Paterna

There are days when I would love to be able to sit down with my grandfathers and talk to them about their lives.

My grandmothers have enabled me to know where I come from. We talk about their past, my parents as children, their lives before my grandfathers, the choices they’ve made throughout their lives. The women in my family are kind of fantastic; they are strong, willful, witty, colorful people, and my reality has been heavily informed by who they are.

Unfortunately, my maternal grandfather, Grandpa – the definition of the word “firecracker” – lived 400 miles away and died when I was 18; by the time I got to the age when I was able and interested in what he had to say, he was gone. My paternal grandfather, Papa, suffered a massive stroke only days after retirement, leaving him unable to walk without a cane or speak clearly, and he, too, died when I was too young to fully appreciate where he had been and what he had been through. They both served in World War II.

Grandpa went to war as a married man. When he returned, his wife had left him. He then met and married my grandmother, whisked her away to a small Texas town to run a restaurant, and in the ensuing years, had three daughters, the oldest of whom is my mother. I wish I could ask him what these things were like. What it was like for a full-blooded German, only two generations away from Germany, to fight in a war against Hitler? What was it like to return home after one of the most traumatic experiences of the 20th century to a wife who decided she didn’t want to be married to him anymore? What was it like to settle into small-town Texas town with his new wife after all that happened? What was it like to hire and work closely with black people in those times when so many people wouldn’t?

Papa married Mimi as a young man and was immediately whisked off to WWII as a pilot. I’ve seen the old black and white photos of him and his friends in his uniform – Papa was a handsome man! I would give anything to be able to ask him what it was like to fly over a Nazi-occupied Paris, to walk through those cobblestone streets after all that had happened there. I want to ask what it was like to tend a thriving garden that helped feed his family (including an asparagus bed!), what it was like to grow up on a farm, what it was like to lose an infant child, what is was like to be so suddenly and severely handicapped just when he and Mimi envisioned moving to a lakeside home to enjoy their retirement, what it was like as Parkinson’s later began to rob him of his motor skills. I dreamed a few year ago that I was flying with him in a small plane over yellow fields of wheat while we talked about his life; I wish I could have done that.

These men, I know, witnessed great joys and tragedies in their lives. They were in the prime of their lives during one of the most fascinating, pivotal decades the world has seen. They both chose to marry two of the strongest ladies I’ve ever known, rather than docile, shrinking violets. They both held together life-long marriages, leaving a legacy of happy, whole, functional families in their wake. I wish I could ask them these questions I have and hear what they witnessed. My friend Frank recently got to interview his grandmother for StoryCorps, and I love that her story will be preserved for her descendants. I have pictures, and I have my parents’ memories, and I even have my grandmothers’ accounts. But I will never be able to ask them myself, and as I sit alone with a cup of coffee, I find myself wishing they were sitting across the table.

Child Sponsorship

I’ve been supporting a little girl through World Vision since I was in college. I wanted to do this earlier in life, but I had no money, so I had to wait until I did. And even then, my mother helped me donate periodically those first few years whenever I was short on funds. I’m still rather short on funds, but the reason I love this program is that it doesn’t take much money to make an impact. World Vision supports children in dozens of countries by providing clean water, food, health care, and supplies needed to attend school.

My little girl is named Nonlanhla, and she lives in South Africa. I get an update on her once a year, with a school photo. I’d love to say she’s a sweet little girl, but Nonlanhla looks like she may be a little punk. She has very short, boy-cut hair, never smiles, and without fail she stares at the person taking her picture like they’ve bothered her. When I started sponsoring her, she was 5, and now she’s 12. I’ve been able to watch her grow up on the other side of the world. I get updates on how she’s doing in school, which subjects she likes best, and she writes a little greeting on each one telling me what she’s been up to. She has sent me Christmas cards, and she wrote me a letter a couple of years ago after her mother died of AIDS. Her father is long gone. She and her little brother went to live with an aunt. Unfortunately, without World Vision’s support, she would probably would not be doing as well as she is. The organization subscribes to the teach-a-man-to-fish school of thought, and instead of providing handouts to poor children, they help improve health, sanitation, electrical services, agricultural practices, and educational opportunities in the kids’ communities in order to help the people help themselves and break the cycle of poverty.

