Friday, February 29, 2008

What is up with all the Christian sex?

Is this just because of the baby boomlet or what?

First we get NPR's fascinating interview with the guru of Christian sex toys.

Now we have pastors spending their time from the pulpit not on such petty issues as following Jesus, loving mercy, doing justice - ha! Who has time for that when we could talk about SEX!!! I mean, Jesus does tell us to love our neighbor (as we love ourselves...hmmm...), but this is ridiculous.

Sorry to be out of touch lately - it's getting on to week 9 in the quarter, plus I have Big Things to worry about (e.g. applying for aid, finishing papers, figuring out where to go to school next year), so I'm just out of it and can only get on here occasionally when something MUST be shared.

But big thanks to those of you who've commented positively about my atonement post. I guess my prof liked it too (my paper was exactly what I posted on here, but it was the general gist), because not only did I get an A, but he said it was possibly the best he'd ever read for that assignment. WOW! And here I was all worried because I still don't feel like I really have a handle on the whole thing. I guess I have enough of a handle for now.

And I think I've just been skewed and freaked out by my other class, where no matter how hard I work I can't crack a B grade. I'm just not used to that - to not improving, to not having any idea how to do better when working harder doesn't do it. But now I realize that in fact, it's not me, it's just the prof. Because my systematics papers were given proper A's, which was appropriate to the work I put into them. Now I feel a bit more reassured that I haven't lost all academic ability. That's good, going into a PhD, to feel that way, I think.

I am doing very well, too, riding around that B or B- range. One of my poor classmates is actually failing, and he's trying to graduate too. Yuck. What a horrible situation. I feel for him!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

An article from Ogden, UT paper

My surprise at finding that I belong to a gay church

Robert Kirby
Tribune columnist

I don't know how much more conservative a religion could be than the LDS Church. The list of things I'm not allowed to do as a Mormon ranges from smoking cigarettes to shooting orphans. It's a full-time job just trying to be this conservative, especially for Mormons with short attention spans like mine. And full fellowship borders on sensory deprivation.

Fortunately we have leaders to show us the way, good and honest men so conservative that a microscopic examination of their DNA might reveal a genetic marker for neckties.

I was therefore completely surprised last Saturday when I attended President Gordon B. Hinckley's funeral and discovered that some Christians consider us a gay church and - brace yourselves - that President Hinckley was an enabler of homosexuals.

According to demonstrators outside the LDS Conference Center, the church does not do enough to suppress homosexuality. Protesters carried signs accusing us in the most pejorative terms of supporting gays.

One placard featured an illustration of a sex act between two males and the words "fag church."
Sorry about that. But I figure you need to know just how stupid it was getting, because it was about to get even stupider.

When asked what President Hinckley had done that enabled homosexuals, one woman said it was because the leader of the LDS Church preached that God loves all his children, including the gay ones.

That's it? God loves all his children, and that makes us a gay church? She emphatically nodded an increasingly smaller head.

Wow. Talk about having my mind opened. I couldn't stop marveling over the fact that if this woman had a valid driver's license, there's really no reason chimpanzees couldn't file a class-action lawsuit and get them, too.

The LDS Church as a gay church would be a surprise to gay Mormons and their families. It's also surprising to Mormons like me who don't have much of an opinion on the matter and don't plan on getting one either.

According to other personal friends of the Savior who had invited themselves to the funeral, Mormons aren't even Christian.

Such ecclesiastical-based fault finding isn't limited to just fools and loons of other faiths. I hear it in my own church from time to time, casual but heartfelt pronouncements about what other people believe and whether they could possibly be happy doing it. I did it myself back when I was a genius.

If religion is a deeply personal matter, it should do a better job of staying there. If your religion is more about making you a better person than it is about making other people worse, it's probably the right one for you.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Am I voting or picking a school?

So here's a scary thing we put together today at lunch (there was not even booze involved, I swear): my PhD discernment process is mirroring the election. More specifically, my schools each relate to a Republican candidate.

