I wrote this last Friday, almost a week ago now. I failed to post it because, well, this is Africa and the internet is not always guaranteed.
I sat in the garden tonight, and
watched the stars come out.
I suppose it was my celebration of
sorts. For surviving the week. My first week as a Rosslyn teacher.
We talked about the intellectual
virtues today,* and, for me, teaching has always been about courage.
About doing hard things.
You see, I don't like talking in front
of people. (My words, in air, disconnected from paper and pen, from
keyboard and screen, jumble and squirm and become something utterly
unmanageable. An approximation, an imprecision, and, at times, a
wandering, gluttonous, slovenly mass, without meaning or sense.)
You see, I'm afraid of new people.
(Not afraid of them, precisely, but afraid of being shown, in their
presence, to be wanting. Uninteresting, blasé, with nothing
particularly valuable to contribute or impart.)
You see, I'm a perfectionist who
doesn't want to do it at all if I can't be guaranteed to do it right.
(Doing things right is how I define my identity and my worth. That
teaching can only ever be a process of approximation – of doing
things better, of trying one's best – nearly destroys my sense of
value and self.)
You see, I'm terrified of failing. (And
failing, I'm afraid, is guaranteed. On at least one of the 180 days
I teach, during at least one one of the 900 classes those days will
contain, I will be sure to get it wrong. Probably more than once.
Definitely more than once.)
I don't teach – have never taught –
because I find it easy. I teach because, when I teach, I'm at my
most vulnerable, my most broken, my most scared, my most challenged .
. . and it's there, in that uncomfortable space, face to face with my
failings, my short-comings, my desperate need for grace, that I am
most capable of growth.
At least, that's why I think I teach.
Why I think God keeps bringing it back into my life. Because
teaching is not one of those things I can do on my own strength.
And so I'm forced to fall back on
faith. Faith that God has brought me here. Faith that God brought
me here because I can do this. Because I do have something to offer.
Faith that God has worked through my teaching in the past, and can
do it, will do it, again. Faith that, if I keep pressing into him,
he will use me to be a blessing, in his way, in his time.
This week was hard. I was often
conflicted; often disheartened; often discouraged; always exhausted.
So many new faces and new names. And I miss the old faces. The old
names. The old ways of doing things. The classes and students and
colleagues I know. And, more to the point, the classes and students
and colleagues who know (and value) me.
But I'm reminded by Parker Palmer that
my desire to be known is the same desire shared by each and every one
of my students. And I am not here to be known so much as to know.
To know them. To see them. Their beauty, their potential, their
fears and joys. Their passions. To call out of them that of God in
them. To read meaning in the texts of their lives, and help them
read that meaning too. In short, I'm here to love them. And that is
more important, surely, than even teaching well.
* "The development of God-honoring thinking habits that result from an earnest pursuit of truth" -- the intellectual virtues include Intellectual Courage, Intellectual Curiosity, Intellectual Humility, Intellectual Honesty, Intellectual Fair-Mindedness, Intellectual Tenacity, Intellectual Carefulness.
I am 27 today, kicking off a new year,
and a new adventure, here in Kenya.
I would love to have some words of
wisdom to offer, ala my friend Koh, about moving into one's “late”
twenties, and all that jazz, but all I really have is a list of
things I'm thankful for from the spectacular year that was 26
(spectacular because, well, every year is spectacular, isn't it, if
we really stop to notice?):
1. Joss Whedon's Much Ado About
Nothing with the sibs, on (or
about) my birthday.
mini Tardis, which served as a good omen, linking my year of Doctor
Who in the UK, with Karise, to
my year of Doctor Who in
Corvallis, with Marisa.
4. Blueberry picking.
a year of accomplishments in walking for a year of accomplishments
in driving (the first time I was ever in a car alone was trying out
my new commute from Corvallis to Newberg, and I made it =)).
year of Corvallis to Newberg (and back) commuting. With the fields
and the hills and the sky, alone with my thoughts and so many
incredible opportunity of spending a year teaching at Fox. A
bucket-list dream realized, and an experience that provided so many
challenges and allowed room for so much growth.
to co-teach with the spectacular Melanie Springer Mock.
with wise, wonderful people: Howard Macy, Rick Muthiah, Kathy
Heininge, and Roget Newell, to name a few.
