I'm over here.

If you haven't lost all patience with me, please be kind enough to update your blogrolls.


Comings and goings.

I’ve been silent here for so long that I don’t quite know where to start. A lot is going on in my life, and it’s occupied my day-to-day doings so completely that the thought of writing about it, mulling it over in print, is too daunting.

When things become so overwhelming, I resort to lists. Which is part of why I’m becoming a librarian. Which is one of those things I haven’t mentioned here (see “daunting”).

Hopefully I will be able to discuss each of these items in more detail in the future, but for now, a barebones outline of What’s Going On With My Life:

1. On June 28, I ended my job at Calvin College after working there for three years.

2. On August 13, my husband and I will move to Philadelphia.

3. Contrary to our original plans, Nate will be working full-time while I go to school full-time.

4. I’m going to school to become a librarian. Not sure what kind yet. Maybe public, specializing in young adult literature. Maybe a broadcast librarian, maintaining digital archives and doing research and reference work for journalists.

What’s pertinent in this forum is that I’m not sure what to do with Evangelical Expat. Part of the reason that I haven’t posted much, in addition to the Big Life Changes I named above, is that I’ve grown tired of deliberately filtering everything through my jaded-yet-hopeful expatriate lens. There have been things that I’ve wanted to write about here that I didn’t feel I could, because they didn’t fit topically with the stated purpose of this blog.

That’s frustrating, because the fact is, being an evangelical expatriate is no longer my primary identity. For a long time, largely because I was working at Calvin, I was wrestling with what it meant to be a Christian outside the mainstream, what it meant to be in the subculture but not of it, yet of the subculture and not in it. That took most of my energy, but I got the energy back from having conversations about the very things that drained me.

It’s not that I don’t wrestle anymore. It’s not that I’ve given up. It’s just that I’ve made peace. I’m an evangelical. I’m not content with that 99.9% of the time, but contentedness and peace are two different things.

The point is, I want and need to widen my focus. The expatriate identity has become stifling, because it’s not all there is to who I am or, more importantly, what trying to know and honor God is about. I just want to be myself, not a representative of a somewhat contrived movement.

That doesn’t mean I’ll never write about expatriotic issues anymore. I will, because they’re part of me. But I’ll have more energy for them if I can also tell you about the radio project a girlfriend and I have conceived that will revolutionize your car trips. If I can also muse over what happens when we move back to the east coast and try to reintegrate our Midwestern experience with our Yankee roots (and Nathan’s Southern ancestry, too). If I can just talk about what I’ve been listening to, what I’ve been reading, the television show I really like. If I can post links to my obsessive Flickring, documenting our new neighborhood and our best friends. If I can share my favorite recipes, because you know what? I really like to cook.

I haven’t felt free to do any of that before, and it’s time. I hope what I have to say will still be interesting to the people who occasionally stop by here. My guess is that it will be more interesting to me, if no one else, and right now that seems worth it.

At this point, I’m uncertain whether I should keep the Evangelical Expatriate name. It might be time to move to another address, one which doesn’t promise something it can no longer deliver. I won’t be hasty, but I’d appreciate your input on that. Should I stay or should I go?


Darfur burning.

The final score of yesterday’s deathmatch with technology:

Technology: 1

Human who forgot to Ctrl-S: 0 and falling

Obviously this indicates that the Singularity is one step closer to evolving our homo sapien asses into obscurity. On a less colossal scale, I hope you will forgive my inability to muster up the chutzpah to recreate my piece at the moment.

However, since I am on deadline for Sojourners, I will have to write about celebrity activism at some point this week. I hope to be able to whip up some musings about why it takes George Clooney dressed in snappy journalist-on-safari khakis to convince Americans to give a half a shit about Darfur. I’m not yet sure if this will be a thoughtful analysis, as in “here’s why,” or a half-crazed lament, as in “WHY GOD WHY?!”

All [scratch that: "most," as of an interview this morning] of the professional activists and organizers I talked to for my article took the former approach, explaining to me that though celebrity worship is weird and occasionally unsavory, it gets people to sign up for their campaigns, and who are they to question that reality? I, on the other hand, threw up on the Marie Claire spread where Drew Barrymore waxes romantic about poverty, while a Valentino model poses erotically on the facing page. I can’t quite reconcile the incongruities, but the fact that so many devoted activists support celebrity activism in spite of them humbles me.

Speaking of humbling, I want to pass on a portion of an email from my friend Sarah, who as you may remember is an aid worker in Sudan. She is my Darfur connection, and I greet each of her electronic updates with a mixture of wonder and trepidation. Wonder because Sarah herself is a wonder, strong and competent and loving, her writing hopping gleefully between the five languages that occupy her brain, illuminating the daily news from the other side of the world. And trepidation because that daily news is so often bad news. Last week, she forwarded me a BBC report, and her comments were simply, “Bad here. Really bad.”