First we determined that Wilfrid Laurier is my Mitt Romney. It was super hot for a while and I was really excited about it. But by now, it's kind of lost my interest. I was never all that sure what it was about, anyway. So for all intents and purposes, it's pretty much out of the race.

Fuller is the little Evangelical that could - Fuller is my Huckabee. It came out of nowhere and shocked me by how well it's doing in my personal polling. Suddenly, this school I never expected to be interested in - that's a pretty darn conservative Christian - is making waves against my bigger candidates. Still, I don't really expect it to win. But I can't write it off, either. After all, I'll bet Fuller believes in miracles, not math.

The really funny one is that Notre Dame is my Ron Paul. It seems like a good idea in theory, but doesn't really pan out when you consider the ramifications. ND has lots of devoted supporters, and I can get behind some of what makes it great. But it just never seemed realistic.

And of course, there's my McCain: GTU. Last summer, we'd written off the GTU, figuring it to be irrelevant and uninteresting. Then it roared back in an incredibly short amount of time to make all the others pale in comparison. Sure, it's more liberal than the rest. It doesn't exactly fit everybody's idea of what a PhD should be. But I like its maverick style. And it's my frontrunner.

I don't know. It was amusing at lunch, anyway.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Christian Sex Toys

Now I have seen/heard it all.

My favorite moment: "We do not sell any products that are formed after a real human being. We liken that to bringing a third person into the bedroom, which, you know, basically is a form of adultery."

(to purchase or just browse, see

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Systematic Theology

I’ve finished my first two systematics papers for my Christology and Soteriology class. It’s probably not advisable for me to reproduce them here in their entirety (don’t want to tempt any present or future classmates). But I really want to share with you what I’ve learned from writing them, because I’m really starting to get some kind of handle on what I believe about this stuff. And that’s exciting, because these were the questions I entered seminary with most urgently. Now I’m almost done – I mean, like 4 weeks from being done! – and I’m finally finally getting some answers. It’s supercool.

I guess I’m more excited about the atonement one than about the other (which is an essay on why we should/should not pray to Jesus). So I’ll list out some of the main things I gleaned from the former. If you're curious about the latter, leave me a comment or email me and I'll send you my paper (if enough people are interested I'll just post the main ideas). Anyway here's where I'm coming down on the cross/atonement (at this time in my life, anyway!):

First: Jesus died willingly on the cross. I know that this may seem obvious. But for a while there I was in the “cosmic mistake” camp that says it was just a tragedy caused entirely by humans or by sin. In fact, I don’t think it was. I think it was actually planned by God. Not the cross part necessarily (my prof had a funny illustration that Jesus could have been stoned and it would have served the same purpose, and we’d all wear little rocks instead of crosses as jewelry), but definitely the dying part.

Second: Jesus was God dying on the cross. Jesus’ divine nature didn’t fly away that day, even when he said God had forsaken him, and certainly not because God is somehow too pure to be mucked up in sin (despite what Habakkuk 1:13, which I’m presently translating for my other class, says). Mostly I believe this because I don’t think Jesus could have split his natures like that. It’s not like a personality that can split. It’s who he is – human and divine, at once. If one is missing, then it’s not really Jesus anymore. He wasn’t a human possessed by a divine spirit (Apollinaris), nor was he a divinity who just seemed to be human (docetism), nor was he a human who was elevated to the level of God’s son based on his exemplary life (adoptionism). He was just God and Man. Deus Homo. I can’t explain that part. It’s just a faith thing. But I know that it only works if he’s both at all times, including on the cross.

Third: Which means, God was on the cross, and God died. That part really makes my head spin. I go in circles trying to figure out how God could experience death – if death is separation from God, does that mean that God separated internally? But that seems impossible, so did he not really die? No, he died…maybe he died without the separation happening? This part I have not figured out. I tried to just avoid it in my paper. I can’t wrap my mind around God dying. But the implications of it are amazing.

