Archive for July, 2009

Voluntary Displacement

One of my favorite books from our one-year journey with JustFaith last year was entitled Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life by Henri Nouwen and others.  In this book, the authors talk about the idea of voluntary displacement–the idea of consciously setting oneself outside of what is comfortable and protective and thus cultivating a greater sense of solidarity with those who experience the same displacement, but involuntarily.

Nouwen talks about how this is a central message of the Gospels, saying that “through voluntary displacement, we counteract the tendency to become settled in false comfort and to forget the unsettled position that we share with all people….as a Christian community we are people who together are called out of our familiar places to unknown territories, out of our ordinary and proper places to the places where people hurt and where we can experience with them our common human brokenness and our common need for healing” (pp 61-62).

It seems paradoxical. Wouldn’t a loving, compassionate God want us to feel protected, safe, and comfortable? But looking closer, it isn’t so confusing. The answer is yes, but it is yes for all people. And since God is not a God of slavery but a God of free will, God cannot force us to right the wrongs of this world. God won’t even do it Godself. Rather, because God is a God of relationships, and we are created in the image of God as caretakers of this world, we must be the ones who do God’s will on earth–who create those relationships, tend the garden, care for the poorer, weaker, and more fragile of our earthly community. We are the hands and feet of God.

What does this, then have to do with displacement? It seems to me that we cannot be those hands and feet if we do not feel the depth of God’s compassion in our own hearts for the suffering. But compassion, by its very nature, requires a certain amount of discomfort–after all, the sister to compassion is empathy, which causes us to intimately recognize suffering. I think the important aspect of healthy empathy/compassion is not letting it paralyze, but rather letting it inspire enough courage to do something about the problem.

Displacement, then, is one of the best ways to cultivate compassion. Since it’s so easy for us to ignore a problem that we aren’t experiencing ourselves (directly or indirectly), displacement is a way for us to be conscious of the needs and sufferings of others without ourselves becoming part of the problem (i.e., living very simply as a way to be conscious of the poor, rather than becoming so impoverished yourself that you become another poor person that somebody else will have to help). 

Displacement is also an important spiritual exercise. Displacement can often be countercultural. For example, truly keeping a Sabbath would be an act of cultural displacement. Likewise, so would be the act of boycotting brands that support child labor, or boycotting major agribusiness that does not promote the ethical raising and harvest of animals. Displacement could also mean that a member of a majority group spends some time in a minority community. Or caring for some of the easily-neglected members of our society (the elderly, the imprisoned, those with special-needs, etc).

I have a lot more that is rattling around about displacement, but I think for today I’ll leave with a final thought: displacement may, initially, feel like an inner desert…fruitless, lonely, uncomfortable. But as my husband and I have seen, the desert is actually teeming with life. You just have to change the way you’ve always thought about it.IMG_3686

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Timing

Rob saw him first. There we were, taking the opportunity of an extra-long layover on our way home from New Jersey to walk around the terminals in Dallas Fort-Worth. We wandered into an area that we had never gone through before, just enjoying the chance to stretch our legs–after all, we still had another 3 hour flight ahead of us before we could collapse into our own bed.

And there he was. You’d never know he was a priest from his casual dress and animated expression as he talked on his phone. It was Fr. Tri, one of the priests that married us and my friend for a very, very long time.

I hadn’t seen Fr. Tri in quite a while. He’s quite the popular Jesuit (although he, in great humility, would be embarrassed for me to say so). He’s been bouncing around the Bay area, changing lives and revolutionizing the way that the Jesuits (and the Vietnamese) do ministry. I love him for it.

Now he’s off for a year ministering in the Phillipines. But getting the chance to hug him tightly and see his broad smile gave my spirit an extra shot of ambition and joy. Of all the people who passed through that airport, thousands and thousands a day…of all the ways we could have missed each other…we found each other at just the right moment, in just the right place.

