopping for others, I like to try and be creative and thoughtful. I recognize the dissonance (sorry, parents for whom that may be frustrating). But also, I’m not like oozing money at the moment.

I sometimes think I’d like to do something crafty and really unique. I did it a few times when I was younger (but not like, young-young). Don’t think it really went over super well because I’m not really skilled in any kind of crafty way. We’ll just have to see how things shape up this year.

Bleh, I’d rather not be thinking about how I still don’t know if I got that job yet. Here, have a picture of my rosemary soda bread (insufficient rosemary, for future reference).

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The thing about this job that I’ve applied for is that it’s like a six month temp position with no solid gateway into a full time position (though theoretically possible, not something to plan on). So even if I am hired at this place, guess what I’ll be doing yet again in just a few short months. Applying to jobs. Yech. Look, a distraction! My sister’s lovely kitties! They’ve been off the blog for too long.

 

In the midst of all of my nothing-really-going-on this week, I did have a few moments that stood out. A couple moments of friends reaching out. Just chatting. Feeling a little more connected than I have been lately. I like talking to my friends so much. If you are my friend, you can always talk to me. It will almost certainly brighten my day (as long as you’re not talking about how much you hate cats or some trash like that).


A while ago, I encountered a poem called The Republic of Poetry by Martín Espada. It’s a cute little imagining of a world concerned primarily with elevating the position of poets, and with propagating a love of poetry among the entire populace.

The final stanza indicates that the customs agent at the airport will not allow anyone to leave the country until they recite a poem for her that makes her exclaim, “Ah! Beautiful.”

What a gift it is to give one another something beautiful.

Story

Books about books is one of my favorite genres. I immediately feel an intimate kinship with the bibliophile main character, almost as though we’ve talked through many late nights together reveling in the power of stories. And I semi-secretly semi-suspect that all lovers of books semi-wish for miraculous, mysterious, magical things to happen to them because of their deep and loyal affection for books. I know I do, at least, and most book-centered stories I’ve read agree. We want the magic we know exists on the page to leap out and become manifest and tangible.

I read a fantastic book this past week. It’s a new book by Erin Morgenstern called The Starless Sea and I so enjoyed it. Ten out of ten would recommend to fantasy-minded book lovers and also anyone who can appreciate the interweaving of stories. A couple quotations and a moment of thinking about them.

Strange, isn’t it? To love a book. When the words in the pages become so precious that they feel like a part of your own history because they are.

There is a certain joy found in kindred spirits who have loved the same stories. With Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Narnia, and others, there is an enormous group of people with whom I share an immediate bond of a sort. At the very least, some conversational common ground. By the same token, how much more delightful is it to share a corner of my heart with another by discovering that we have treasured together a much more obscure title; relived the same scenes, adored the same characters, gazed upon the same landscapes in the mind’s eye.

I think the best stories feel like they’re still going, somewhere, out in story space.

This is at once the best and most difficult part of being a book lover. When I get invested in a story and/or characters, I always want more. Sometimes it’s because the story ends before all of my questions have been answered (which can be frustrating when done poorly but can be done well, too). Other times, it’s just because I’m so in love with the setting or the characters that I don’t care if the story is all wrapped up, I just want to hang out in that place with those people more. And so this makes me feel better, imaging the story ongoing, even after I’ve read every word.


There is a second reason I wanted to talk about stories this week. Last Thursday, I headed up to Seattle for the Reformation Project‘s Reconcile and Reform Conference. If you’re unfamiliar with the organization, they’re definitely worth checking out. In brief, they’re an organization that advances LGBTQ inclusion in the church and is particularly interested in the bible-stuff relating to that mission.

It was much smaller than the conference I went to in Chicago last January, through Q Christian Fellowship, and it was a lot more focused. The historical, social, political, linguistic, cultural foundations of many of the conversations the church is having (or not having) around this topic. Much of what was covered through the speakers and sessions was information that I was already familiar with but there was a great deal of new as well.

It’s been difficult to decide what I want my post about that conference to talk about because so much ground was covered. Every time I’d hear something that I wanted to share, I’d think about how I really wanted to do a whole post just on that particular thing. And, to be clear, I thought that for a whole host of things (maybe a series of posts in the future, we’ll see). But I really wanted to see if there was a way for me to kind of give a singular summary, or one particular thing that I want to highlight.

And so, having finished The Starless Sea and dwelling in that feeling for a little while, I decided to tell you about my experience through the lens of stories. In particular, three kinds of stories: those we tell ourselves, those we tell others, and those we hear from others. Just a couple thoughts for each. Distilling the conference is hard so we’ll just have to let be whatever word-vomit comes next.