Fourth: I do feel like I have a handle on Jesus’ cry from the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He was quoting the first line of Psalm 22, which would have brought to mind the entire psalm for the Jewish observers of the crucifixion and those hearing or reading the story later on (similarly, if I were to say “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,” your mind would probably complete the sentence: “that saved a wretch like me”). If we go to Psalm 22 and read the full text to which Jesus was referring, we see that it is a prayer made in a desperate time that is ultimately very certain of the faithfulness of God. The psalm has lines of despair, begging for God’s help, but at the same time affirms an unshakeable faith that help will come: “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him” (v. 24). By quoting this psalm, Jesus isn’t saying that God has left him, but in fact is saying God is right there with him, suffering selflessly for the love of humanity. It is a cry of pain – a cry in solidarity with our pain – but at the same time it is a cry of faith and of absolute confidence in God’s presence.

Fifth: The way I think of the cross now is in terms of relational anguish between the closest possible persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – who are all still divine and still in relationship throughout the crucifixion. The cross is a crisis within the life of God, not something God watched from afar. (yes, I’m on the Moltmann train) Now only God the Son was actually on the cross, but it was experienced by all the persons of the Godhead. Moltmann says, “The Father lets his son sacrifice himself through the Spirit”. That kind of sums it up. Everybody suffered that day. And everybody did it willingly, and for the same purpose: to defeat death so that humans didn’t need to be separated from God any more ever again.

Sixth: The Son did not die to satisfy the wrath of the Father or of God (Jesus’ will was the same as his Father’s. Jesus didn’t will salvation and the Father judgment. Their wills were the same: that none should be lost – John 3:16-17, 1 Tim 2:3-4, 2 Pet 3:9). The cross is not a judicial arrangement taking place outside the sphere of human affairs. Because Jesus is totally human, it is intimately involved in human affairs. On the cross, God is completely identifying with humanity, and in our most vulnerable place: our pain. Our distance from God. God takes on the worst of what it means to be human because that’s who God is. That’s how God gets close to us. In our pain, our suffering. God’s love is in self-emptying and suffering (John 3:16, Rom. 8:32, Gal. 2:20); when we are called to imitate Christ, our paradigm is his kenosis (Phil. 2:5-8). “The cross was a window into the very heart of God, for in and behind the cross, it was God the Father himself who paid the cost of our salvation. And so through the shedding of the blood of Christ in atoning sacrifice for our sin the innermost nature of God the Father as holy compassionate love has been revealed to us.” (Thomas Torrance) “The theology of surrender is misunderstood and perverted into its very opposite unless it is grasped as being the theology of the pain of God, which means the divine co-suffering or compassion.” (Moltmann)

If we don’t accept that God himself/herself suffered on the cross with us, then we are stuck in the mindset that God does not truly understand and identify with our suffering. This will cause us to be mired in guilt and shame as we cower before a God too holy to be in the presence of sin. In fact, if Jesus was God on the cross, where he was “made to be sin” (2 Cor. 5:21) and “a curse” (Gal. 3:13), then God has fully identified with sinful humanity and we need not be afraid to approach the throne. See Rom. 3:23-4, 1 Cor. 6:11, Titus 3:4-7, Heb. 4:16. (look at me, finally using prooftexts! What fun!)

It is integral to our salvation that God suffers with us and is with us in our distress and pain. God exhibited this throughout history by identifying with his people Israel. The good news for humanity is that God is not far away from us in transcendent immutability, but rather actively engaged in our lives and invested in our relationship with him. If we do not believe this, we should not even bother to pray! But we do believe that when Jesus is called “Emmanuel” it really means that in him, God is with us. God so strongly identified with us that he became human and took on the sentence of death that being human entails. And when it came time for that sentence to be carried out, he remained with us in the experience of death. This is the good news of the cross: that in the darkest hour, the hour of “god-forsakenness,” God was right there. God was on the cross.