I’m not kidding myself – I know my personal $35 a month doesn’t go very far, and one child is only one child. Luckily, though, organizations like World Vision enable us to make a magnified impact by combining our giving with others’, and to me, it is very worth it. If you’ve never looked into child sponsorship, I urge you to check it out. Compassion International is another great organization doing similar work for $38/month.

If you want to help but don’t have anything to give, there are other easy, fun sites that can help you affect change for free. Below is a short list of giving opportunities and petition sites. Are there other that you know of that you’d like to share?

The Hunger Site and related pages (Breast Cancer/Child Health/Literacy/Rainforest/Animal Rescue Sites): Click to provide food/mammograms/conserve acres of rainforest/etc.

Care2: the largest online community for healthy and green living, human rights, and animal welfare (lots of petitions to sign here)

FreeRice.com: Play a game to test your vocabulary and provide 10 grains of rice with each correct answer through the World Food Programme! It’s fun!

Ripple.org: Click to provide clean water, food, access to education, and micro loans

Shreveport

My little sister turned 21 this month, and to celebrate, we took a weekend trip to Shreveport. We started at Diamondjack’s, and we had lunch at their buffet. Lindsey, being an amateur at casino buffets, ate everything they had in order to get her money’s worth, and she ended up taking a 3-hour nap in the hotel room (we stayed at the El Dorado) while Mom, Dad and I gambled downstairs.

We went next door to Sam’s Town and won nothing, so we went back to El Dorado for dinner. Everyone else gave up early, but I stayed up for a while and played on the same $11 for almost 2 hours!

The next morning, we woke up and packed to leave our little hotel room on the Red River. Mom wasn’t feeling well, so she slept while Lindsey, Dad and I went to the champagne brunch downstairs. The food wasn’t amazing, but I had a life-changing doughnut (maple, cream-filled, with walnuts on top), and there was a champagne fountain for you to make your own mimosas! (For the record, Lindsey didn’t actually drink all those mimosas in the picture – but it’s still hilarious-looking!) Right before we left, I won most of my money back (the slots are so much looser on Sunday morning than Saturday night!) on a Dean Martin machine. Mom had a fever and was feeling awful, so we had to leave to drive her back. I think she picked up some stomach bug on a machine somewhere the night before, because no one else was sick. The day was beautiful, and the drive was pretty. No one won big, but we had a great time. Happy birthday, Lindsey!

Iron Chef America at the White House

I hesitate to get into politics here, but I will just say that THIS is exactly why I voted for Obama. I am endlessly impressed with the White House vegetable garden’s existence to begin with; I think it sends all kinds of great messages. But THEN they shot an episode of Iron Chef America where the secret ingredient was anything from the WH garden, and the first lady made an appearance. ON THE FOOD NETWORK. Bobby, Emeril, and Mario got to traipse around in the garden, gather vegetables, and then go cook with them for the competition (yes, I know the actual vegetables weren’t used for taping in NY, but that’s not the point). In the kitchen, they paired the vegetables with proteins grown/raised within 100 miles of Kitchen Stadium.

[Photos are from foodnetwork.com]

This episode had me glued to the TV. But I think I’m mostly impressed that there is a place on the U.S. government’s website to communicate with citizens why it’s important to create and support local food systems. (I am not giving you a free pass, USDA – you have big issues – but this is a step in the right direction.) Bush did some great things – I’m not saying he didn’t – but this is an important issue for me, and it’s one that his administration didn’t care about, and I love that the Obama administration followed through on their campaign promises to support it. Say what you will about their position on health care reform or the expense of supporting environmentally-friendly policies; if more people grew food in their own communities, understood the ramifications of what they were eating on any given day, and took control – even a little – over their own food supply, there would be cleaner air (no need to overnight those bell peppers from Holland before they spoil) and healthier people to begin with, hence less need for expensive health care and environmental legislation. Call me naive if you like – but small choices like these add up in a big way, and I’m so very glad our President is paying attention.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/12/16/planting-winter-garden

