Bread

First of all, how propitious that this post falls on April 25th, the perfect date according to some. Not too hot and not too cold, all you need is a light jacket. Which, miraculously, is true of the weather here today! Anyway.

This week was Easter! A celebration of the possibilities of becoming new. A recognition that life and love prevail. A feast where the food is sacrifice and the appetite is of the soul. A table where all have been invited to sit and eat without condition and without price.

I don’t want to try and be too theological again, not qualified, but I have some thoughts.

But! Before we get too far into the Easter things, I think a small cat gallery is called for. This week, a curious juxtaposition of cool, calm, and collected (and unusual state for that one) and quirky sleeper.

It should come as no shock to any of you to hear that I am a great lover of baked goods. Rarely met one I didn’t like. And so it might be a bit of a stretch but I’m going to try to knead out a bread-based metaphor here.

We had a sermon a few weeks ago whose central theme was the ‘bread of affliction’–both the difficult things that we face in life and the ways in which we try to feed ourselves unhealthy things. The guest speaker, in my understanding, had two main ideas: take a look at what you’re consuming and make sure it’s a life-giving diet, and when you see people who are eating bread of affliction we ought to have compassion on them.

And I will say again, in the words of a mentor of mine, compassion is to care enough to do something to help.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman said,

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.

I’m all about changing the world. There are undoubtedly those who can and do. But most of us are not in that number, not in any kind of Bill Gates/Marie Curie/Nelson Mandela kind of way. And so we are faced with the immense task of the routine small things by which the world operates.

And one of the big things about Jesus, if you ask me, is less about the big changes we normally think about–though those too–and more about the small ways we can change our hearts to act in love toward ourselves and others. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I truly believe that we just need to love more and more; the world will change in radical and maybe unexpected ways when love is the driver of action.

People are in different places. By circumstance, certainly, but also by heart. Some people have love to give and other people feel like they’re running a little dry on that front. And that’s the idea of the bread of affliction, I think. We should spread love when and where we can and when we can’t, we should take and eat the bread offered to us.

If you are feeling like things are going well for you, that you eat little of the bread of affliction and you are generally satisfied with life, first of all, congratulations. Second, look around you. Look intently, not a quick glance up from your happiness. Go to those with a harder diet. Be gentle with them, succor them, and be prepared to work hard with them.

If you are feeling like all you ever eat is the bread of affliction, then come to the table that has been prepared for you. Visit the one who has invited you and be filled by that which the world has not offered. The invitation is for all. And when I say all, I actually mean all. There is nothing that you must do or say to be seated at that feast. You yourself, all of yourself, are welcome.

You are expected. Come, the meal is ready.

Hearing Voices

Getting political this week, I’d like to present just a couple (insufficient) thoughts on the repugnant things happening around the US border. I’m definitely the kind of person who rarely clicks on hyperlinks in the things I read but I think that these are truly worthwhile. I say that the thoughts I offer are insufficient and so I present the words of others and I encourage you to read them as well.

(As a side note, this executive order does not help those already separated and the zero-tolerance prosecutorial attitude remains.)

First and most obvious, separating innocent children from their innocent parents, and then to keep them in unacceptable circumstances, is awful in every way. Children. Not migrants, not illegals, not criminals–human beings.

No human is illegal and beyond that, offering asylum is a very straightforward way to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. I do not think God cares one iota for obeying earthly laws; I’m pretty sure the Bible is clear that he cares about administering true justice and expressing infinite mercy.

You may wish to become better acquainted with the facts of the situation here, here, and here (and lots more besides), or with the history of this very American practice here.

If you feel like you want to take some direct action on this incredibly pressing issue, I can recommend contacting your congressional representatives here. You may also wish to contribute directly by looking at links here, here, and here. I don’t really know what to do to really make change happen but surely something is better than nothing and there are lots of different ways to give support.

If you do decide to donate, I would also urge you to consider donating monthly or annually, if you’re able, since these organizations will continue to need help far into the foreseeable future. Having a secure funding stream independent of the news cycle is often critical for organizations like these.

To say that this singular issue is symptomatic of a larger social and political ill is woefully inadequate. There is neither mercy nor justice in the actions of this administration and, unfortunately, it is not confined to this country. It does not take much time abroad, or looking at international news, to see this quite clearly.

Though I feel like on the scale of history, we are moving in the direction of diversity and freedom, the short term sure seems to have a different idea. As people, communities, and nations turn inward, I am hereby reminding us (myself included) that all people have inherent dignity and worth. It is in giving that we receive. As churchy people sometimes say, love the last, the lost, and the least.

Also, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

My place is pretty much exclusively to love people compassionately. That’s really what God’s about. It is also important to remember that loving oppressed and marginalized people tends to mean standing with them, rather than for them. Lending expertise or means as necessary, but mostly just amplifying their calls for justice.

