Change of Scenery

Yesterday I got out of town for a bit. I’ve been experiencing some personal unpleasantness, and when I have to deal with unpleasant feels I typically want to change something. Right now. While change is something that most people run from, change is my coping skill of choice. A haircut, a new outfit, even looking for new (internal) job opportunities. I just want to change something. I know. I’m in therapy.

I’ve got a big vacation coming up in just 25 days but that wasn’t soon enough. My Friday plans were cancelled and I stayed home watching recorded TV and was bored out of my mind and didn’t want to sit with some of my discomfort at home, so I decided to take it on the road. Fortunately, I live about an hour-ish from some pretty decent scenery and cooler weather so I filled up Fiona’s tank and we headed first to Jerome, then to Sedona.

The day was all about seeing things differently and letting things go that don’t belong to me. I have a hard time letting go. I’m a control freak anyway, but when I want something, I cling to all hope like grim death before conceding defeat. I hate conceding. I had to concede something this week and it pissed me off. So I went into the woods because I wished to concede deliberately, and I feel like I did. Mostly. It’s a process.

When I arrived in Sedona, I passed a sign advertising a Taize service at 7pm that evening at a local Episcopal church. I felt like I needed to attend, but it wasn’t for a few hours so I kept driving down into Oak Creek Canyon and stopped off to sit outside and listen to the water and just be for a bit. The traffic heading back into Sedona was horrendous so I wasn’t sure I’d make it, but wouldn’t you know it – I rolled into the church parking lot at 6:59.

It was a really nice service. There was a small but diverse collection of parishioners there who genuinely seemed to care for each other. It’s a church I might attend if I lived there. (side note: why are all the churches – and men –  that seem to suit me located hundreds of miles away?). I didn’t have a life-altering experience, didn’t see a light, hear an audible voice, but was quietly reminded, both during the service and all day, of God’s bigger plan.

I don’t know what’s up for me, on most, if not all, fronts. I’ve never felt that my move to Phoenix was permanent, and I still don’t, but I’m here for now. I don’t know what career opportunities are going to come up for me, but I’m grateful to work for a global company so I could theoretically go anywhere. As I said, I don’t like conceding, especially when I feel like I have a positive vision of what the future could be, but that’s what I’m doing. So I left town. And it was a very good day.

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Back to the Bay

Since Thursday I’ve been in San Francisco visiting friends and doing the SF AIDS Walk with my company’s team. This is my first time back since I moved back to Phoenix last August. I have had the most fabulous time. The timing of this trip was about doing the AIDS Walk but also about some personal stuff that I’m needing to move past and I needed a change of scenery to do it. I think it’s working out. I’ve had a chance to see a lot of friends and to just enjoy their company and catch up. On some level it feels like I never left and I’m just hanging out with friends. However, it does feel different because when I did live here I was stressed and tired and broke and didn’t go out much. It’s FANTASTIC to have your friends live where you take your vacations. I totally see why people visit here now.

Unfortunately, housing prices here are taking another dramatic upturn and from what I understand you can’t get into a studio for under $1,700 a month and that’s a shithole with no kitchen. If you want something livable, it’s more like $1,900. For a studio. I can’t wrap my head around that any more. I have kind of mapped out what I want my next job to be with my company and if it does entail a move back to the Bay Area, there will be no more city dwelling for me. I’d prefer to stay where I am and I hope the job allows it, but if not, I’ll be a suburban girl. And even then, they’re going to have to pay me a LOT more money.

I thought my return to SF would have a much more emotional impact but really, it was just a great vacation. It was so much fun to see my friends and be part of the AIDS walk event. Here’s a picture of me at the event with my friend Bill. My boobs look like they’re poised to take over the planet.

AIDS Walk

Egypt Everywhere

Ok. I know you guys are sick of hearing about Egypt, and believe me, I’m almost there with you. Almost. The thing is, a year and a half before I went to Egypt, it was everywhere in my world. I would buy books to read, and without knowing it, there would be a significant portion of the plot take place in Egypt. Movies & TV shows would have Egypt-related characters or plots. I couldn’t stop watching Cairo Time on Netflix. Then, just before I moved from San Francisco to Phoenix, I hired a girl who turned out to be her daugher! I know. Spooky, right?