A Response to the Pat Robertson Fiasco

I’ve been hearing a lot about the hurtful, ignorant words of Pat Robertson in response to the earthquake in Haiti this week. In my opinion, his verbal/theological reaction to this tragedy is sickening, and although I know to expect it from him (and others of his ilk), it still shocks me every time. Now, to be fair, I sent $10 to the Red Cross for Haiti aid through a text message on my phone. Mr. Robertson’s humanitarian organization, on the other hand, has given millions of dollars in aid in the wake of this disaster. He clearly cares about the country and its people, and I’m not going to claim that he doesn’t. But his words about the country being hit with an earthquake because it’s cursed, about the pact with the devil…well, the man has clearly got some underlying psychological issues, and his reaction is just not okay with me as a Christian. Heck, it’s not okay with me as a human living in the 21st century. I thought this editorial in Relevant Magazine by the author Donald Miller had some great points. And while I don’t fully agree with Miller’s comments about us all deserving death, his basic sentiment resonates with me, and I wanted to share it.

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January 13, 2010

Back in the day, the comment Pat Robertson made today would have infuriated me. Robertson essentially blamed the devastation that took place in Haiti on the idea that, generations ago, people in Haiti sold their souls to the Devil and are now paying for it. I’m reminded of a similar comment made in a debate on CNN, in which yet another religious figure blamed the devastation in New Orleans following Katrina on the debauchery that took place in that town. Luckily, or perhaps providentially, Tony Campolo was also on the show and pointed out that the French Quarter was fine, that it was low-income minorities who were devastated, and then asked his fellow guest point blank whether God was angry with low-income minorities. The other guest really didn’t know what to say. Any answer would have painted him a loon.

Regardless, Robertson’s comments further divide people of faith from, well, people of faith. I don’t want to debate the theological ramifications of Robertson’s statements, I only want to point out some perspectives that ease my anger, and instead, cause me to pity him. I consider this a more mature response than I would have had a few years ago. Here are a few perspectives that, hopefully, will keep you from throwing a stapler through a wall:

• Many controlling personalities are drawn to the idea of a severe, vengeance oriented God. Robertson must have read a book about Haiti at one point, but it lacked civility to cite that book and espouse an absurd theological idea on television, without context for both. It was reactionary, and came off as a manifestation of his personality, not his theology. Regardless, it was sadly irresponsible for him to make such a devastatingly shocking statement in the context of great hurt. Can you imagine giving the eulogy at a funeral and starting out by saying “before I tell you about God’s grace, let me make it clear that little Johnny deserved to die because he stole candy from a store.” There is something wrong with a person who would do this. These people are often, themselves, controlling. They are wired to build empires, and in order to build empires you have to get people to do what you say, and if you have God standing behind you threatening hurt and pain, you can motivate people. I’ve heard pastors pray and call other men cowards, get angry from the pulpit, yell, belittle other Christian pastors who don’t agree with them, fire people who will not submit to them, surround themselves with yes men and so on. Sadly, they never point the finger at themselves. It’s always YOU or THEM who are the sinners. When they need God’s grace, they usually confess to studying too hard or caring too much. But compassion comes when you realize, and it doesn’t take long to see it, that this person is afraid that if he gives anybody else a free will, they will use it against them. Their mantra is: If I don’t control people, they won’t love me. Psychologists see control as a response to a perceived threat. Picture an adult with an inner twelve-year old saying “I’ll hurt you before you hurt me. I’m tough. I say tough things. Don’t mess with me again.”  In religion, these leaders often project their way of seeing the world onto God. Please forgive me for painting Robertson with a sweeping brush. It’s not always true of controlling people, and there are often good reasons to be harsh and to take action (for instance, when somebody really is trying to control you!) It’s just that this is one of the understandings that has helped me respond to controlling people with more compassion. Theologically, what we all deserve is death, and Christ paid that for us. We live in the New Testament, not the old. Lets spread God’s unconditional love.

