College Blogging (Kelm110)

WRIT 110B Home Base

Falling in Love with the Worship Leader

I loved going to chapel as a freshman. It was like a youth rally or camp twice a week. The whole community came together, and I felt part of something. Something great, huge, and holy. I had some significant spiritual moments from 10:40 to 11:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays, but I’m going to be honest: it helped that I was in love with the worship leader.

Chapel had one worship band, composed of the cool kids on campus: beautiful, talented, pure (assumedly). They wore modest clothes in the latest fashions, wrote songs, and were upper-classmen, the latter fact which automatically thrust them into the upper echelons of Christian college society.  They were all friends with each other and went on retreats and were ridiculously spiritual, but in a cool way. Like, not close-minded, y’know? They were just…awesome.

How could I avoid falling in love with the leader of the chapel band? I mean, c’mon. He was a senior, with mussed brown hair, hipster glasses, and flannel shirts. He wore nice jeans (showing respect for Jesus) and a pair of Toms. He played guitar, mainly, but he could also fill in on keys and drum at a moment’s notice.  His guitar strap? Had a cross on it.  His forearm?  Tattoo of Hebrew writing. No idea what it said, but who cares! He was dreamy.

Of course, I never introduced myself to him. No way! He was a shiny beacon of Christ personified, and I was a shy English major who stared at her feet while walking through the Quad. I didn’t deserve him. Who could? Who could live around all of that holiness?

More than that, as a shy little girl, I couldn’t imagine such PDA for Jesus. These public displays of affection were grand, loud, and beautiful. I wondered what was wrong with me that I couldn’t share my own love for Jesus in front of hundreds of people. I played piano for eight years, sang in choirs for nearly all of my life. I could sing harmony, and I loved music. But what was wrong with me that I couldn’t give Jesus any props publicly, like my lovely worship leaders?

The Church has the tendency to idolize those on the worship team. They’re our own personal rock stars: beautiful, talented, and demonstrative. And yet, we can’t all be worship leaders. There have to be some worship followers. Just as the I need worship leaders to bring me to my feet and out of my comfort zone, I need to be around to bring certain worship leaders back down to earth. They’re just humans after all. Sometimes they’re moody, sometimes the music matters more than the folks around them, sometimes they’re more concerned with their status as Christian campus celebrity. Just like sometimes I’m cynical, silent, and unwilling to try new things.

It’s why we need each other, isn’t it? Both inside the church and outside of it, we need people who elevate or ground us. At the same time, we need to find out who we are and behave accordingly, not like someone else. There’s no fast track to God’s presence, not even with a cross guitar strap and a Hebrew tattoo.

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L’Engle and Macklemore

Kandinsky and Van Gogh say more than they know in their paintings…Of course, because I am a struggling Christian, it’s inevitable that I superimpose my awareness of all that happened in the life of Jesus upon what I’m reading . . .
But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. To be truly Christian means to see Christ everywhere, to know him as all in all.
(L’Engle, Walking on Water)

Confession: I watch a lot of television and movies. L’Engle describes watching television as passive, which I understand. It doesn’t require motion, or even thought usually. But somehow, I can’t turn my brain off while I watch stories flicker across a screen. My brain is always making connections, searching for something deeper.

I’m always looking for Christ.

The amazing thing is that he’s always there. Always. He’s embedded within stories, even the most broken of them, because he’s in the broken of this world. I find I understand people better when I read about them in stories, and I see God when I see or hear honest stories.

An honest story can be hard to find these days. That’s why I was amazed to find Macklemore.

My sister lives in Seattle, and when I went to visit her a few months ago, one of the first things she asked me was, “Have you heard of Macklemore?” “Uh, no,” I responded, “Should I have?” In moments she had gotten out her computer and I was watching “Thrift Shop,” a catchy tune that lauds the art of second-hand shopping. When I got past the expletives, I found the lyrics clever. So, it became my jam…and Ellen’s…and the rest of the worlds’. Seattle’s secret has become an up-and-comer.