Last night I was reading a few chapters in Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and she used the randomness of taking a trip to Egypt & France as an illustration of something equally random. I JUST WENT TO BOTH EGYPT AND FRANCE IN THE SAME TRIP. Finally, This morning I actually gasped when combing through my Feedly reader (I’m getting used to it, Google, thanks for asking) and I saw this article from Christianity Today entitled YOU PROBABLY WON’T BE SENT TO EGYPT. Except that I did go to Egypt! Things happened. Good, amazing awesome things. It was a great experience. And yet Egypt is still everywhere. Everywhere. Do I have some sort of Egypt-related Baader-Meinhof thing happening?

The CT Article, written by Carolyn Arends, reflects on the Ignatian concepts of consolation and desolation. Arends explains them this way:

“Consolation is understood not as happy feelings (although they can be its byproduct), but rather as that which opens us up to God and others—and quickens our pulse for the things of the kingdom. Even difficult circumstances can lead to consolation if we sense God in them. Desolation, too, is more nuanced than I imagined. It has to do with that which distracts us from our awareness of God’s presence and turns us in on ourselves (whether our immediate experience of the diversion is positive or negative).”

I’m moving back into church leadership after a year-long break and that and some personal stuff has sent me to focus on personal worship and study more than I have in a long time. Part of this time has made me feel much more connected to my time in Egypt and what is currently happening there. One of the people we met there is trying to run a ministry to children in the slums and he’s floundering a bit because he has passion but lacks knowledge of how to start and run an organization. I have of late felt like I want to help him with that, so I’ve been communicating with him and doing some research and have already found him some great local resources. He’s going to visit a school on Friday, in fact. I will very likely be returning to help him create even more structure around his program and see what can be done.

I don’t know why Egypt is so in my consciousness, but it’s FREAKING ME OUT. I almost feel like God is saying, I want you to go there, and I’m all, Dude – ON IT! But God still keeps putting stuff out there. Ok. Got it. What is this about?

Best. Weekend. Ever.

I kinda just had the best weekend ever. It was pretty low key, really fun, and very relaxing. I decided to drive to LA for the 4th weekend and see some friends, toodle around the area and just be away, and I gotta tell you – I made the right choice. I needed to be around good friends with whom I can be totally comfortable, it doesn’t feel like work and I can just have fun and love them and be loved by them. That super happened and it was great.

Brian was my original gay boyfriend. I have quite a gaggle of them now, but he’s the OG. He and I met at church (of course) about 15ish years ago and we used to go out on Monday nights and do happy hour and a movie. At the time he was trying to pray away the gay but he’s thankfully moved out of that phase and he has an AMAZING partner, Tom, with whom he has been for 10 years. They haven’t decided about getting married, now that they can, but if they do I REALLY want to at least sing but maybe even officiate. I’d BETTER be asked to do something major, boys!

I also got to spend some time with the Lilster. Lilyan and I have been friends since we were in middle school. She knows my crap, I know her crap, it’s all good. We went to a HILARIOUS follies show that was patriotically themed, starring a local drag queen celebrity and some former Disney cast members. Then we had a fabulous Mexican dinner at the restaurant that houses the theater, along with some of Lil’s co-workers and friends. Lovely evening.

I also go to go to Disneyland! I haven’t been since my 30th birthday, so for those of you keeping score at home, that’s only a couple of years, and by couple I mean ELEVEN. How does that happen? Anyway, Disney with Jaci the Irish dancer. Lovely girl, dancer, retail goddess and smart cookie. We had a blast being horrified by people’s outfits and behavior, eating corn dogs & ice cream and being jostled about by the rides.

Today I’ll head to San Diego to see some friends from SF who are there for a vacation and then I’ll head back to Phoenix. I’m feeling refreshed and relaxed and ready to back to work. Until my next trip, which is to San Francisco in about 10 days 🙂

Pray for Egypt

We’re roughly eight hours from the deadline the military has given President Morsi to make changes or step down. The rhetoric is heating up and words like “war” and “martyr” and “bloodshed” have become part of the conversation. If you’ve not been paying attention, the people of Egypt began demonstrating against their “democratically elected” president on Sunday, the one year anniversary of his inauguration. He has failed in every way. The economy is spiraling downward as the Egyptian pound loses value, tourism is non-existent, and the Muslim Brotherhood-backed government is slowly imposing Islamic law on a people who have lived with many religions peacefully for many years.

The country is predominantly moderate to liberal Muslims, secularists and about 10% Christian. Many of the protests have been Muslims protesting the increasing persecution of Christians. There has always been harmony between the faiths. The Brotherhood wants to label anyone whose faith is not their own as “infidels”.