Indian author Arundhati Roy put it well when she said, “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

Let us, then, hear their voices and be moved to action.

Hoquiam, Uzbekistan, and Doing

So you’ll recall that I recently went to Ocean Shores. If you’ve ever driven there from the area I live in, you’ll have driven through the booming metropolis of Hoquiam, Washington. If you’re reading this and you currently or have ever lived in Hoquiam, firstly I’m so, so sorry. Secondly, I apologize for the caricature I’m about to make of it.

Driving through Hoquiam with a car full of high schoolers, the characterization that immediately sprang to mind was in the form of a catchy moniker: Hoquiam, graveyard of dreams. And that pretty much sums it up. Most of the region, really. Generally depressed (and depressing), much rainier than our Harbor, the kind of place that seems hard to leave and even harder to stay in. Hoquiam epitomizes this, as it can’t even summon up enough spirit to be quite as nice (in relative terms) as neighboring Aberdeen.

Hoquiam. Oh Hoquiam.

That part of Washington has held onto its logging identity longer than the more urbanized Puget Sound and it looks it. It can be a gorgeous area crisscrossed by scars of clear-cuts and muddy makeshift roads. I’m torn between thinking that it’d be an interesting and cool place to live (for a little while) and thinking that it’s a miracle people still do at all. Anyway, I don’t write this to be offensive but to give my honest, if superficial, assessment of the place. Less than ideal at the very least. Graveyard of dreams, perhaps.

Anyway. This week has had me a bit down in the dumps, to be real with you, and it’s no secret why. This country scares me. I give my fear three categories of reasons: I feel personally victimized, I empathize with others who are being targeted, and I worry about the implications for our country and world as a whole. I don’t want the world to be like Hoquiam and, if I’m being my best self, I don’t want Hoquiam to be like Hoquiam either. As an aside, Grays Harbor County voted for Trump by approximately the same margin as my home Pierce County went for Clinton.

What kind of system are we supporting? Those of you who know me well know that I have never been a fan of capitalism and every day I continue to exist in world only reaffirms this for me. And this week, I just seem to be surrounded by the worst. Political, economic, social…

Last night, I was really trying hard to think of something to write this post about and not having much luck. All I really wanted to do was complain about the eight million things that have happened that left me open-mouthed and shocked. The things that made me angry and humiliated and disgusted. Then, miracle of miracles, Facebook presented me with an article of real, active news that actually lifted my spirits. It’s just a simple human interest story, but I’d like to share it with you because it was so much what I needed.

This article from NPR (possibly facing defunding) gave me a bit of a pat on the heart and got me turned around in just the right way.

If you don’t feel like clicking the link and reading for yourself, it’s just a quick tale of the recently-recalled Golden Door beside which a certain lady in green lifts her lamp of hope. A family from Uzbekistan (a Hoquiam of countries if ever there was one) finally receives American citizenship. Acquainted with the tyranny of governments dictating where people may live, the family seems hopeful that the America they now participate in (they immediately registered to vote) is worth loving. That’s a belief that I share in my good moments and scarcely can imagine in my bad.

Also yesterday, I called one of my US Senators. I feel very strongly about pretty much everything in this administration thus far but I could not stand by the nomination for Education. Hearing that this senator of mine was perhaps uncertain of how to vote, I called and registered my opposition to her confirmation. It took, in grand total, one minute and forty-one seconds. For a second contact with the government in this way (after the letters I wrote about a couple months ago), not too shabby, I thought. And though it took kind of a lot for me to actually call, once I did I realized that this is real. I’m not a hypocrite on this issue, I want change and I do something. I may not do much, but liking things on Facebook has informed real action. I am politically active, even if in the barest sense, and I will not be looking back thank you very much. Too much is at stake.

So here’s my thing. There are so many real and metaphorical Hoquiams and Uzbekistans all around and within us. But that is not the way it was meant to be.

I believe that everyone has something or someone they care enough about to act on. So may we all overcome our fears and do. Go to a march, sign a petition, call an important somebody. Talk passionately to everyone who will listen– listen to them, too, and keep pursuing the facts and the right wherever they may lead you.

Like I’ve heard it said, compassion is to care enough to do something to help. If we’re not doing, we’re not loving. Not really.

Fjell, Skog, By, Sjø

Kongeriket Noreg er eit fritt, sjølvstendig, udeleleg og uavhendeleg rike. Regjeringsforma er avgrensa og arveleg monarkisk. Verdigrunnlaget skal framleis vere den kristne og humanistiske arven vår. Denne grunnlova skal tryggje demokratiet, rettsstaten og menneskerettane.

The first two paragraphs of the Norwegian Constitution (second oldest in continuous operation globally) in Nynorsk. The title this week (don’t ask me for pronounciation) is in Bokmål. I just wanted people to be confused when they read the first little blurb for this post. Surprise, I spent a few days this week in Oslo, Norway and this entry will basically be an overview of my time there (with a bonus book review at the end).