First, the stories we tell ourselves. How does our interior monologue talk to us? Who do we think we are? Why do we treat ourselves the way we do? I know some people are uncomfortable with the idea but it says it right there–if we are to love our neighbors as ourselves, the implication is that we must love ourselves. If God loves each of us–completely, unconditionally–then so too ought we love ourselves. We are all of us flawed but we are also all of us inextricably bound up in bearing the image of God.

Second, us to others. By this, I mean two things: what we say to others about ourselves and what we tell say to others about themselves. For the former, I’d like to just focus on one thing, honesty and authenticity. Growing up in Christian circles, lots of people love to talk about authenticity. And if you want me to be authentic but don’t want me to marry a man in your church, that’s a big yikes. For the latter, unsurprisingly, is also about love. I mean, Jesus literally told us to love our enemies.

And third, the stories that we hear from others. Again, thinking about two aspects of this. Hearing and understanding and empathizing with queer stories changes things. When you learn about another’s life–their struggles and the ways in which you, personally or corporately, have been complicit in those struggles–it should change how you live your life. But you have to listen to people who don’t often get listened to. The corollary to that is, being intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually honest enough with ourselves to a) challenge what we hear and evaluate it for ourselves and b) know when we are wrong, apologize, and change. Because changing your mind happens sometimes when you genuinely seek the truth of a question.

I really feel like I’m not doing the conference (or the book, for that matter) justice but that’s what I have for the moment. I really do strongly urge you to read the book, if that’s your scene, and to investigate The Reformation Project whether it’s your scene or not. Much of the conference was recorded and you can watch parts on their Facebook page.

One final thought on stories, to conclude. As many have noted before, stories are powerful. They have their fingers in pretty much every pie of human existence including, importantly, faith. And because they are powerful, we must think about them critically, with our minds and our hearts.

Do not believe a story that has been told to you; believe a story that you have heard, evaluated, and lived in. We can all be a part of the great, ongoing story of love, reconciliation, and reformation.

Store-Bought

It’s been a sec since I’ve updated you on my baking adventures. And, I’m happy to report, they mostly have been adventures rather than misadventures of late. I know I’m barely even amateur-level at this point but it’s fun and I almost always eat what I make, regardless of how it turns out. Plus, my love language is quality time so baking with people is doubly nice.

First, we have a first go-round with macrons–lemon with raspberry filling. Not spot on but pretty decent (made with the help of my step mom who later made a much better batch on her own). Next, I tried crackers for the first time and I would say it was an unqualified success though they weren’t particularly pretty. Then, for my niece’s birthday, a chocolate chip cookie cake, again made with my step mom who was in charge of the decoration, it was tasty but like super rich (and I’m not much one for frosting). And finally, a spiced pear-apple pie made with my mom, another unmitigated victory, it was wonderful. My first time making pie crust!

 

And then, in the time since I first drafted this, I baked some more with my step mom. Chocolate zucchini bread, orange cranberry zucchini bread, and cardamom zucchini muffins (the only one of the lot that didn’t turn out super delicious). We had a lot of zucchini, okay?

 

I bring this all up not just because I want to convince you that I’m not a failure at baking (not all the time, at least). It seemed relevant because I recently came across a cute little article about cooking and one of Ina Garten’s common phrases: store-bought is fine.

I don’t have a whole lot to add to what the author says. Two main ideas:

  1. Ina would never just use store bought, so she’ll always be a little bit better than us
  2. Cooking can be accessible, whatever your skill/motivation level

Sometimes, the first point is a little defeating but most of the time, actually, I feel kind of empowered by it. Knowing that there are professionals in the world. That some people are truly virtuosos at what they do. It makes me feel better, somehow, just knowing that skill and passion exist in the world.

And the second point is really what it’s all about. As one of my life mottoes says, something is better than nothing. If you don’t have the ingredients or equipment to make the recipe exactly as they do, that’s okay. If you don’t have the oomph to make it at all and instead just make a microwave quesadilla, that’s okay, too. And maybe that’s how growth happens–a little effort at a time, and not being too hard on yourself when a little effort is all you can summon up.

It seems to me that Yoda was all kinds of wrong when he tried to claim that there is no try. (Unrelatedly, it has always bothered me that he said that while others hold that only the Sith deal in absolutes). Trying is better than not trying. Store-bought is fine.

Anyway, that was the stray thought in my head this week. As the title of that series of posts says, “I think about this a lot.”