10. The protection of God and Mr. Toad during my scary car crash, in January.
and sleepovers and movies; Thai food and espresso; creating new
memories, and celebrating the old; processing through who we are,
and how we've changed, and what dreams still drive us -- all in the presence of the ever-fabulous Kohleun (once an FLP,
always an FLP?).
12. My students, who challenged me in their writing, and in their discussions, and came to see me during office hours, and let me catch, even a glimpse, of the great beauty and light inside them. The many who met me halfway, and more than halfway, and blessed me with their friendship, their questions, and their gratitude.
13. A chance to read Faulkner and O'Connor in the company of Bill Jolliff and his wisdom and his class.
14. Theatre, even if only to watch, and not to participate: In the Family of Things, The House of Bernarda Alba, Parade, The Lion in Winter, and The Game's Afoot.
year of reconnecting with dear friends (in Newberg, and in San
Diego, and while roadtripping): Alicia, and Tammi, and Megan, and
Michael, and Ruth, and Mariam, and Elspeth . . .
with family, at Thanksgiving (in Corvallis), and Christmas (in
Bethlehem), and Brendan's graduation (New London and the Caribbean
World Cup, and all the joys of futbol.
(always too brief) with extended family. And what an incredible
group of incredible people they are.
the ways that God provided financially: Obamacare, and my job at
Sunnyside, and parents and siblings who extended grace upon grace.
able to be a part of Susanna and Zack's wedding, and celebrate in
the company of so many who dearly love them.
friend who challenges me to write, and to seek God, and to serve
others. Several days in her (and her grandparents') beautiful
that gleam and spark: Art Objects
23. Films that do
the same (inspiring conversation and thought): Noah
24. Others with
whom to converse and think, and watch anime and Game of Thrones,
and be challenged by to live the life one aspires to live.
beautiful days in the beautiful UK, shared with such beautiful
26. The grace and
patience of God, which undergirds all things: And all shall be well,
and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
And one for the
27. That God has
brought me to this place, to this garden, to these friends (both old
and new), and leads me on; God's grace, and strength, sufficient for
whatever lies ahead.
This past week (my second in Kenya) has been dedicated to new staff orientation, which has included lectures about transition and TCKs, question and answer sessions about life in Kenya, and opportunities to grow to know our fellow incoming teachers. Some of these opportunities have been officially organized (such as the Wednesday outing to a tea farm run by three generations of British immigrants) and others (no less significant) have come about less formally (such as the clinic run three of us made to get some new vaccinations -- in my case, typhoid, yellow fever, and hepatitis A & B).
[the tea farm]
During the course of all of this orientating, a comment was made about clashing cultural expectations, and the need to be aware that many students are coming from cultures with high uncertainty avoidance, and will find a classroom with open-ended questions and space for independent thinking and personal creativity deeply unsettling. They want to be told exactly what the rules and expectations are, so they can be certain of doing the assignment correctly and giving the teacher exactly what he or she desires.
When it comes to teaching (and learning) I tend, like most Americans, to be pretty low on the uncertainty avoidance scale. I like room to think for myself and define my own parameters, and I like for my students to do the same; I believe the process of taking ownership of one's own learning to be a significant, and life-giving skill.
Interestingly, however, when it comes to my walk of faith, I am pretty entrenched in the high uncertainty avoidance camp. I want to be told, not what the rules are, per se, but exactly what is expected of me, and what structure I should exist within. Where is the path, what is the path, and am I on the path? I want to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am getting it right -- doing this "life" thing in the exact way that God desires.
I will do anything, or go anywhere, I am just desperate for God to make clear what that thing, or where that place, might be.
In other words, I am an eager-to-please, perfection-seeking student, terrified of the blank page and the open-ended assignment. And God, perhaps, is wishing that I lived just a little more like I learn.
Hm . . . so, I seem to have been locked out of my most recent blog. Until I get that situation rectified, I'm going to go ahead and post this (written last week) on here. My first post in . . . well, a long time.
It's day five of my new, African,
My last few months/weeks in the States
(if one can discount the packing) were pretty glorious. Attending my
“little” brother's graduation from the Coast Guard Academy, going
on a Caribbean cruise with the family, seeing wonderful cousins and
uncles and aunts in Minnesota, spending some time on the Oregon
Coast, watching the World Cup, attending a dear friend's wedding in
New Mexico, and getting to spend time with special people all along
As a last hoorah of our year of living
together, my amazing brother and sister-in-law took me into Portland
the night before I flew out. We ate delicious Thai food, swam in our
hotel pool, and got up super early to make my flight out of PDX. And
if that wasn't enough, they sent me off with a packet of goodies
ranging from tealight candles to pictures to snacks (not to mention
some utterly epic princess band-aids).