Rob and I later talked about what God could be telling us through this chance meeting. Rob’s take was that it was a reminder to us that family and friends are never too far apart from us…that nothing can separate us from the ones we love, especially if we remain mindful of them through God’s love for us. I agree with this.

I also think that it’s a reminder to me that the things which can seem most impossible are in fact possible through God’s providence and grace. Statistically, I’m sure the chances of us meeting in that airport on that day would have been insurmountably grim. And yet we did. And God worked through it, spoke through it, and gave me hope through it.

Nothing, nothing is impossible with God.

So Lucky

As our week in New Jersey comes to a close, I reflect today on how lucky I am. I married a perfect gentleman, a man with wonderful family values and a heart as big as the sky–and whenever I spend time with his family, especially his parents, I am consistently reminded why he is the way he is.

I know everyone is not lucky enough to have wonderful, loving in-laws. But I am grateful, because I am blessed with them.

At the close of this vacation, I smile at the memories of long drives through country roads, side-splitting laughter around the dinner table, fireflies, passionate conversations about life, family, and faith, wandering through an antique store, creating my first quilt, and teaching “Chopsticks” to my nieces on an electronic keyboard. I am so grateful.

On top of that, it was a lot of fun to feel like I was really contributing to the dinner table for the first time. I made a quiche for a recipe that I kinda-sorta made up, and it was a big hit. I also made a cake called a Jackapple Cake, the recipe for which you can find in the book Made from Scratch. It was neat to feel like I was a participating in the very serious experience of a thriving Italian kitchen. My husband contributed by showing off our homemade breads, cheeses, butters, and pie crusts–all the work of our hands. I think we both felt proud.

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On the other hand, however, I think we’ll both have to watch what we eat for a while upon returning home! But it’s all worth it.

Tomorrow morning we fly back to Los Angeles, full to the brim with love and dreams. We don’t know what the future holds. We are swirling with ideas of where we should live, what we should do, and how we should carry out our ministry as we begin to expand our family. This will all probably be decided in the next few months. It’s exciting…and it’s scary.

I also look forward to returning to our garden. Even though we’ve only been gone a week, I miss tending it, turning the compost, cleaning the house. I miss our cats. I suppose as fun as vacation is, it’s always nice to return home, wherever that may be.

So…once we return home, we’ll get a little more serious about our search for a new place to drop anchor. Until then, we keep our dreams intertwined with the present moment, cherishing both.

“I hear the rolling thunder…”

“…Thy power throughout the universe displayed…”

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I love weather. I just can’t help it. It brings out the little child from within me and I squeal like I was 5 years old.

We have been blessed this week with some pretty awesome thunderstorms. Thunderstorms, to me, are among my favorite of the extreme weather occurrences. I think it’s because it just captures all of my senses and immerses them in the awesome-ness of God’s might: the flash, the boom, the smell of the impending rain, the insistent push of the wind. There’s no denying God in those moments!

Certainly it is also undeniable that these expressions of God’s power demand respect. Marvel and caution go hand in hand. Appreciation can be shown admiration, but one cannot be reckless with it either.

When I come out to New Jersey, my family often laughs at how much I love to experience the weather–the summer rain, the thunderstorms, the winter snows. But really–who needs television when God gives us such marvelous things to look at? The drama occurs every day if we just have eyes to see it.

And I think that is what is at the heart of it…what do we decide to notice, and what do we decide to ignore? What do we take the time to delight in? What do we fall in love with? What do we decide deserves the precious moments with which we have been gifted? How do we choose to respond to the God-presence in everything we encounter–or, even more, in everything that encounters us?

This, I think, is what makes all the difference at the end of the day.

“Married to Amazement”

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms…
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

-Mary Oliver

Today my wonderful family by marriage and I went frolicking through the beautiful countryside of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I found a deep solace as we drove through the various passageways through various aspects of creation: livestock, grain, vegetables, arbors, orchards…I was truly rejoicing in every moment.  I even made a new friend:

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This calf was so young that it actually had the umbilical cord still attached. Rob asked me what I would name her if she was ours. The name immediately entered my head: “Gentle Rose.” I have no idea why, but that’s what I felt best described this beautiful spirit of an animal.