The rest of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s album, “The Heist,” is diverse and impressive. The lyrics tackle socio-economic disparity, gay rights, and the hypocrisy and empty promises of record labels. Macklemore is also outspoken about his faith background, which is just that–something in the past that isn’t viable or helpful in today’s world. One of the tracks compares a liquor store to a church in a moving and sobering way.

Macklemore has written previously about his struggles with substance abuse, his track “Otherside” an anthem for those striving for sobriety. The track that hits me every time on The Heist, “Starting Over,” isn’t about sobriety. It’s about what to do when you relapse, losing everything you’ve worked for. How to move forward when all you feel is shame. How to face those who praise and thank you for helping them find hope when you so recently lost yours. It’s one of the most honest things I’ve heard in a long time.

And where is Christ in this pain, you ask?

Oh, can’t you see him? He’s right there, right in the middle of it. He’s saying, “You failed. I love you. Now start again.”

Christians are notoriously bad at admitting failure. We’re much better at lying to protect some sort of image, some sort of false perfection that we pretend to own. If we could just show our faults, air our dirty laundry, then not only would we be free, but others would notice. All of a sudden, we wouldn’t be unreachable hypocrites; we would be human beings who mess up over and over and have to start again. Sure, the church would be messier but then again…it’d be cleaner, more welcoming, and full of love.

Macklemore could have hidden his fall. But he didn’t. He wrote about it. Because in him telling his story, it frees us to tell ours. Christ is freedom; Christ is stories. How can he not be here?

The chorus says, “We fell so hard / Now we gotta get back what we lost.. / I thought you’d go / But you were with me all along.”

I thought you’d go. But you were with me all along. This is what God does. This is what the church should be. This is art that Christ indwells.

Romeo and Juliet: Psychologically Disturbed

Since I was new to the state, I hadn’t had the chance to be put into freshman Honors Freshman English. It was full-up, but apparently, by some act of God or persuasion by my mother (likely the latter), they found a seat for me, somewhere in the back row, where I dutifully read Animal Farm and that poem about running over a deer in the middle of the night.

The last unit of the year was on Romeo and Juliet. This was the first Shakespeare I had ever read, though I had seen some movies borrowed from the library. We watched the one with Leonardo DiCaprio in class, and my sentiments remained the same as when I saw it the first time: what a waste. Romantic, yes, but apparently, a lack of communication kills. This has been re-proven to me by every chick flick I’ve ever seen.

For our final project, we could do whatever we wanted, as long as it was vaguely interesting. We could do a posterboard, or make a scrapbook, or write a song. It could be anything about the story or the characters or whatever. It was just supposed to be creative.

Ugh, creativity. My bane. It’s not that I wasn’t creative; I just tended to get so worried about being creative that it blocked any imagination I could muster. I’m not artsy, so anything like that was out. Why couldn’t I just write a normal ole paper and be done with it?

Then I started thinking. Why did Romeo and Juliet kill themselves? Yeah, out of love, but there had to be more to it. They had to have some psychological issues that drove them to their deed. What was it about their families, their culture, their view of the world that made them overdramatic and rash?

I didn’t know, but I thought some answers might be in a psychology book. We didn’t take psychology until senior year, so I asked to borrow a textbook from that course. When I got it, I poured through the pages, learning about Freud and family life and cultural expectations.

I felt inspired, enlivened as I wrote a detailed diagnosis that I hope my mom still has somewhere. I diagnosed both Romeo and Juliet as greatly disturbed, having issues with their parents and being normal teenagers: their brains weren’t fully developed or capable of rational thought. Add to this the cultural expectations placed upon them and the outdated feud they lived within, and they were ripe for deadly mistakes.