[At PDX with my travel buddy and my bag of goodies]
So off I sailed from old things to new
things, feeling very loved.
My next stop was three days in the UK –
a wonderful transition, both in terms of jet-lag and the extra time
to catch my breath, but also as an opportunity to reconnect with some
beloved people and places before undertaking the process of
connecting to all things new.
And then I arrived in Africa, on the
night of the 21st, only to be met by a herd of zebra
crossing the road. My drivers laughed and shrugged: “Welcome to
Or, as one of my friends pointed out,
“welcome back to Africa,”
for this is the continent of my childhood, and even though the
expanse of the Sahara separates the now from then, thereare plants and trees I
recognize, though it is all so much more here.
living in a small apartment (a bedroom, a toilet and shower, a living
space with a kitchen) on a compound that is very much a slice of
Eden. So many colors, so much growth and life outside my windows.
And my own private corner in which to drink coffee, read my Bible,
and watch the birds.
landlady is Swiss, and grows vegetables as well as flowers, telling
me I can feel free to pick what I would like (herbs, and spinach, and
white radish, and so much more), saying that she always offers the
invitation, but no one ever takes her up on it (the implication
seeming to be that young people these days prefer fast food to fresh
greens) – I assured her that there is nothing I love so much as
vegetables and fruit, and I have already helped myself to some of her
basil and chives.
nothing else, I think I will love living here, in my own space, with
a garden, and an awesome next door neighbor who took
me hiking on Thursday to Mt. Longonot, where we walked the ridge of
the volcano and I drank my first Stony and saw my first (non-zoo
enclosed) giraffe. It was a glorious day.
[Can you spot the giraffe?]
yesterday I had an adventure of a slightly different caliber, walking
to the store on my own for the first time. I think I am slowly
gaining my bearings, and discovering that yes, indeed, I can live
Well, you may be thinking that I've fallen off the face of the earth. And I guess I kind of have. Or, to be more accurate, the earth (in the guise of a dissertation due in 19 days) may have opened up to swallow me whole. I do plan on eventually getting around to posting about some pre-term activities, like May Day and the Royal Wedding (which I attended =), but until the world stops turning dangerously quickly, here's a brief update on things I've been doing while I should have been locked away in the library, oblivious to a world beyond my windows:
Sitting next to Christine Baranski at the Perch (you know, that actress from Mamma Miaand The Big Bang Theory?), helping Kim celebrate completing her finals (I don't know if I can stress how big of a deal finals are here -- rather than marking the end of a semester's work, they, and they alone, are the assessing rod for one's entire Oxford degree -- think N.E.W.T.S. in Harry Potter), attending a celebratory birthday BBQ at the Kilns (C.S. Lewis's house) for Jonathan, my Jr. Dean (and Classics tutor) from my SCIO semester, going to a Low concert in London with a friend, and watching (rather than participating in) Summer VIIIs, the summer crew races (I haven't actually been rowing this term, which has probably been a good thing, but wasn't completely voluntary -- we ended up having too many women for the team, and while I would like to blame losing my seat on the fact that I was quite sick during trial week, and couldn't even complete the sprint length, much less make the time cut, the reality is that I'm not much of a speed demon anyway, so might have lost my place regardless -- a bummer, but not something I really have time to mope about).
Here are some pictures from my exciting life (that I should not be living):
Friends waiting for Kim to exit her last exam.
Kim emerging from the Exam Schools.
Flowers and champagne.
What says victory better than a purple balloon?
Eating ice-cream while watching the division one races.
Well, our new Regent's boat has had its maiden voyage (for all I know, it's had a few of them - but this afternoon was the first women's crew outing). I have christened it with my blood (stupid fingers always getting between the boat and my blade) and my sweat (yes, it was actually warm rowing today).
I've also caught my first crab. Not exciting news. Although, it's pretty crazy how quickly your body adapts to Matrix-like agility when threat of decapitation is imposed. I've never thought of myself as someone with particularly quick reflexes, but insert a massively long blade coming towards me with intimidating power (and speed) and before I know it I've managed to bend my body over backwards and emerge intact. The blade didn't even hit me.