On Monday, the leader of the military issued an ultimatum to the President. Respond to the demands of the people to hold early elections or we will take over. This creates some tricky diplomatic geometry for the US and Europe.  The death toll is rising and hundreds have been injured. There have been 46 women, including a Danish journalist, be sexually assaulted during the protests.

This is a big, important global, historic event, but it’s more personal for me since I was there a couple of months ago. More importantly, I made friends there, people with whom I am still in touch and about whom I care deeply. I am constantly refreshing my news pages, checking facebook, and I am STILL trying to find a decent Arabic translator. Google is bad but Bing is absolutely useless. I’ve looked at a few others but given up after a while. It’s a complicated language, I get it. But don’t claim your site can translate it if you CAN’T FREAKING TRANSLATE IT.

I’m feeling the burden of this situation acutely. I have a hard time reading people’s posts about The Bachelorette when I know this is going on in  the world. In fairness to, well, me, I would’ve had a hard time with Bachelorette posts any time because I hate that crap, but it’s even worse now. I’m going to Disneyland this weekend and I feel like such an a-hole. I know, I know. There’s nothing I can do, so I might as well go on vacation, but still, I feel a bit like this:

THE EGYPTIAN GOVERNMENT IS IMPLODING AND THE COUNTRY IS ON THE VERGE OF CIVIL WAR! WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO?

Ummmm….I’m going to Disneyland?

See? I’m an a-hole.

I know I’m not. I’m going to go and have fun. I need the break. But Egypt will be on my mind and in my heart the whole time.

Take Nothing on Your Journey

Mark 6:6-13

“Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village.  Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.”

This summer our church is in a sermon series about traveling. I’m not totally sure if it has a title, but today’s sermon was called Traveling Light and the passage from Mark 6 was one of the scriptures. (Just checked the website – It’s called “On the Road Again.”) It’s certainly an appropriate series during the summer as most people in their right minds get out of Phoenix for as many times and as long as they can.

As I was reading through this passage the phrase “take nothing on your journey” jumped out at me. I love to travel and when I do I’m an over-packer. I need options. I bring things I think I need, know I need, and might possibly need. There are also some things I’m willing to do without. But none of those things are food, bags or money. The argument could be made that Jesus was sending out the disciples on a short-term assignment and they didn’t live like this all the time. Yeah, that’s true. They had stuff most of the time, but Jesus spoke a lot about simplifying things so while this exercise was challenging, it may not have been a shock.

I’m on a journey of my own at the moment (this is my blog so I’m going to make it a little about me), and it’s one of learning to be in a place where God is working but I don’t know how or in what direction. I realize that basically all of life is like that, but sometimes we’re more aware of it than others and this is one of those times. Often in these times, I try to force some sort of outcome just so I know what’s going on and can feel some semblance of control. I’m adorable. However, this time, I’m making a conscious decision to live in this uncertainty, but joyfully, not grudgingly. I’m finding myself actually almost thankful for it. I guess the reason this resonates with me is that I am embarking on a journey and I am taking nothing. So far, I’m finding it more freeing than scary.

Don’t take:

Bread  – The most basic of food staples, every culture in the world has a “bread” equivalent. Even when the Israelites were fleeing slavery in Egypt they were allowed to bring unleavened bread. This is going a step further, saying don’t even take that. To me this is saying throw out even the most basic of provisions. This assignment is a test of the hospitality of the towns where you’re going. Will they have compassion and feed someone who has nothing? Will they take care of those who have less? That’s going to tell you who they are. Being willing to travel without that will tell you who you are.

Bag – not only is the bag where you might put stuff you take along, it’s also a place where you might put stuff you pick up along the way. Don’t take anything along, but don’t pick up anything either. You have nowhere to put it. Don’t acquire anything that you have to carry, that might weigh you down – stuff, issues, anger, unhealthy relationships, anything that can take focus from your mission.

Money – Even if you don’t take anything else, if you have money you can buy what you need, or think you need. Being asked to not bring money renders you completely powerless. You have no bargaining or purchasing power. You are entirely at the mercy of the kindness of strangers. As mentioned this is a test of your host community’s hospitality but also a test of who you are.

When you bring your own stuff into a new context it can prevent you from fully experiencing the new community and culture. Taking nothing on your journey frees you to fully experience a different way of life.