Seventh: The salvation of humans was set in motion at the incarnation, not at the crucifixion, and it was finalized at the resurrection. When God came as a human being, God took on the sentence of death (not sin, but death). The moment that happened, at Jesus’ first breath, death was doomed. For death would not be able to hold him, and when Jesus was resurrected, death was defeated not only for him but for everyone. God was fully aware of the consequences of his incarnation and willingly emptied himself for the sake of humanity.

There is also something interesting that my prof keeps talking about involving the fact that by becoming human, God healed humanity. It's not just that Jesus was a model for how to live life, but he actually opened the way for all of us to live like he did - maybe even, potentially, sinlessly? Or at least, live in the kingdom - see that it is here now and live accordingly. Something about God taking on human flesh and ridding it of guilt and sin can transfer to the rest of us, but I don't quite get that yet. What I do think I'm starting to believe is that this "already but not yet" stuff isn't quite right. I really think that, especially if you read just the gospels and maybe the Johannine literature, you can make a case that the kingdom is already here. Well it doesn't seem like it, you say. There is war and mourning and pain still. Well maybe the kingdom doesn't look like we think it does - maybe the perfection we all expect at the end of it all isn't the way it goes. If you think about it, the original creation, if you subscribe to evolutionary theory, was full of pain from the start - there was always death and things killing each other and stuff. But it was in a process of getting better. That's why humans were told to subdue the earth - because the earth wasn't finished - even in the garden of Eden, the idyllic paradise (mythical or not), humans were told to subdue. So there were still things needing finishing. And they were told to multiply - so the society wasn't complete yet. I mean, there are little glimpses that the world was always meant to be a co-project between God and people, and that it will just continue progressing towards completion...maybe forever? I don't know. Maybe a few millenia from now we'll have lions and lambs domesticated and living together. Maybe we'll get to a place where through diplomacy, war is no more. I like to think that we're partnering with God in all this and we're not just waiting for Jesus to come again and clean up our mess. And I also like to think that when Jesus preached that the kingdom was "at hand" he meant it. It really came along with him. Maybe even the stuff in Revelation about the new city coming down was accomplished at the resurrection - or the new city, the new Jerusalem, is the church. There are a lot of ways to think about this. And even if it's wrong, I like the way that it would make me live my life - it would give me more of a purpose, more work to do, instead of simply trying to convince people they should do something to get into heaven. I like thinking that I have meaningful work now and not just for the afterlife.

Wow, that was a tangent. Sorry. Back to Christology. We're to the eighth (day) now - completeness!

Eighth: Without the resurrection, the cross means nothing. This isn’t me, I’m quoting Paul. The party is on Easter. The pain is on Good Friday (since Christ entered our pain, it’s only fair that we enter his too). The focus on the cross is misplaced. The cross is important, but it’s not the whole story by any stretch. It’s only significant in light of the birth (incarnation), life (teachings), and resurrection (triumph) of Christ. Without the other pieces, it means nothing. The only way it can be central is if you believe that it was demanded by a God who had to have death to stop being mad at humans. I never believed that. Now I have good reasons why. The cross was the moment of God’s closest solidarity with us (and the strongest alignment between Father and Son, too), it was the inevitable result of God’s incarnation, it was the fulfillment of everything Jesus taught (love your enemies! Turn the other cheek!), and it was the prelude to the triumph of God’s life in Christ at the resurrection.

By raising the God-man Jesus, not only did God defeat death once for all, but he provided the promise of our resurrection – the first-fruits of the new creation that we enter by our baptism (1 Cor. 15). As Jesus was “Emmanuel” in death, so he will be “Emmanuel” in our resurrection and eternal life. I understand this to be the good news of salvation, based upon the divine being incarnating, living among us, dying, and rising again, so that we could follow in his steps (2 Cor. 5:17-21).

So that’s basically what I’ve been learning. I don’t know if it comes across as a tight theology, but it’s made me feel a lot more coherent. And it’s done wonders for my faith. All this stuff comes rushing into my head every week as we behold the Lamb during Eucharist. It’s just tremendous. Whoever knew systematics could do this? I sure didn’t. But I’m grateful.

