Monday, July 21, 2008

Manual Labor

Ben and I have entered the crazy (and exciting) world of home ownership! We closed on our new house last Thursday, and are full-swing into fixing it up before move in-- a huge job, since it is a foreclosure that has fallen into disrepair during its several months sitting vacant. We've had people gutting the basement, and there are more coming to put in a new electrical system, rip out the vinyl floor in the kitchen, install tiles, clean out the gutters, install drains in the basement and refinish the floors. Ben and I have been in there too (More Ben, really... minding a 11 month old is surprisingly incompatible with working on a house): we've prepped for painting, spackled the walls, pulled out the caulking in the bathroom, cleaned the windows, and started cleaning up the yard. In the next week or two we hope to install blinds, put in some new cabinets, and, eventually move in!

This, for me, has been my first prolonged immersion in the world of manual labor, and it's been sort of amazing/horrifying. First of all, I am a total wuss! My shoulders and arms have been sore for three days from removing 3 (yes, I am ashamed to admit it) vinyl tiles in the kitchen and washing some windows. All this while I have watched three men literally destroying and carrying the entirety of our basement into a huge dumpster over the course of two days. I guess I just don't have what it takes.

But, today, as I was thinking about the workers that have been in our house-- who work for relatively meager wages, with total uncertainty about where their next work will come from, and no health benefits, even though, dear Lord, of all people in the world, they need it the most. They are living far away from the place they consider "home," in all probability away from their wives, children, families-- bunking up with other young laborers like themselves in cramped conditions, and, on top of all of that, viewed with contempt and hatred by many if not most people around here. I was thinking about how to interact with them, how we can be good, ethical employers (Do we buy them lunch? How do we react when they don't show up for work, or leave early without explanation? How do I, as a young woman, treat them with dignity and respect without creating a cultural misunderstanding about my intentions?), and God revealed something to me that hit me like a ton of bricks. That man Jesus, who is our Savior, the Son of God, yadda yadda, WAS A CARPENTER. How this fact was not fully understood by me until today is unbelievable, because of course I factually knew he was a carpenter, but I never really understood what that means.

Talk about being made vulnerable to the world in a day-to-day, hour-by-hour sort of way. So, more than anything, right now, I am pausing to think about this. It has 1) totally transformed the way I think about Jesus, and 2) totally transformed the way I think about those workers. Who knows where this is taking me, but I feel like it is a breakthrough. Right now, I am enjoying thinking about Jesus as a worker. Did he drive a hard bargain, or give out good deals? What was his workmanship like? (pretty good, I'm guessing) Did he take breaks for lunch with his coworkers? Did he pack a lunch, or eat out? What were his conversations like while he was working? Did the people around him have any idea about who he was? Did he even really understand who he was? Let it be known that over these coming weeks, as I interact with these burly, sweaty, dirty workers, I will truly behave as if I am in the presence of the sacred, Jesus in our midst.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Adam: God's Beloved

I have noticed that when I stroll into a library/bookstore, I gravitate towards exactly the same two kinds of books: books about urban couples moving to a farm (yes, I have discovered there is a whole genre of books just like this... so much for being original), and Henri Nouwen books. My last trip to the library, I was planning on getting something edgy and different, but no. I came home with a book whose byline is "how one urban couple grew a business, a family, and a new way of life from the ground up," and two Henri Nouwen books: one that ben snatched from me the moment I walked through the door, and another entitled "Adam: God's Beloved."

Somehow, every Nouwen book I start resonates so strongly with me that I can't put it down once I've started-- and this one is no exception. This book, which was actually Nouwen's last book before his death, tells the story of the man that Nouwen calls "my friend, my teacher, and my guide." Adam, a severely handicapped member of Nouwen's L'Arche community in Toronto, can't talk, walk, or even feed himself, but exudes a peace and stillness that draw those around him deeper into themselves and deeper into the presence of God. Nouwen structures the book, a memoir of Adam's life from birth to untimely death, as a parallel to the life of Jesus. Just as the gospel narratives tell us about the childhood, public ministry, suffering, and death of Jesus, so too Nouwen chronicles each of these chapters of Adam's life, starting with Adam's obscure life within the loving shelter of his parent's home, to his public ministry at L'Arche community.