I have told this story before, but bear with me. When I was transitioning out of seminary I was in a place where I needed to figure out what was next and a lot of things were up in the air. I was praying one morning and asking God for some answers and God told me not to pack a lunch that day. Really. For real. It was odd. I was all, fine, whatever, no lunch. I went to work at my job at the seminary library and was doing my library thing. Lunchtime approached and I was getting hungry and began to second guess that direction. Really? For real? That’s dumb. I was just making that up. I was about to call the whole thing off and go get something and a student approached my desk and said, “I’ve got some fruit & yogurt that I’m not going to eat. Would you like it?” Really. For real. Ok, so God meant that and God’s got lunch covered.

I’ve always focused on what Jesus told them not to take on this trip, because it seems so counter-intuitive, but there are some things he told them they were supposed to take.

Do Take:

A Staff – Unfortunately, this wasn’t like Moses where they could do some cool magic snake tricks with their staffs to impress the locals and prove their credentials. When I read this I immediately thought of Psalm 23: 4 “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” This the spot where the Psalm moves from an I-God conversation to an I-You conversation, which indicates a confidence in God’s presence in time of danger. The staff is something that has a symbol of pastoral comfort and presence, so Jesus is telling those who are going that they are to be pastoral comfort to the communities they are visiting. They aren’t just wandering into towns and begging food. They have a job. The staff can also be used to support them over treacherous trails. Don’t embark on a ministry call (short or long term) without something to support you when things are rough. You need to have support in order to give support.

A companion – Jesus sent the disciples out in groups of two, not alone. This was practical, as lone travelers were particularly susceptible to attacks on the road. The pastor who preached on Sunday spoke about the origin of the word “companion” and that it means “someone with whom you break bread.” Ironic, since they couldn’t bring any of that. But I’m sure they would have done if they had some. Don’t do any kind of ministry alone. Have some bread-breaking people with you. Even if you don’t have any bread.

Call to Prayer

Something has been rattling in my brain since my trip to Egypt and an embarrassing incident here at work brought it back to my mind. Those of you who know me in real life know that I don’t exactly exude grace and composure. When I’m caught off guard, EVERYONE knows it. Usually there’s some flailing of limbs and incoherent exclamations involved. It’s super graceful. Today I was feeling a little crabby because of some work frustrations and as I’ve been doing a bit lately, I decided to eat my feelings in the form of some Kettle Chips and a Coke. I went into the breakroom and almost stepped on  a young man who was face-down on the floor. In that split second, I couldn’t figure out who it was, and then, whoever it was, had he fallen down? My first reaction was one of those incoherent exclamations that I’m so famous for, and as I made my noise I realized that he was praying. Then after that, I couldn’t stop apologizing. He just shot me a sideways look and kept praying. In an Elaine Benes-esque moment, I wondered if I should leave or go ahead and purchase my junk food. I went for the machines. I’ve decided to go ahead and call our HR Hotline on myself. I probably won’t get in trouble. It’s anonymous.

The reason this brought to mind my recent trip to Egypt is that when Mubarak was president, he decided that the Call to Prayer that happens EIGHT TIMES A DAY beginning at FOUR AM wasn’t loud enough. Now it is. Cairo is a more moderate city, so when the call to prayer goes out you will see some people observe it and some go about their day. I’m acknowledging that I experienced this as an outsider, and I’m sure that the locals don’t even hear it most of the time. Eight times a day. Come ON.

There are those who think the sound is ugly, and no, it’s not exactly melodious, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it ugly. There is something inherently beautiful in an entire city being asked to stop to center themselves in prayer. I’m not advocating that any government dictate how and when to pray, but I like the idea that regular times of prayer are built into the daily rhythms of life. I wish I had the discipline to do it for myself.

There are those who will also say that it’s an empty ritual and doesn’t mean anything. Maybe, but that’s possible in any religion and is a pitfall of being human. I’m reminded of a quote from Out of Africa where Denys is explaining to Karen why he prefers animals to people. He says that everything is brand new to the animals but it’s only “man that tires of it. It’s only man who does it badly.” True. Not only would it be a discipline to keep a regular prayer schedule every day, it would be a discipline to keep it from becoming a meaningless habit.

Can you imagine how different the world would be if all of us, regardless of our faith traditions, stopped eight times every day to center ourselves in prayer and seek God’s guidance? It might be a world with less need of Kettle Chips and Coke.