Matthew 5 Project

I encourage you to read and, if you like, sign this statement based on Matt. 5 that encourages diplomacy in lieu of war. It is specifically directed at Christian Evangelicals, but I think those of many faiths could get on board with these particular teachings of Jesus.

Also, you seminarians, note the sermon contest - $750 prize! And a video contest too. Not bad.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bring in da funk

Sorry not to be writing, I'm in a bit of a funk lately, and also I've had sooooo many papers to write. I'm now sitting in class learning that I screwed up my last paper royally. I don't even know if I want to know what happened on my midterm. 4 more weeks, baby.

But I did want to just say thanks to those of you praying for my discernment through the PhD decision - depending on the day I get very sure that I either can or cannot go up north. Some days it seems impossible and others it seems obvious. I think my heart is up there. We are both so excited to think of it. We just have to figure out this money thing. J is checking into all the possibilities for adjunct teaching, but could use some more contacts. He's looking at online teaching too. Ideas? Help?

Also if anybody from up there or who knows people up there wants to pass along our housing needs, that would be cool. We're just putting out the word to everyone in the hopes that someone will hear, say, someone in the grocery line saying they need another family in their commune, or an old lady at church who wants to rent out her back house, or whatever. I can't even imagine what God might have in store. We're up for work exchange, co-housing, garage apartment, stuff outside the box. We're actually tired of traditional apartment living. (esp with all the nonsense lately with our management! which got worked out, I think)

Well I should get back to class. The senioritis is grabbing hold of me...and these classes are just too hard. I have met my match, and thy name is Hebrew. At least it didn't make me flunk out of seminary, like my dad. :)

Locavore Nation

Find a locavore near you for ideas for how to eat more locally!

Friday, February 15, 2008

Pure Gold

I know he drives some people nuts, and some question his appropriateness on the opinion section of a major newspaper, but I love Joel Stein. He just's so LA. He's exactly right for our paper. And this week's column was pure solid comic gold (last week's, on Obamaphilia, was pretty great too). I simply have to reproduce it here for your amusement. If you've ever been a Christian in Hollywood like I have, it will resonate on even more levels. Enjoy. Try not to snort coffee out your nose (I'm talking to you, MBW, you big snorter you).

Peter Principle of award shows
A night at the Christian Oscars.
Joel Stein
February 15, 2008

Christians never do pop culture right. Their rock songs are clogged with nature metaphors, their video games are too soft, their Orlando amusement park houses an attraction called "The Scriptorium: Center for Biblical Antiquities." So when I found out about the Christian Oscars -- the nickname for the Movieguide Faith and Values Awards -- I had to see how they'd ruin an awards show. Could their movie stars masterself-congratulations? Act happy for people they don't really like? Could this be the pop culture arena Christians do better than heathens?

Though I expected a small, pious event, I learned there are no small awards shows anymore. Not even on a Tuesday. The red carpet at the Beverly Hilton was so clogged -- "Extra," "Entertainment Tonight," the Christian version of "Extra," the Christian version of "Entertainment Tonight" -- that the fire marshal turned reporters away. There were also plenty of celebrities: Macy Gray, Louis Gossett Jr., Stephen Baldwin, Buzz Aldrin, Lee Meriwether, Jane Russell. This was such a big deal that even dead people came.

Inside the same ballroom where the Golden Globes are held, I was seated at a table full of Dutch and German Christians. To my right was Jutta Renz, who told me she introduced muffins to Germany and is known there as "Miss Muffin." She has written 12 muffin cookbooks, created muffin cartoon characters and, divinely inspired, dashed off an entire muffin-based musical in one night. She's in L.A. for a few weeks looking for an agent to handle her hyphenate talents (her card says "music-media-muffins"). But she doesn't like what she's learning: "An agent gets 10%? I'd rather give it to a good person."