• Another truth that gives me a more grounded perspective on Pat Robertson is that he really doesn’t represent most conservatives. I come from a politically and religiously conservative family, and many, many of my friends are very conservative, and all of them would be in shock at Robertson’s statements. The media would have Robertson represent all Christians, or perhaps all conservatives, but the idea is absurd. It’s also important to let people know we think it’s absurd. So here is what the Devil is really going to try to get you to do: Hate other people. Those conservatives, those Christians, those whoever…I think we’d be wise to watch out for that, and stop it at the point where it starts.

• I’ve also found that the more I trust in Christ’s redemption to be sufficient, the less overtly religious I am. And, quite honestly, the more suspect overtly religious people become to me. When I’m with somebody who talks zealously about faith, about Jesus, about the Bible, after a while, I find myself wondering whether or not their faith is strong at all. For instance, if I were with somebody who kept talking about how much they loved their wife, going on loudly and profusely, intuitively I would wonder whether or not they were struggling in their marriage. I would wonder whether they were trying to convince me they loved their wife, or if they were trying to convince themselves. (Now that I think of it, though, some of my favorite people talk about how much they love their wives, but these are less public proclamations and more sighs of appreciation.) Faith in Christ, for me, is similar. It’s intimate. I’m more comfortable giving quiet prayers, intimate prayers. Often alone, in fact. I speak of faith the way I speak of personal matters. Of course there is a time for proclamations, but that’s the key, isn’t it? There’s a time. Anyway, I love that the New Testament is mostly intimate letters written to small groups of people who met in homes. I like the quiet authenticity of our faith. Robertson’s loudness and shock-jock verbiage seems strange and oddly uncompassionate. It felt like he was trying to tell us how tough he was, not how compassionate God is.

An appropriate response to Haiti:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in..”

An appropriate response to Pat Robertson:

“You seem angry and tired. Christ loves you. He is not impressed with your religious posturing. He really loves you. You don’t have to hide behind anything anymore. The good news really is that good.”

* I understand that many of you will want to comment on the theological truths you’ve found that support Robertson’s comments, and also on the good that Robertson has done. Regarding the latter, this was not a blanket dismissal on Robertson’s life or ministry, it was a response to a comment, regarding the former, it’s a debate I ask you to take somewhere else. Also, this isn’t meant to harshly judge Robertson, it’s meant to calm those who might want to throw a tomato at him, while also trying to understand why somebody could make such an insensitive comment at such a painful time. Lets put our tomatoes down.

* For those thinking this blog was too harsh, please understand that in one passing comment, Pat Robertson painted an entire nation as Godless, and deserving of destruction. Reports from Haiti have stated that many fled into the streets, crying out to Jesus for help. Robertson, by referencing an obscure book of unknown origin chose to prejudice an otherwise ignorant Christian audience of gullible and trusting viewers. I propose, then, this post needed to be written. I only wish more Christian leaders would speak during moments like this.

Yes, this is an entire post about a piece of furniture.

I got a real bed! It’s very exciting! And comfortable! And huge (queen)! I don’t even feel bad about buying this, because since college, I’ve been sleeping on secondhand mattresses and the frame my parents bought me as a pre-teen. It was bad. THIS is GOOD.

Wichita

I’ve had a pretty good 2010 so far! Sarah and I drove to Wichita this weekend. We stayed with her aunts, who fed us verrrrry well. Apparently Cathy used to live in Greece and learned to cook there. This is her amazing moussaka and spanikopita. There was a coconut cake that was more like tres leches than anything coconut I’d had before, and it was transcendent.

Their house backs up to the Arkansas River. It snowed overnight, and it was a beautiful sight to wake up to. The still-unnamed CR-V did great on the drive with the snow and ice.

We also visited with Sarah’s grandmother both days. She was a jazz singer in her father’s band when she was young. We sat and listened to her stories about being asked out on a date by Charlie Parker and a few other greats that were friends of the family. She told us about singing at the Roseland Ballroom in NY back in the day. She’s a neat lady with some great stories to tell.

The drive back was long…we may or may not have broken up the monotony by stopping by a casino for a few minutes. I’m determined to make 2010 a better year, and this was a great start! Happy New Year to all of you!