All in all, a good outing. We've been off the water for two months (and some, rejoining from Michaelmas term, for more like five), yet hit the ground running (metaphorically speaking) - rowing all eights, and not doing too shabby.
Best of all, however, the new boat is ten kilos per boy (yes, it is a boys' boat) lighter than the last one. This means that hoisting it out of the boat house and onto the water may no longer make me want to cry.
I wrote this collection (would it be called a collection?) of reflections last summer in response to a prompt on communion. I was reading Williams at the time [Shadows of Ecstasy] and (as tends to happen when reading Williams) my writing seems to have been shrouded in obscurity and abstraction.
But these pieces still burn bright for me, even if they're rather inexplicable to others. I post them today in honor of Good Friday and a dying God.
Under the Mercy (as my dear friend would say).
through gentle darkness, warm
awash in chanted scripture
and rise back
into the death of god
and all else fades
but the common union
between man and god and god and man
bread and body, wine and blood
as symbols and sacraments blur
and all is one and in one
and every breath
That which is, becoming that which it is not. The mundane becoming sacred. Barriers breached. Between man and God. The physical and the eternal. Not union – the blurring of all into one, the destruction of difference, the swallowing up of self – but communion, the joining of that which is disparate, of symbol and reality, mystery and clarity, temporal and divine. “Neither is this Thou, yet this also is Thou.” Lewis states that, other than our neighbour, it is the holiest reality we will ever experience. Yet it is holy in exactly the same way that our neighbour is holy. The mystery of fellowship. Of joining. Of being one, and not one. It is humanity taken into God, for it is a taste of the Trinity, and the sacred mystery that undergirds existence – the One that is Three. It is real when the priest transmutes the elements into body and blood and the incarnation takes on flesh once more – expressing the lengths that Christ will travel for his beloved. It is real when the Protestant partakes of the symbol – grape juice and saltine – and the spirit is set free to worship God in truth, deep calling out to deep. And it is real when the Quaker rejects shadows and shells, attesting to the fullness of that which is, was, and will be – the sacred humanity of her neighbour and the God who dwells among them. And when we are ready, it is real in the strange bright mystery of co-inherence – the bound togetherness of all things.
I read a book recently, in which there is a scene. A scene in which seven siblings, standing beneath a sacred tree, link hands to pit the fullness of their spirit—their united selves—against the evil which threatens them. There are sacred rituals that take place, sacred symbols that are exchanged, but the reality behind the sacrament’s shadows is the reality of seven hearts that beat as one. Seven spirits who would each, unhesitatingly, exchange themselves for the other. Seven children who feel the pain of the other as their own.
The great horror of this story, the great and unabidable hurt, is that this circle is broken. Evil wreaks its havoc, and the siblings lose themselves within their own isolated battles for courage and hope. The generations turn, but nothing is ever the same. The wholeness that was is no more.
And I think it was this loss that broke me. This loss that made me weep long into the night of the book’s ending. For I had tasted—I had touched—the world as it should be, and it had been torn asunder by forces of decay.
Is it sacrilege to say that this is what Christ came to restore? This unity of heart and mind. This sacred circle of brothers and sister, bound by name, and blood, and every feeling of the heart. This communion of the saints.
These last few days (and weeks) have been glorious in Oxford. Sunshine and warmth and blossoms that fill the air with perfume and color. I guess I've never really understood about the spring before - about why it's the season for twitterpation and first kisses. But with a sky so blue and colors so bright it's impossible to feel anything but beautiful.
That is, unless you're spending the day studying in the library. Which I was - for a while. So, in order to cope, I created a new routine: get up (with the assistance of three alarms), spend an hour saturating in the sun while eating a croissant and sipping coffee at Combibos (my new favorite coffee shop), make it to the library around the time they were opening their doors, write, saturate in the sun over a picnic lunch in the Botanic Garden, return to the library, write . . . you get the picture.
my morning routine
lunch in the Botanic Garden across from Magdalen College
Eventually, however, I gave up on the library all together. It wasn't helping my panic attacks, so now I just study in the parks . . . permanently. Usually writing by hand, and then returning to my room to type up the notes at night. But today I actually took my computer with me.
iced vanilla lattes help the writing process immensely
the University Parks
So no, it's probably not the most efficient study plan. And yes, the writing is going terribly slow. But at least I'm happy while I'm doing it. 'Cause like I said, it's impossible not to feel pretty - at home with earth and sky, content, delighted, capable of flight - in the springtime.