24 September 2011

Somebody Else's Thoughts, No. 4

"Haddamut" by Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai, 1050, from A Book on Jewish Thought

Were the sky of parchment made,
A quill each reed, each twig and blade,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
Were every man a scribe of skill,
The marvelous story
Of God's great glory
Would still remain untold;
For He, Most High,
The earth and sky
Created alone of old.

23 September 2011

The deciduous leaf forever

       FALL IN ALL IT'S SPLENDID COLORS has arrived at last in the East.
      One thing I miss about this side of the country is the beauty autumn. You don't see that in the northwest with its evergreen trees and  year-long emerald  colors (although I now miss that dearly). People actually rake leaves here, but it is oh so much more poetic than that. It is as if they are ravishing fire with their rakes - fire that falls from tall giants, easing their arms after a torched summer. I actually have memories as a toddler of driving through New England on Sabbath afternoons, because if you live in New York, you can do that.

     Yes I do now miss the northwest, and the mountains, and the beauty of the immense ocean that brought joy to William Clark. Yet as for deciduous trees, they too are gorgeous in the autumn, acquainting me with rural Americana, something I am not exposed to in Washington. Back in Seattle, I had considered myself a liberal yuppie, as I was biking to the library, visiting the art museum, drinking coffee, and participating in local civics. Let's see how long I can maintain that character here.

The coffee's out. Haven't seen a Starbucks since the airport.
No bike here.
I'll have to cast an absentee ballot.
The nearest art museum is in Chicago.

But I can still be a liberal. Sort of.

12 September 2011

These vagabond shoes are longing to stray

     A lot of people at Andrews are from the east coast. So when I meet an individual and they say they're from New York, or New Jersey, I'll say I used to live there.

And they'll ask where I lived in the town,
and I'll say Queens - Sunnyside neighborhood, not far from Jackson Heights.

Where do you live now?

Seattle. I lived in New York for five years, then I moved out west.

So Seattle is pretty much where you grew up.

Yes, I suppose. But I'm still a Yankees fan, and I'll always identify with the city.

And they'll say, That's good
 - offering their appreciation for the loyalty I have for Gotham.

     Growing up in the northwest, I've tried my best to stay loyal to New York. I childishly bragged to my friends I was a New Yorker, wearing my Yankees cap around as if I knew the game. In fourth grade my teacher jovially wrapped my desk in black paper after the Yanks lost to the Red Sox after when they had won the first three games in the ALCS. Besides baseball, I pronounced the word roof with a long O like in moose, whereas my classmates pronounced it like a barking dog - ruff or something like that. I was holding on to east coast pronunciation. Still, it didn't feel like I was truly a New Yorker.
     But what really prevented me from identifying with New York was September 11. I was away from the city, away from the pain and suffering. I was absent from the grief of a connected community, and I could not feel the sorrow of they who truly experienced that day. Now I look back and I know the day will mark the coming of age of my generation. Sure it changed the direction of America and the world, but I just cannot feel emotion from it. I know there are others, just as American, who (don't) feel the same.
    I remember a few years after September 11 (strange how that date will usually contextually correspond to 2001), I visited New York with my father. We stopped by the site, and paid our respects as best we could. He once told me that we visited the towers when I was young and could barely walk, and that I found a coal and drew there along a concrete wall. I've thought about that, and I realize there is a piece of me there.

Said the French, Nous sommes tous Americains. Nous sommes tous New-Yorkais.


11 September 2011

Somebody Else's Thoughts, No. 3

"Wage Peace" by Judyth Hill
Wage Peace with your breath.
Breathe in firemen and rubble,
breathe out whole buildings and flocks of red wing blackbirds.
Breathe in terrorists
and breathe out sleeping children and fresh mown fields.
Breathe in confusion and breathe out maple trees.
Breathe in the fallen and breathe out lifelong friendships intact.
Wage peace with your listening: hearing sirens, pray loud.
Remember your tools: flower seeds, clothes pins, clean rivers.
Make soup.
Play music, memorize the words for thank you in 3 languages.
Learn to knit, and make a hat.
Think of chaos as dancing raspberries,
imagine grief
as the outbreath of beauty
or the gesture of fish.
Swim for the other side.
Wage peace.
Never has the word seemed so fresh and precious:
Have a cup of tea and rejoice.
Act as if armistice has already arrived.
Celebrate today.