Wonder and trepidation meet as usual in her latest letter, which describes the awfulness of the escalating violence and upheaval in Darfur, the slow march of tens of thousands of Sudanese, the tentative prospects of a fragile peace, on a gut-wrenchingly human scale. The suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world can be so overwhelming, because globalization makes possible the 24/7 electronic transmission of that suffering. We all suffer from “disaster fatigue.” I am thankful to have friends who are known and beloved to me in the midst of it, because they help me remember that what I see on television is real.

Here is what Sarah wrote:

April 25th, 2006

I walk into the office - the meeting room is full of Dinka sultans, a tribe originally from south Sudan that moved to Darfur to escape the conflict of south Sudan. Long dark faces, weathered eyes, slender limbs and hands.

"Can you help us... were from X (village 10 minutes away from fighting) - we want to go home, to south Sudan. We are afraid, we can hear the fighting, there is too much death in this place too much death. Can u help us get home?"

"Last year they came from that side, they came from this side - they don't even care about us, but were always caught in the middle. I can't protect my people... we've seen our wives, children, parents die. There is much water in our eyes... we only have water in our eyes. Can you help us go home? No more water in our eyes... please."


Water in their eyes, water in my eyes, water in God's eyes, water in the Churches' eyes. May there be water in all our eyes for the hurting places of this world. But may there be more - may there be that fierce anger and determination that says enough - please remember Darfur.

I would confess discouragement - but I am not discouraged. Rather, again I realize how important the power of presence is, even when you know damage cannot be undone, even when you know more often than not your lose rather than win. We, as believers are called to the dark and hurting places of this world. I get up every morning and I am so GLAD to be here - so grateful to be apart of something that says ENOUGH.

Please continue to say enough back home. Please remember Darfur.

Darfur is the headliner on BBC and CNN international tonight - please watch tonight's evening news as the AU seeks to broker a new peace treaty. There is also a new congressional supplemental budget scheduled for Darfur in June - if you have the time please write your congressman.

Please remember Darfur.

Paul Rusesabagina, the now-famous Rwandan hotelier, often reminds us that the most abused words about genocide are the post-Holocaust vow, “Never again.” Rusesabagina reminds us that is not enough—because genocide is happening even now, again and again and again and again.

With Sarah and with many other voices in Africa, let us all try to say “enough.”


Watch this space.

Well, I have learned my lesson.

I am typing this blog entry in Word right now. I’m sure most other people figured out a long time ago that this (or some other self-saving, blog-specific software) was the way to go.

Not me. Until now.

I was happily typing away this morning, about to update EE with its first substantial entry in ages. I was chugging along on a piece about Darfur and celebrity activism, as a preamble/first draft for the Sojourners article I’m writing. I was amped.

It occurred to me once or twice that I should “Save as Draft” or copy and paste into Word, just in case. I am militant about saving when I’m writing in Word, but somehow that safety net escapes me whenever I’m blogging. There was even a nagging little voice that surfaced to remind me that I have, at times, managed spastic and involuntary navigation away from the page, and what was to ensure that this time would be any different?

I ignored the voice. I plowed ahead. I was kicking ass. I was on my second-to-last sentence.

The power went out.

I lost everything.

So did one of my co-workers, and she and I flailed around and moaned for a little while in the dark. We actually lay down on the grubby office carpet. There was sackcloth and ashes and rending of garments. I threw things.

I have no one to blame but myself, of course.

So now I am typing in Word, making sure my fingers hit Ctrl-S every few seconds. If anyone knows of a magic trick to resurrect the original entry I’d written in Blogger, I’d certainly appreciate it. A page somehow cached, perhaps. I know it’s most likely futile. Words are vapor when you don’t Ctrl-S them.

I’ll probably try to reconstruct the Darfur piece, because what’s happening there is important and I want to showcase some of the reflections of a friend on the ground. I’m still mourning the original words right now, even though I’m the one who neglected them and let them die.


I can't believe the news today.

Four students and a staff member are dead at Taylor University.

How many times have I driven that stretch of highway between Taylor and Fort Wayne?

I am overwhelmed by how unfair everything is.

This is too much I want to say and can't. Later. For now, I am grateful that students have an opportunity to grieve with one another without having to worry about going to classes. One of my worst memories of my time at Taylor is having to take a pop quiz the day after 9/11. Classes were not canceled on that awful day, and the "prayer service" consisted of belting out "A Mighty Fortress is Our God." I am exceedingly thankful that Taylor has a new president (among other assorted administrators) who recognizes the value of mourning corporately and taking time out from the ordinary when something this out-of-the-ordinary crashes in on our reality.


Going public.

There's a video featuring the late, revered Christian Reformed writer Lewis Smedes that's been getting a lot of press in the web-circles I run in. I finally got around to reading the transcript today, and I felt that I couldn't let another minute go by without adding my "amen" to the chorus.