This project was a breakthrough for me, and I began to look at stories and the characters in them in a different way. I began to see the characters as real people with real problems. It’s why we relate to them; it’s why they make us like them, imaginary though they are.

Psychology helps us put definitions to those prevailing aspects of human nature. I was fascinated by the psychology of the characters, how they did things and why. Stories, fiction or nonfiction, teach us things about people, and knowing people informs us about the stories we read. The two are interconnected.

Later in high school, I decided to go my own way from my smart friends and not take every AP classes in every subject. Instead, I decided to specialize in things I loved and how I wanted to view the world. So I took AP Language, AP Literature, and AP Psychology. Then I went on to study English and Psychology in college.

All because of one assignment, one glimpse into the psyches of Romeo and Juliet. It changed everything.

Tea Conversion

I’ve always been wary of caffeine. Not spending my formative years in the coffee-drenched culture of the Pacific Northwest, I didn’t learn at a young age that coffee was not just a way to stay awake, but also a way to connect with those around you. Here, coffee is a way of life, and moving to the area as a freshman in high school, I was a little lost. I didn’t like coffee. Nor did I like tea.

In college, the coffeeshop culture became stronger. Newberg, for example, has an extremely high human-to-coffeeshop ratio.  All social events revolved around “going out for coffee.” I drank many apple ciders and steamers, often feeling like I ordered the child drink while my friends got the grown-up drinks.

I couldn’t budge on coffee; I tried enough sips to know that wasn’t going to happen. But tea! I really wanted to like tea.  The cool kids on campus carried around yerba mate gourdes, or they had organic loose leaf tea blends they got from fancy-sounding grocers. I couldn’t drink wine, but as a literature major, I needed something distinguished to drink as I read Russian novels and feminist poetry.

The problem was tea was too bitter and too watery for me.  I started drinking herbal tea (also known as wimpy tea, by my black tea drinking friends), just to have something warm in the winter that wasn’t on the children’s menu.  But I couldn’t seem to break into the black tea market. I just didn’t like it.

Then I found myself on an airplane, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.  I was flying Qantas Air from Los Angeles to Brisbane. Our time in Brisbane would be brief before I went on to Papua New Guinea, but the flight to get there is longer than you can imagine, fifteen hours of cramped legs and tight spaces. I’ve never been good at sleeping on airplanes, as the littlest noises wake me. I was sleep-deprived already, and I knew with the time change, it wasn’t going to get better.

“Breakfast time” came, which I now realize is entirely in the eye of the beholder, as I was being fed food when most of my countryfolk back home were fast asleep. Standard with the breakfast came tea or coffee. It was necessary for me to be awake for the next twelve hours, when I felt it was the middle of the night. I took the flight attendant up on her offer.

The tea wasn’t amazing, holy, delicious, or earth-shattering. My cultured tea friends would probably say that the tea was terrible.  It was airplane tea. I didn’t like it that much. It was bitter, and it was watery.

Still, it soothed me. It gave me a sweet push toward awakeness. I poured in some milk, some sugar, even some honey. I breathed in the vapors, and they lessened, ever so slightly, the fears I was holding in the pit of my stomach.  I was on my way to a Commonwealth country, known for its love of teatime, so I felt I was beginning to engage with the country, even from the air. The tea was right on so many levels.

Since then, I’ve become a full-fledged tea addict, exacerbated by my trip to the United Kingdom in 2011, where every scone required tea. Now I’m one of those loose-leaf fancy tea drinker, one who smells the aromas of the teas before buying them in ounces. I’m a believer in the wonders of tea: the experience, the taste, and the joy it can give.

When I flew home for Christmas, I got tea from the beverage cart. It was everything I remembered it to be. And it made me smile.

Fear at the Root

I used to keep a journal in high school. Quiet and reserved, I hadn’t learned yet to express myself verbally–that didn’t come until halfway through college, due to some lessons from patient and exasperated outgoing friends. But in high school, I didn’t know how I felt about something until I wrote about it in my journal.

