20 December 2010

A Very Holy Night

I have admitted to my slight obsession with Christmas music before. I simply love Christmas music. But this year I have only purchased one new album plus one song – I have a weakness for anything Jack Johnson, even if it's "Rudolph". It is a miniscule, almost negligible amount, especially in comparison to previous years. But it is part of a larger symptomatic problem – the lack of Christmas cheer. I have been suffering from general malaise, a bit of the Grinch has crept into my heart this year.

With the lack of fresh music I have been listening to K103 in the car; the station plays Christmas music all day every day from Thanksgiving until Christmas day. This year, with my glum outlook, I have listened more critically to the music that comes through my rattley speakers. One song caught my attention and I couldn't help but think about how the lyrics reflected some seriously bizarre theology:

Hang your stockings and say a prayer…
He doesn't care if you're a rich or poor boy,
He loves you just the same.
Santa knows that we're God's children,
That makes everything right.
Peace on Earth will come to all
If we just follow the light
Let's give thanks to the Lord above,
'Cause Santa Claus comes tonight.

Do you recognize the song? Are you singing along now to "Here Comes Santa Claus"? I've sung this song countless times, but had never thought of the ramifications of what it is saying. Is Santa Claus one of God's 'agents'? How does Santa know that we're God's children and how does that make everything right? We're to thank God for Santa Clause? It is weird, to say the least. This year all of the "fun" fluffy silly Christmas songs have left a sour taste in my spirit. I have been craving the hymns and songs that reflect the true reason of Christmas. I need to be reminded of what we are actually celebrating. I need to get back to Jesus.

Another song also caught my attention, but for the reason of its theology being good and sound, reflecting the nature of the season, and this year I feel the truth of it more than in years past.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
'Til He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

"Until the soul felt its worth" – that phrase from "O, Holy Night" struck me like a lightning bolt one day. Until the soul felt its worth – my soul felt its worth – my soul has worth – because Christ came, my soul can know its worth - my soul has worth to God, so much worth that Christ came as a little baby to redeem it – my soul has worth because Christ assigned it, by His proxy. What a marvelous thing! Let us rejoice, be thrilled with the hope that Christ has given us, for no longer are we chained by sin and wayward; we should offer up a proper response:

Fall on your knees…
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Holy_Night - this link has some interesting historical background on "O, Holy Night" as well as different translations.

19 December 2010

Feelings of Failure

This evening I went to the Christmas program for the Spanish Fellowship at church. I have been attending the Spanish Fellowship most Sundays since the fall. While I tend to baffle the people with my presence, especially when I give the 'deer in headlights' look to whomever talks to me, they are gracious to let me join them. Lupita was one such person. A kind faced older lady that sat next to me one evening. After the service she turned to me and started rattling away in Spanish with such rapidity I couldn't make out a single word. I panicked. I couldn't even think of the words to say "I don't understand." I just stared at her blankly trying to recall any Spanish at all. Thankfully she asked in English, "You don't understand?" "No, I'm learning Spanish." "You do not know Spanish?" "Very little." "But you understand the pastor." "No, not really." "You do not understand the pastor??!!" "No, I get the big idea, that is all." I tried to explain that I am learning Spanish and I need to hear it and be surrounded by it. She was utterly confused as to why I would come spend 2-3 hours on a Sunday evening at a Spanish service when I don't understand what is being said. Tonight, I would have agreed with Lupita, I am a bit crazy. It was a rough night and my Northwest Americana culture made it jarringly obvious that I was out of place. Pride goes before a fall. As I walked in to the chapel I was greeted by familiar faces, who in turn recognized me as a familiar face. Between my trip to Honduras, holiday events, and special events at church scheduled for Sunday evening it has been six weeks since I have been to the Spanish service, so I was thrilled that I was remembered; maybe even a little prideful that I was starting to 'belong' to this group. The chapel was unusually packed for a Sunday evening, but it was the special Christmas program.

I have observed that in Latino culture, it is not expected that during events, such as a church service or graduation ceremony, you are to sit quietly in your chair. Instead, ladies talk, people are constantly getting up, moving about, children are free to do just about whatever at any volume without being hushed or scolded to "be quiet" or "be still." Frankly, I don't understand this aspect of the culture. I would love it if someone could explain it to me. Through my lens I see it as disrespectful of whoever is speaking and of those around who would like to be able to give their attention to the speaker. But I don't think in Latino culture it is a sign of disrespect. I really don't get it. On a normal Sunday I have learned to sit towards the front on the left hand side, as that is where more of the serious adults sit, and therefore tends to be quieter; unlike the rear right hand side where the young teenage girls sit and talk in un-hushed tones throughout the entire service. On a good day, due to my hearing issues, I have trouble listening to one person and tuning out any other voices and noise. Add in listening to another language and the difficulty quadruples. Tonight, sitting in the balcony, it was nearly impossible. It was an evening of chaotic noise. Children were running back and forth in the balcony, up and down the stairs, each step a loud hollow thudding sound, crying, giggles, squeals of play, and the constant hum of chatter nearly blocked out the noise coming through the speakers of the singers and the actors performing on stage. All the noise pained my ears, made my head ache, and my heart race with the agitation. After 30 minutes I started checking my watch, wondering if I could just slip out. I battled the urge to holler, "SHUT UP AND SIT DOWN!!" I started praying, "Lord, help me. I'm starting to lose it." An internal battle was waging. I tried to deflect the battle by trying to surmise what this behavior reflected, tried to find the rational explanation of how the adults around me were seemingly un-phased by the cacophony going on around them; all the while telling myself to keep my butt in the pew and not to runaway. After all, this is their culture, it isn't going to change, I am the outsider who needs to learn how to cope and adapt. I lasted another hour, until after the drama was finished and the pastor's wife had given a short sermon. When someone started explaining about the gifts for the children I grabbed my coat and purse and slipped out. I walked down the stairs of the balcony to see a young child in the planter area with a cup scooping out the white rocks and tossing some on the floor. Where were his parents? I wanted to scream. Stepping into the cool moist night air, the noise level immediately dropping to a quiet hush, I could feel the wave of calm come over me and my heart rate slow to a normal level. Letting out a deep sigh, the self-recriminations quickly flooded the quiet space. "How do you think you can live in Honduras? You can't just leave when you are living in the culture. You failed tonight."