What Nouwen makes clear is that while most of us have to spend our entire lives working to understand the fact that there is nothing we can do to become God's beloved-- it's just who we are-- Adam's entire existence was a testmanet to this. According to the world, Adam didn't have anything to offer, and yet God found powerful ways to use him as a messenger of The Word.

Many of you know that I have struggled with my own desire to somehow earn the approval of others, and, ultimately, God. There was certainly so much pressure to work towards this end in academia! It seemed like somehow your entire being was defined by your thoughts, papers, arguments. In the context of our little family, where I feel so precious and affirmed both as a wife and mother, this burden is lifted. But nevertheless, in friendships, relationships, and jobs, I always feel a subtle pressure to "wow" those around me. Over the past few days, as I have encountered new and old friends, it has been so transformative to have Adam's image in the back of my mind, calling me into a fuller communion with the present, which constantly whispers, "You are my beloved."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rich Soil

I know things have been a bit sparse around here since we moved down to Virginia... which is totally counter to my hope of using this blog as a way to stay in touch with people! Well, do you know how sometimes there are whole weeks when it feels like nothing is happening, and then all of a sudden, there's this torrent of insight? Well, that has just happened, and I'm still so in the middle of it that I am making sense of it all.

First of all, both Ben and I have recently realized that there is something different in the air down here in the posh-DC suburbs. The cars are a little nicer (okay, way nicer), the people a little more polished, and the pressure a little stronger to conform. The pessimist in me has long suspected that these VA suburbs are inherently corrupt, while the Christian in me that lives by hope has known that there is goodness everywhere. Well, for whatever reason, Ben and I have both been feeling really heavy with the burden of this place, which is teaming with hunger-- for power, money, and, I believe, under all of that, God. So, that "nothing" time of our first weeks here was actually just us giving in to those pressures.

Yesterday, Ben and I went out and saw Wall-E (the first movie out since ratoutouille before Z was born! woo hoo!). I was kind of horrified by the whole thing-- as in, I could really see not only our culture but my specific life in this movie. The story line is essentially that people have destroyed earth, and now live on this big space0crafty thing where they live lives that are focused entirely on technology. Over the course of the movie, Wall-E brings people back to earth, which is then restored as people re-learn the simple joys of life. Those of you who know my amish-leanings can understand why I was the first to say "Amen!" to the story line. But I was made a little more than edgy by how I had felt personally accused by the plot. I'm supposed to be a person living in grace and in accordance with the teachings of Jesus.

This morning, our little family finally went to the church that we have been meaning to go to since moving here-- Our Lady Queen of Peace in Arlington. Walking into the church was like balm for my soul... I literally spent the first few minutes teary-eyed from relief. Man, I guess I've been skipping church too much lately. Anyway, the morning was full of affirmations for me (and, I think, for Ben too) that this church is where we're being called to grow as followers of Christ. This week, out of the blue, the verse from the Bible, "create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me" has been stuck in my head. As we walk into the church, the choir is singing these very words! The gospel reading today was the parable of the seeds that fall on various forms of bad ground-- rock, thorny bramble, etc, each of which inhibits long-term growth. Here's a bit of that reading:

"The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Ta da! Could there be a clearer answer to my struggles? So, I am called to be the good soil that hears the word and understands it (easier said than done, I'm afraid, but such a beautiful image to work with). Amid all of this craziness, all of this money, consummerism, judgment, and anger, I am called to be the soil upon which the fruit of the Lord is produced. I'm that little shoe in Wall-E that holds the single remaining plant on earth!

This is causing some drastic re-evaluation of the different idols that I have had in my life since moving down here: no, we are not called to have the most beautiful perfect home in Falls Church, no, we are not called to be the most put together, no, we are not called to have glamorous lives of eating out, buying nice cars. Those are the thorns! We're just supposed to be good earth upon which God can plant her beautiful garden. That's what I'm going to be trying to channel today.