04 September 2011

The Writing on the Stall

     Often when we use public restrooms we become acquainted with various inscriptions and messages crudely carved onto the walls of toilet stalls and mirrors. These inscriptions usually contain profanity (I don't know why some can get angry at people they don't even know i.e. @#$% you!) , or commemorate the fact that an individual had visited the area (Mike was here). The individuals that take part in latrinalia can be generically identified as hoodlums and naughty boys, but what makes for great latrinalia is a message or art that transcends its environment.
     I once heard that good art is anti-conformist. I'm sure that they who write naughty things in restrooms see themselves as anti-conformist. But when the majority of restroom inscriptions all attempt to be anti-conformist by sending naughty messages, it turns out that whatever messages of goodness and enlightenment become anti-conformist in an indecent environment.

  Strangely, the Israelites were commanded to publicly write of the love of God:
Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.
6 "And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 
9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

     When I was a freshman in academy, I remember my roommate telling me, "Hey come look at this." And he proudly showed me that in our community restroom that amidst all the profanity and crude indecent drawings, someone had inscribed the words, JESUS IS COMING AGAIN!. I thought of how hopeful Adventist graffiti could be, wherewith we we find ourselves writing our faith in the most obscure places.

     Now take a look at something I found recently here:

     In large letters, the artist wishes to express that God is love. What's more is that if you look carefully towards the upper right, the responsive writing, His mercy endures forever, is also carved in.

     It is such a strange application of Scripture, but I actually find encouragement from these theological acts of vandalism.

02 September 2011

House of the setting sun

      A certain quota of chapels and forums are required for attendance at Andrews. I've been telling myself that if I feel I'm in need of spiritual refreshment in the middle week, I'll attend the evening chapel or worship because I'm more concerned with my spiritual life, regardless of attendance.

     The other day I found myself at what seemed like an obsolete chapel at church. I saw no students, lot's of old people. The speaker shared briefly an interesting point from the Gospel of Matthew. As he finished, I was about to get up and leave when he asked the audience to pray with the person next to them. There I was sitting in the far back of the church with no one next to me so I figured I would just leave, but then this elderly black lady a few rows in front of me turned around and smiled. I guess I had to stay.

 "Hello," I greeted quietly. "Do you..have any prayer requests?"
She nodded, and shared with me the names of an elderly couple in the church going through some health issues."They are very dear to me because they were like my parents," she explained, then asked, "Is there anything you would like me to lift up before the Lord?"
 I paused and thought, then said, "Well. I need wisdom. And I'm far away from home."
"Where are you from?"
"I too am far away from home. I am from Malawi." I thought for a moment about what I knew of Malawi, and I remembered it was a land known for the red sun that rises over Lake Malawi in beautiful colors. "What is your name?"
"My name is Ryan. Pleased to meet you Sister Marian."
     For a moment I surprised myself because I hadn't heard (or used) such terminology since I left New York when I was five. I remember my mother and father would refer to someone as Sister A or Brother B when I was very young. The brethren don't speak like that on the west coast. I reminded myself I was back in the east again, and perhaps the Spirit moves differently out here.
      I asked Sister Marian if she would pray first.
      She thanked the Lord for His mercies and for granting us the blessing of being in such an Adventist institution. She prayed for the sick elderly couple, and then asked God to bestow upon "this young man" wisdom and strength from on high.
     When it was my turn, I was a bit bothered because I honestly hadn't prayed seriously in a long time, much less pray aloud. I thanked the Lord for His mercies and for the blessing of Adventist education. I asked for healing mercies, and that Sister Marian be comforted though far away from home she may be. I asked God for wisdom and strength because I was already having trouble in my studies (Lord knows how hard some classes are). And then I told Him I wanted to go home, Amen.
     She thanked me for praying with her and wished God's blessings on my studies.

     Throughout this prayer time with Sister Marian, I found myself using Advent vernacular, and saying things in prayer that I'm having a struggle believing in. I was uncomfortable praying, but I realized it's something I going to have to be doing a lot more.
     I've been telling myself something good then. I come to church to seek a blessing, because I need it, not because I need the attendance.

     And the western sun set through the stained glass windows of Pioneer Memorial.