Though the Christian Oscars looked just like any other awards show, there were some differences. The Oscars don't start with a prayer. And they don't have a letter in their program from President Bush wishing them a successful event. I stared at it for a long time, wondering if all his correspondence begins, "I send greetings." I got the feeling that Bush expected that, during his presidency, he'd get to meet aliens.

Also, there's no PowerPoint at the Oscars. Ted Baehr, who runs Movieguide, gives a great slide show, only one frame of which mentioned "cussing." One slide explained that, back in 1985, when he first started his organization, only one movie -- "Trip to Bountiful" -- had faith and values. Now 51.7% of movies do, including "Live Free or Die Hard." The definition might have expanded a little.

Typical award winners simply thank God for deciding that the People's Choice Award should go to them. But at the Christian Oscars, a simple thanks won't do. Bailey Madison, just 8 years old yet accepting one of several awards given to "Saving Sarah Cain," said, "Every morning I wake up and say a prayer to let God shine his light through me." When I was 8, I just wanted God to keep making more "Garfield" cartoons.

Not everyone at the Movieguide awards was part of the Christian right. Some were just looking for attention, even if that meant Christian attention. Asked about her Christian-ness, presenter Adrienne Janic, host of TLC's car show "Overhaulin'," would only say she was "a good person." When I pressed her on her favorite value, she chose "fun." Also, she might not have dressed appropriately. "Did you notice I've got two napkins on my lap? That's because the slit goes all the way up my dress," she said. When she was warned of the long-term implications of wearing that dress to this event, she said, "Oh, I've got a mansion in hell."

But most of the people there really did want to make films and shows with faith and values. Actress Ali Landry, who won an award for the film "Bella," may have once been the hot Doritos girl, but she has become an observant Catholic. "I had a big event in my personal life. Then I reevaluated and started going to theology class, and then I found my husband," she said. That big event was Mario Lopez cheating on her.

God really does work in mysterious ways.

As the show went on, I got a little overwhelmed by the Jesus stuff. And all the well-intentioned attempts to squeak clean the culture didn't convince me that sex and violence in art isn't truthful and cathartic. Shakespeare, after all, would never win a Faith and Values award. But "Alvin and the Chipmunks" did.

Everyone went home with a gift bag that consisted of a Bible. I don't think that book is an answer to the world's problems, but maybe it's better than praying at the altar of celebrity. Though they could have thrown in some face cream, sunglasses and a gym membership. Christians still have a lot to learn.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Not another teen movie!

Last night I went to one of those free test screenings that are rampant in Pasadena (it's funny - we were commenting that people complain that Christians have no voice in Hollywood, but in fact, all these test screening audiences are like 10% Fuller people or more). I always consider it my responsibility to let you fine folks know what I've seen and how I liked it.

I am very pleased to report that the film I saw was wonderful and likely to be a runaway hit this year along the lines of, oh I don't know, whatever documentaries have been popular lately. And it was a documentary, but you almost couldn't tell. It's called American Teen, and it took Sundance by storm, and as soon as they get it in theaters you should get your butt in a seat. The title of my post notwithstanding, it's completely worth your time - you'll laugh, cry, and enjoy the extra features (lots of funky animation, e.g.) that make it rather unique among docs.

So here's what we learn from following the lives of four teens in their senior year at Warsaw high in Indiana: cliches are alive and well - in fact, they are born of real life. I can't tell you how many after-school special plots were enacted, yet it was all really happening. We actually got in an interesting discussion afterwards about whether people act this way because they've seen so many movies that they think this is how teens are supposed to act, or are the movies based on how teens actually act and when we see it documented it looks like a movie script but it's really real life? It's a strange postmodern trip into the meta-documentary/teen movie.