First, a quick word about this week’s shooting. I will only quote a mentor of mine who gave this definition: “Compassion is to care enough to do something to help.”

I flew into Oslo on Thursday afternoon and spent my time orienting myself a bit to the cityscape and finding my hostel. I also tried to work out what I was going to do for the two days I had. I chose Oslo because my dissertation is on Norway and I’d never been, but the purpose of the trip was expressly leisure, only to become academic if I happened upon something that could be helpful (I didn’t really). But, other than the prompting of a friend here in Dublin to visit the Fram Museum, I had no idea of what I wanted to do.

Straight off, I loved the scenery. It reminded me of home: the mountains, the forests, the sea winding its way with narrow turns and scattered with islets and sailboats. It felt good to be back among green. Now Ireland is a very green country, it’s true (though Dublin… is less so). But it’s a green of pastureland and rolling hills. There’s plenty of geographical diversity, but it’s a bit limited. Norway, at least the bit I saw, was the green I grew up with–the kind of green where forest is the default and not-forest is the exception. I don’t know how to explain it if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Anyway.

I started off my exploration with the European capital basics: cathedral, parliament, palace. The Norwegian Parliament (Storting) is an interesting-looking building of yellow brick and I found that they give free tours on Saturday mornings so I bookmarked that for the following day. On that tour, I learned loads about the Storting as a building and a body. I also saw the place where they do the press stuff after awarding the Nobel Prize.

The rest of Friday included a trip up the hill to the Royal Palace, through the National Gallery (where I saw The Scream by Munch), and up another hill to the fortress/castle (yes, Oslo is very hilly). The fortress was awesome, lots of cool stuff including an interesting juxtaposition in the crypt–the two previous kings of modern Norway and, across the hall, two medieval burials as well. It also just had a marvelous view of the harbor down across City Hall and everything.

On Saturday, after the tour of the Storting, I took my friend’s advice and headed toward the Fram Museum, about an hour walk from the city center. On the way, I stumbled across Oslo’s equivalent to D.C.’s Embassy Row which was cool. Then I traversed a royal estate that the king had opened to the public, mostly forest and farmland. Very pretty. I made a pitstop at the Norsk Folkmuseet (Norwegian Folk Museum, if you hadn’t gotten that) to see some cool Norwegian architecture. Possibly the first outdoor museum, it houses a variety of…houses and other buildings from rural communities across Norway and across history. The most famous attraction, though, is the Gol Stave Church, a magnificent wooden structure from 1212 and moved to the museum in 1880. So wandered about there for a while and then pushed on to the Fram. I went in with basically no idea what the Fram was. And I was pleasantly surprised. The museum, dedicated mostly but not exclusively to the Fram, documents polar exploration which, surprise, is something Norwegians have tended to be real good at. So I learned about loads of different explorers, their vessels, their voyages, and who got where when. Then I walked back into town via a coastal path that provided a wonderful conclusion to my time in Norway.

The flight back from Oslo involved some spectacular aerial scenery and the shedding of more than a few tears. Unsurprisingly, the latter were because of a book.

DSCN4612

Here’s the aerial scenery, since I didn’t take a picture of me crying.

It’s sort of like the first ten minutes of Up (or the whole movie, really) but for 337 pages. I don’t know if any book has made me cry this much. I started–not watery eyes but real, big, hot tears–on page 111 and was at it again approximately every ten pages thereafter. That is not even a little bit of an exaggeration. If anything, it’s an underestimate. It was a book about how to know people and how to love them once you do and how a cat can save a life. By the end, I was a blubbering fool. It was not a depressing book, though it was incredibly sad. It was beautiful. With a sprinkling of good humor and choice insults.

A smattering of the themes it touched on: death, sickness, disability, parenthood, childhood, pets, technology, bureaucracy, principles, integrity, friendship, love, being remembered, forgetting, order, homeowners’ association policy, and the comparative advantages of Saab over Volvo.

Anyway, it was just an incredible book. I don’t know if any of you would like it, or even if you did if you would react in a similar fashion. But there you go, my little review of A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman.

Lastly, television.

Past: Pushing Daisies (2007-2009)

Here’s a well-loved show cut too short. The resulting quick finish is less than ideal, but the rest of the quasi-fantasy crime solving show is absolutely precious. The fanciful storytelling (not least the quirky narration), refreshingly exotic (and frankly bizarre) crimes, and seriously strange characters made for a a show that felt as good watching as pie is eating. It lives in my Coeur d’Coeur.

Present: MI-5 (2002-2011)

This British spy drama (aka Spooks) is heavy and dramatic so obviously I’m real into it. They move a bit fast through characters for my taste, but we’ll see. I’m only three seasons in. It’s tough spies making tough spy decisions. It’s usually pretty tough. But thoroughly enjoyable.