I know quite a few folks who write in journals religiously. Some of them have told me, with a little anxiety, that those bound books house the deepest thoughts–desires, fears, opinions–that they own. Those people hope that no one ever reads their journals–that after they die, the books are burned, unopened. These writers fear a child or grandchild stumbling across the journals, opening them up, and being sickened by the words inside.

I understand needing a place to vent, to expose the worst parts of you so that maybe you can become better. But also I recognize that this is one of the writer’s worst fears: to be misunderstood. Anyone who writes anything fears having someone who loves her come along, read what has been written, and not understand.

Sure, journals are not meant for public consumption, but they are a way to communicate to yourself what your day was like, who you are right now, why you’re in love with that person. All writing is communication. If that communication is broken, the writing itself is dead.

If we as writers are afraid of being misrepresented, we cannot write truth. We write a cleaned-up version of the truth, and the truth is rarely clean. We change ourselves and our ideas, and thus we are misunderstood. Our fears become reality, and we can’t produce good writing. Our readers will recognize this, because the main character is no longer believable; she is too good to be flawed.

This fear isn’t just for personal writing. We can be afraid while writing academic papers too, afraid that our teachers will think us dumb and our opinions stupid. I’ve felt this fear before. For example, I took this course in college that really stretched me in how I thought about the world, God, and myself. It was a literature class, and I was good at literature; I just wasn’t so good at thinking outside the box. When it came to my final paper, I became afraid. I hedged; my thesis wasn’t strong, my opinion wasn’t clear, and I didn’t argue my point effectively. It was all because I was afraid to engage with the material and I was afraid of not doing well in the course. Instead, I should have done that hard work: figured out what I believed and argued for it. Even if my professor didn’t agree with my position, he would have seen my passion through my writing, and I would have gotten a better grade.

It’s easy to be afraid while writing. It’s easy to fluff out essays, to hedge arguments, to be wishy-washy and uncertain. But believing in our own voices and abilities will free us from the fear that can entangle us. We will be heard and understood if we work hard, and our writing will be strong and good because of it.

Let’s be brave this semester, together.

Happy Places and Challenges

You know how people have “happy places?” Places that they wish they were when they’re stressed?  Or places they go in their minds when things are going badly?

I have those places scattered all over.  The photo above is of one.  I was traveling by myself through Edinburgh, Scotland, and after doing touristy things, I was weary of the crowds and the activity.  So I walked away from the center of the city to Calton Hill, which I had seen earlier that day from the castle ramparts, and instantly felt peace and calm wash over me .  From the hill I could see the whole city: Old Town, New Town, Holyroodhouse, the castle, and the sea.  I sat for a while, journaled and prayed, and thought, “This will be one of my places.”

I never would have found the magic of that place if I hadn’t taken a risk.  Nine months earlier, I was in one of my other happy places, the wildlife refuge just past Sherwood, and the thought occurred to me: I should go to the United Kingdom, something I had always dreamed of doing.  Trust me, I was equally excited and scared to death.  I knew, though, that the challenge would be worth it.

Any new semester of college is a challenge, especially if it’s your first year.  I’m embarking on this challenge with you.  But I also know if we risk, we’ll gain great rewards. We’ll meet new people, find new places, and hopefully learn a little bit more about ourselves.  When I was in college, each semester’s challenge always proved to be worth the struggle, and I hope to find the same to be true as a professor.

I’m looking forward to getting to know what challenges you over the next term.  I’m also looking forward to learning what places you run to when life gets stressful, whether they’re actual physical places, activities, or even people.  You’ll get to know more about me too over the course of the semester.

Just remember as the craziness of the semester starts up and syllabus shock sets in: you can do this, and all of the endless work you see on brightly-colored syllabi is possible to complete.  It’s going to be a challenge, but you’ll be a better and stronger person at the semester’s end.

Let’s do this, shall we?

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