Like the Real Live Preacher, I abandoned any hope of orthodoxy on the matter of gay folks in the church a few years ago. I just gave up. Because I couldn't bring myself to believe it's a sin, and I couldn't bring myself to believe that gay people should be excluded from either general community, the eucharist or leadership in the church. I've known too many gay people, and I've loved them too much. I've never felt right agreeing that they ought to be prohibited at the outset from experiencing romantic love in their lives, was the main thing.

I got tired of arguing about it with others, though, those cyclical debates in which no one could win but everyone lost. It all came to a head last spring when a group of my friends from college got together for a reunion and ended up debating homosexuality over Cheerios one morning. I simply didn't have the energy for that discussion and so sat there silently--but as a result, I ended up hanging one of my best friends out to dry. She carried "our" side on her own, and when we were alone later, she became furious with me for leaving her to be torn apart by friends she loves, to be questioned on her doctrine and the very grain of her faith. She was right to be angry.

It's taken me awhile to admit it, but reading Lewis Smedes put everything right in my mind and heart. If you read what Lewis Smedes has to say on the topic of homosexuality, you know what I have to say, too. I'm still reluctant to take part in debates on the subject, because they never seem to go anywhere useful or gracious. But it is important to speak up for the people you call your friends, even if you are a vanilla, heterosexual white girl like me. I know where I stand now, for as I always suspected, I can do no other. Amen.


What to wear?

Originally uploaded by kebojo.
My office at Calvin sponsored a student-run fashion show this Saturday. Calvin is an unusually hostile environment for people who are interested in textiles and the fashion industry, but the reception garnered by their original designs and creatively assembled outfits was nothing but enthusiastic. The response was invigorating, particularly given the near-constant antagonism our office has received (mostly from faculty) since the show's inception.

Following is a piece I wrote that was included in the program for the fashion show.


What’s the first thing you do when you get up in the morning? You probably shower, brush your teeth—and then, you stand in front of your closet and figure out what to wear.

To some, this decision may not seem important. Clothing is purely functional; society requires people to cover their bodies in fabric, and so they do—no matter what that fabric feels like, how it drapes, or how it complements or clashes with other fabrics on their body.

But others are considering just that. Would this top look better with a belt or hanging loose? Do these two patterns contradict one another or bring out the unique qualities of both? Is adding earrings to this outfit overkill or just the right touch? What does a skinny tie say when paired with this shirt?

Unfortunately, that people ask these questions is often derided as materialistic, narcissistic, and vapid by those who dress for comfort or utility. This is especially common among Christians who have been influenced by traditional Protestant values like thrift and modesty. To them, fashion is the antithesis of faith, representing all that is worldly and vulgar.

Certainly there is much in modern fashion that Christians ought to criticize. Impossibly thin models are held up as the standard by which all other women are judged, nevermind the health risks and distorted ideas of what it means to be female. Working conditions for those who make most of our clothing are dismal, and our purchases reinforce an economy that thrives on cheaply made goods. And among popular mall designers, fashion lacks subtlety and class, as evidenced by the particularly gauche trend of labeling t-shirts with brash sexual solicitations.

But adorning one’s body does not necessarily have to be an exercise in the sexier-than-thou oneupsmanship that permeates popular culture. As the students behind tonight’s show will demonstrate, the question of “what to wear” is about more than what’s hot in fashion, whether in mall windows or on the runways. Calvin’s designers, make-up artists, and hair artists are just that—artists. From hand-sewn evening gowns to found-object accessories to hodge-podge thrift-store castoffs, the clothing in tonight’s show is a testament to the potential of fashion to speak truth aesthetically, culturally, and theologically.

These students are motivated by a variety of considerations in deciding what to wear. Some dress to shock, to awaken, to give affront to homogeneity. Others say that their clothing is an opportunity to literally wear their personalities on their sleeves. Others select their outfits mindful that not everyone in the world has that luxury, favoring designers who pay seamstresses a fair wage and use materials that are gentle on the earth. For still others, fashion is primarily a creative act; to design clothing or apply make-up or arrange hair is to work with a living canvas and make a walking, talking work of art.

In a cultural climate that sees fashion as a means of adhering to the status quo, attracting sexual partners, or demonstrating wealth, these students’ attitude towards fashion is profoundly countercultural. It is also profoundly Christian. In the Reformed tradition, we believe in the redemption of all things, including the earth on which we stand and our bodies that work and play and eat and, yes, dress every day.

In this economy, even the most quotidian activities matter. People need food, shelter, and clothing to survive, but we need beauty, too, to point beyond mere survival. Like a delicious meal or innovative architecture, clothing can be a celebration of the life abundant, and of the bodies that God created and called good.

This is what we celebrate tonight. We invite you to enter the creative process with us, considering thoughtfully and imaginatively what to wear.