When I say it's cliche I don't mean it's boring or trite - quite the opposite. The teens they profile fit four stereotypes perfectly: the jock, the queen bee/mean girl, the wild artsy chick, and the band geek (although in fairness to band geeks, this guy goes way beyond the norm into a special circle of geek hell). But despite the fact that they act as we expect, they are not cardboard cutouts. When we learn of some of the pain in the mean girl's life, and see her vulnerability, we begin to sense why she's the way she is. But they all have pain and they are tremendously open about it. They all have parents who are pushing them towards particular post-school plans. They all have ups and downs with boyfriends/girlfriends/friend-friends (including a great, too-short relationship between a jock and an outcast that couldn't have been scripted more sweetly - or heartbreakingly). But I don't even want to tell you about the other stuff b/c it's so fun to be surprised (that really happens??) each time you see something that you thought only happened to you, or conversely, you've seen a million times in movies - and on Saved by the Bell - to the point where you thought it couldn't possibly be real. Each life is remarkably fascinating and three-dimensional for having started in such an "overdone" place. I was drawn in by their stories and struggles. It's like a real-life John Hughes movie.

I had major flashbacks during most of the scenes at the high school - Midwestern architecture just never changes I guess! The basketball and football games, the hallways, the dance - it all looked just like my school 15 years ago! I could smell the sweat and my gut was responding with all these visceral emotions from those years. It was totally cool. I can't believe how little high school has changed.

But there are some differences: kids text a lot, that's what I learned. Made me want to forbid my baby a cell phone, ever. They'll be on the band bus and texting each other instead of conversing! How weird. I don't get that.

Overall, I simply loved this movie. It was a total pleasure to watch, and in the end, when they all head off into their lives, you are just rooting for them. You don't know what happens next, but that's OK - high school is over, and that's the point. We all get to move on and write our stories from there - but while we're in school, it turns out, we mostly all are part of the same few tales.

Look out for it. Especially if you went to school in the Midwest - you'll relate on so many levels. If they'd just included a theater person it would have been perfect, but you can't do it all. Maybe for American Teen 2.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Stop the Insanity!!

The world's just so nuts. I am at a point where I'm having to choose between which class's papers to write because there's not enough hours to do them all. I'm spending 16-20 hours a week on one class ('sposed to be 8 for a 4 unit class), and still pulling a solid B. (note: usually I do a bit better for that sort of effort, and I don't think I just got stupid...then again, I am pregnant) The class is enjoyable during class, but the homework is ridiculous. Then the other class just got crazy all of a sudden, and I'm stressing about the papers in that one b/c they are different from most that I do, plus they're on systematic theology for goodness' sakes, and you know, I don't feel all that confident in my views on these things yet!

I mean, I make it sound like I'm all freaky, and I'm not really. I just have more a dull ache of stress in my too-tight shoulders. And clearly it's affected my blood pressure, b/c every time I go to the dr they say it's too high. So it just kind of sits in me, but I keep the fact that in 4 weeks it's all over before my eyes at all times! And I genuinely have quiet moments - I take time for yoga, for meditation, for movies, for meals with J. I'm helping create meditations for Sundays and for our Episcopal group too. I've got lots of singing engagements as well. I guess I could give these up and have more time for my studies, but I won't do it. Or is it bad to make yourself stressed by taking time for de-stressing, doing enjoyable activities? That's confusing.

Anyway the real insanity is that my landlord is at it again...they just decided to make everybody in the complex (most of whom have been month to month for years) either sign new leases or be evicted in 60 days (or leave willingly in 30 days). Of course we can't possibly sign a new lease since we're leaving in less than 6 months. So that means they are telling us we have to move out in 2 months (forcibly), right around the time of my due date, and find someplace to live for 2-3 months before we move up north. That's some real generosity there! Kick the pregnant lady out of her home!

I'm sure we'll work something out. It's not that dire. But they're just being so dumb. They're going to lose half their tenants. It's not a wise move. I feel bad for my neighbors, the ones without the good relationship I've built up. Nobody deserves to lose their home just because of someone's greed.

Anyway that's my new insanity today. Sometimes you just gotta laugh. It gets so ridiculous. Just gotta keep taking life as it comes, I guess, and trust God to take care of us, which I know She will. Thank goodness for that. How would I get by without my sometimes naive but oh so comforting faith?