The feeling of failure is burdening my heart tonight. I know there is some truth to my reproaches, but also that satan is twisting that truth to make it worse. Yes, there will be points of conflict between two differing cultures and I will need to learn how to manage those points better. But no one gets it perfect all the time, especially when they are first encountering a new culture. There will be other times when I want to walk out into the quiet of the night like I did tonight, but will be unable to, and how I respond then will be more of an indication of whether I'm failing or not. For now it is enough to start recognizing that this is going to be a point of contention between myself and Latino culture, and to start finding ways to adjust and minimize the friction. Lord, help!

Prayer for Sunday

Taken from "scientia et sapientia" - the blog of Western Seminary's Th.M. program, posted by Marc Cortez (click on the title of the post to see the original blog post):

O Lord our God, you wanted to live not only in heaven, but also with us, here on earth; not only to be high and great, but also to be small and lowly, as we are; not only to rule, but also to serve us; not only to be God in eternity, but also to be born as a person, to live, and to die.

In your dear Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, you have given us none other than  yourself, that we may wholly belong to you. This affects all of us, and none of us has deserved this. What remains for us to do but to wonder, to rejoice, to be thankful, and to hold fast to what you have done for us?

We ask you to let this be the case in this hour, among us and in all of us! Let us become a proper Christmas community in honest, open, and willing praying and singing, speaking and hearing, and let us in great hunger be a proper Communion community! Amen.
~Karl Barth (1886-1968)

10 December 2010

New Insights

It has been a quiet week at work with Jon out all week. I've become very accustomed to his presence and it has been missed. But I do have a good Jon story that I have been saving up, so in honor of his birthday last week, here it is:

Jon and I started ambling towards the elevators, embarking on our daily trek across the street to Starbucks. As we pass Joan's office Jon glances in at her office and exclaims, "Oh, she's got Christmas lights up! I freakin' love it! We have them up in our room too." I was startled at such a strong declaration, but quickly started laughing. A love of Christmas twinkle lights doesn't exactly jive with the dyed black hair, tattooed hard rocker persona of Jon; although I know him to be a complete goof-ball. What did make perfect sense was that he was just now noticing the lights Joan had strung up in her office for Halloween - the lights were, after all, purple and orange. Yes, Jon is Mr. Observant. It is several days after Halloween and he is just now noticing. When prodded he confessed that he and Melissa strung up white twinkle lights around the bedroom over the weekend. But his favorite type are the bubble candle lights. He continually surprises me.

And now, a few other random work related stories for your enjoyment at my expense.

I went to lunch with some co-workers the other week. As we drove back to the office Bryan and Steve were talking about a home that was for sale. This quickly deteriorated into why Lake Oswego is so awful and why no one in the car would want to buy a house here. To which someone made the smart remark:
"Excuse me your entitlement is showing!"

I started to feel a little picked on, after all, wasn't I a product of Lake Oswego? I felt compelled to stand-up for my hometown. To which Kristi tried to comfort me with this:
"I recognize that you grew-up in Lake Oswego, but I will not acknowledge it. You do not fit the LO stereotype; you're nice and sweet and don't look down on everyone."

Really Lake Oswego isn't that bad, is it? Sure the school song sounds a little superior -"...stands a school in Lake Oswego ranked among the best. Lake High standards will not fail..." Pshaw! We are sooo not elitist! We're just the best. A fact is a fact.

Sharing a kitchen with everyone on the floor can be rather annoying. Especially when a portion of your coworkers are young wet-behind-the-ear "men." These boy-men don't understand the logic of rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. That is if the dishes make it that far. And they certainly do not have a clue as to the science of how to load a dishwasher. I try to squelch my OCD tendencies and only take care of my own paraphernalia. But some days, it can't be helped, I have to do the dishes and rearrange the dishwasher to suit my methodology. On one such afternoon my co-worker Adam came in and thanked me and mentioned that it also bugs him. I teasingly said, "These young guys haven't figured out that their mother doesn't work here!" After a dramatic pause, a deep inhale, slowly, as if speaking a deep wisdom, Adam said "I think their mother does work here. Think on that!" Oh, dear!

One of the projects that I have been working on this fall reached a major milestone so the project manager decided we should celebrate. The team was very kind to postpone the celebration until after my trip to Honduras. We all left work early and went to this place called "Players" which is part bar, part games. I had to wander around a bit before I found the group upstairs playing pool, already working on their first drink. I knew that Wei, a co-worker, had left the office at the same time as me, but she was no where to be found. About five minutes after I joined the group, Wei did as well. She had gotten lost and had trouble finding the group too, but she had some help, "I heard your laugh and followed it to find the team."