Friday, April 20, 2018

Poetry Corner | To a Red Kite

As I was washing dishes last night, this poem came to me. My brother and I memorized it together in elementary school, and I haven't thought of it in years. When it popped into my head last night, it took me back to Virginia days of homeschooling. 

To a Red Kite
by Lilian Moore

upon the sky.

Take the string
you need.
Ride high,

above the park.
Tug and buck
and lark
with the wind.

Touch a cloud,
red kite.
Follow the wild geese
in their flight.

Monday, April 16, 2018

of broken records and practicing musicians

Do you ever feel like you're repeating yourself ad nauseam? As if, like a broken record, you can't stop returning to the same idea over and over and over again with no apparent variation or movement towards a resolution?

I sometimes do. In fact, I tend to repeat myself a lot.

Not using the same words, maybe, but the same clusters of ideas and concepts and questions tend to revolve through my head, come out of my mouth, spill out of my pen into journals or through a keyboard onto word documents and blog posts.

What does it look like to follow Jesus?

How do I learn how to completely trust Jesus without using trusting Him as an excuse to be a couch potato?

How do you balance grace and obedience, truth and love? Is that even the right approach to that question?

Where is home?

For that matter, what is home?

How do I live in the tension of longing for my ultimate home in heaven while making myself a temporary home on earth?

How does story help me make meaning out of this life I'm living?

How does literature help me figure out how to be in this world?

Why am I so captivated by the English language even when I'm trying to immerse myself in another culture?

There are times when I feel like these things are the only things I ever talk about. And I wonder if that gets annoying. Like listening to a broken record.

* * * 

Last summer, in the midst of moving craziness, my mom and I slipped into a medieval church in a small Bavarian town.

We came for an organ concert, but we had read the flyers wrong. So it was just the two of us in the church. The two of us, that is, and the organist practicing for the concert that would take place later that week.

As Bach's music filled the church, we sat in a pew, resting in the stillness of the sanctuary and listening to the practicing musician.

I had never listened to a musician practice before. Both my brother and I play the piano, so I've spent a long time practicing and often heard my brother practice, but this was different.

I sat in the church and actually listened to music in the making.

The organist repeated one single bar over and over again, mastering it technically. He then placed it in the context of the movement as a whole, making sure that he had not only mastered that one part, but that he had honed it in a way that fit in seamlessly with the whole.

It was utterly unlike listening to a broken record.

* * *

The repitition of a broken record is meaningless - it doesn't lead to anything beautiful or whole. It's simply annoying.

The repitition of a musician practicing his craft is chock-full of meaning. It is not mindless repitition, but mindful and attentive honing of something that will be beautiful.

This mental image of an organist practicing in an empty church has stuck with me for almost a year, because it's given me a new way to think about my tendency to repeat myself as I mull over different themes and ideas. Rather than fearing that I'm little better than a broken record who keeps repeating the same things because I can't come up with anything new to say, I've started thinking about this repetition as practice.

When I encounter an idea that has a powerful impact on how I go about living in this world, or when I feel a question beckoning me to follow in search of an answer, it's not enough to state it once and move on.

I have to learn to grasp the idea as its own thing and then also incorporate it seamlessly into my life as a whole. And that takes practice.

It takes looking at something from different perspectives, listening to different people's thoughts on that idea or question, seeing how it comes up in the books and music and poetry and art that I thrive on, and processing what I learn in such a way that I can internalize it.

For me, part of that process is talking and writing. I grab a friend and read a quote that sheds new light on an idea. I set aside time to journal as I work things out. Sometimes I share words on this blog. And in the process of circling and returning and repetition, I am learning to weave different ideas and truths and values into a whole that shapes who I am and how I live.

I don't think I'm the only one who does this, or the only one who tends to scoff at myself: "This again? Really? I feel like I never come back to anything else."

There might be - are for sure - times when circling around and dwelling on a particular thing is as unhealthy and as unuseful as a broken record.

But there are other times when it is as powerful and meaningful as a musician practicing one section of a piece over and over again to join it seamlessly into the rest of the piece to create a beautiful, intricate whole.

Be encouraged to give yourself grace when you feel like a broken record. You might be in the process of internalizing something profoundly important.

And when there are blog posts here that seem to be reaching for something that I can't quite articulate, when posts about moving turn into posts about presence turn into posts about story, and the link that binds them all together isn't quite there, thank you for bearing with me.

I'm practicing.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Germany | the weird and the wonderful

I had my first ever houseguests this month!

Of course, I helped my mom host guests throughout my childhood, and several friends visited while I was in college. But this was different: my dear friends Bryn and Angela flew ACROSS THE ATLANTIC to come spend a week with me.

We rode on countless trains, hiked in the alps, enjoyed world-class art museums. In the evenings we played bananagrams, danced, and talked endlessly about faith and post-college life and books and ideas. (And we introduced Bryn to Lizzy Bennet Diaries.)

It was pure joy to have them.

Something I really enjoyed was hearing their impressions of Germany. I've lived here so long that I'm accustomed to most quirks of the place and don't notice them anymore.

As Bryn and Angela commented on things that they found amusing, confusing, and wonderful about Germany, I kept a running list on my phone. Here are some of them.

Water fountains are not a thing in Germany. I don’t know why this is, but I have never seen a water fountain here. It used to be that most tap water in public bathrooms was not potable, so if you wanted water you had to buy it. Now you can usually fill up at a bathroom sink.

But to get into that bathroom you probably had to pay. A 50 cent charge is typical to use a public bathroom, which makes complete sense to me. I’d much rather pay to use a clean bathroom than be grossed out for free. But it's also a bummer when you desperately need to use a bathroom and don't have any change on you.

Speaking of things you have to pay for, you can't order free tap water at restaurants. Beer is often literally cheaper than water.

Stoplights here turn yellow before they turn green.

Roads are very narrow. That said, sidewalks are very wide. Bryn commented that the sidewalks are so wide she would have thought they were driving lanes. This is a perfect example of how much Germans value walking, biking, or taking public transit above driving. 

You can’t pay at the pump at German gas stations. I have no idea why.

There are no billboards along the roads. (Well done, Germany!) 

The color palate is brighter. It's common to see buildings painted in bright, bold colors.

Mailmen ride bikes, not vans. And they contribute to the bright color palate: they have yellow bikes, jackets, and mailbags.

There are lots and lots of flower shops, and they are usually not connected to grocery stores like they are in the States.

Mistletoe grows in huge clumps on trees

When German families move, they take their kitchens with them. Cupboards, sink, counters, dishwasher, fridge and freezer - it all comes out of the old place and into the new. So it's not uncommon that when you look at a German home for rent or sale, the kitchen area will be a gutted room with connections to plumbing but no actual kitchen. 

German homes do not have built-in closets. People keep their clothing in dressers and wardrobes. My parents explained to us that this is because closets are taxed like rooms. So homes are more affordable if they do not include closets. Go figure.

Woodpiles are standard. A lot of German homes still have wood-burning stoves (of course, they also have modern heating and cooking, just to be clear), and they have a lot of wood stacked up to feed those stoves.

Of course, this is only a handful of the things that stick out to a newcomer in Germany. If you're curious about more, or if you're familiar with Germany and want a good laugh, check out this Buzzfeed article. (Heads up for some vulgar language.)