I love this Mary Oliver quote because I truly feel as if I want to leave the world having done justice to God’s creation in my sense of amazement. I don’t want to pass my time here without fully appreciating the wonders of this earth. I don’t want to live my life addicted to contrived emotions. I want to experience the real deal. At least, as much as I can.

Although I don’t necessarily understand or agree with everything about the lifestyle that I encountered in Lancaster County, I certainly appreciate the intention of it. Most of us are far too calloused against the wonders that are presented to us every day.

That being said, I’m beginning to fear that nothing is beyond exploitation. I couldn’t help but feel saddened by the “farmhouse” that we found nestled in between a Target and a gas station, drawing tourists in to give them a taste of “real Amish life” at $12 a pop. There were quite a few instances that mirrored this one. Was the joke on us? Is it the Amish that are actually taking advantage of our capitalistic culture? Or are we the ones who are at fault, content at making them into some circus sideshow? My guess is that it is somewhere in the middle.

But back to my original thoughts about nature: I love it. Unabashedly, unbridled, unadorned. I love it so. I can’t help but pine for Rob and I to take part more intimately in this cycle some day, caring for livestock and poultry and really understanding our interdependence on one another on this earth. For now, we can only dream. But it is nice to get these little tastes of amazement.

A parting shot:

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Fiddle finagling and farm frenzy

So I pulled out my fiddle this morning to practice, and BOING! My G string, the lowest string, broke.  Practice postponed.

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This gave me a great excuse to restring both that string and the D string, completing my restringing since nabbing the fiddle at the Pico Blvd. garage sale. I can’t tell you how much better it sounds when I play now! I had been attributing a lot of the squeaking to my poor playing, but I actually have an excuse for some of it. The strings stank.

Have I mentioned how I’m learning? According to Jenna Wonginrich, author of one of our favorite new books, Made From Scratch (and author of the Cold Antler Farm blog), you can teach yourself to fiddle by simply following the instruction of Wayne Erbsen in his book, Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus. It’s totally working and its totally awesome. I was able to play my first song on the second day of practicing fiddle. And I’m having a blast doing it.

The second exciting event of today was a trip out to a local farm in Princeton. This is Rob and my second time going, but this time we took his mom, sister, other sister, and two nieces. Check out some of these amazing pictures:IMG_4827

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Together we spent some time with the goats, geese, chickens, horse, sheep, dogs, and cats. Then we went over and spent some time picking our own baskets and buckets of raspberries and blueberries. All in all we had a fantastic time.

But equally valuable to the family time was the learning opportunity, in my opinion. Giving children the opportunities to rejoice in the simple pleasures of nature is part of the cultivation of lifelong gratitude and appreciation.  My husband and I loved seeing the girls slowly warm up to the idea of feeding the goats, picking the berries, and relishing the overall experience.

All in all, it was a great day.

Simple Fun

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Sometimes the way you plan things to turn out just isn’t the way that God wants them to be. That’s okay; the trick of responding faithfully is to figure out a way to be joyful anyway.

Today we had a wonderful day planned with the whole family–parents, sisters, nieces, and aunts–to visit a large sculpture garden. Imagine Disneyland for sculptures. Plus, the weather forecast said it was only a 30% chance of rain.

Well, that 30% turned into a 100% downpour that didn’t let up for hours. We took shelter inside, much to the young nieces’ dismay, and tried to wait out the storm. The storm was stubborn.

But how often do you get to dance through a sculpture garden, ankle deep in water? It was a perfect opportunity, and we seized it. We splashed and hopped and danced and laughed, barefoot and soaked. Nobody else dared to join us outside, so we had an entire courtyard to ourselves.

It was the perfect afternoon.

Things don’t always work out the way we plan. But we need to dance anyway, even if we get splashed doing it.