Jim Wallis (hearts) Fuller

Here's Jim's take on his recent visit to us:

The most considerable evidence that we’re entering a “post-Religious Right America” is the shifting political agenda and theological emphasis of a new generation of 20-something evangelicals. I meet them all the time on the road; they are coming out of the woodwork for The Great Awakening book events in mass numbers.

I travel with one of these young evangelicals, a missionary kid who grew up in the former Soviet Union and who recently graduated from Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota. From the conversations he and I have been having with those in attendance at book events, churches, and evangelical college campuses, it’s clear that churchgoers growing up in conservative pews are finally coming of age.

Last week at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California, they packed the venue, with some sitting on the floor. Many of these students are disillusioned with the models of engaging the faith with which they were raised. This emerging generation of evangelical pastors and theologians realize that Christianity has an image problem: it is seen as hypocritical, judgmental, too focused on the afterlife, and too political. They desire something radically new and different, yet still solidly rooted in Jesus.

The quantitative picture painted by Barna pollster David Kinnaman in his recently released book, unChristian, is qualitatively borne out in this group of Generation Y "insiders"—those raised inside the church but frustrated with the status quo. They will shake things up in the years ahead, both politically and theologically.

Politically, these 20-somethings are less likely to associate with the Republican Party than ever before, as discovered by a recent Pew Research Center poll. It showed that party identification among white evangelicals ages 18-29 decreased from 55% to 40% between 2005 and 2007. That’s 15 points in just two years. This doesn’t mean young evangelicals are automatically becoming Democrats (and I don’t think they should). It does mean that their agenda is broader and deeper, no longer beholden to a single partisan ideology – more concerned with 30,000 children dying daily of poverty and disease than with gay marriage amendments in Ohio.
Theologically, these 20-somethings are abandoning a worldview that reduces the gospel of Jesus Christ to an afterlife-oriented, fire-insurance, salvation pitch. These are Matthew 25, Luke 4, and “Sermon on the Mount” Christians. They really believe that the kingdom of God represents God’s best hopes and dreams for this present age, not only for the life to come.

From coffee-infused, late-night seminary conversations to missions trips bringing them into relationship with single mothers living in the crumbling remains of America’s inner cities, with children living on garbage dumps in Mexico, with teenage girls rescued out of Southeast Asia’s sex industry, and with the boy soldiers of sub-Saharan Africa – the 20-something evangelical worldview is being disciplined by a new global context.

This new generation—the Fuller Seminary Generation—isn’t responding to The Great Awakening message because of what we’re doing; they’re responding because of what they already see happening all around them. They are summoning the confidence to articulate a new vision for Christianity for the 21st century, rooted in the timeless orthodoxy of a first-century rabbi. And once it emerges, it could change everything.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Prescient Onion

Oh, remember those giddy days back in 2001, when those of us who voted for Gore weren't all that upset that he lost, since at the time he was something of an embarrassment anyway (who knew the Nobel was coming?), and we settled in for what most of us thought would be a pretty benign presidency from a pretty harmless individual? Well at the time, the Onion had their psychics working overtime, and they came up with this article right after the inauguration of W. Bush. Their prophetic giftings are authentic, based on the Hebrew Bible criterion of true prophet=prophecy that comes true. Therefore, I recommend we all abandon whatever religion we think has the answers, and pursue the Church of the Onion.

Or maybe they just paid more attention to who this guy was than most of us did before we voted. Still, nobody has an excuse for 2004.

Bush: Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over

The Onion

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'

WASHINGTON, DC-Mere days from his inauguration, president-elect Bush vowed to undo the damage not done by the Clinton Administration.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Into the Desert

Dontcha just hate it when you spend your Sunday morning stewing about something and then you get to church and Whap! God hits you with a sermon that seems to be addressed only to you and your problems? No, I don't hate it, I actually think it's pretty cool. And it happened again today, as it often happens to me.

See, it occurred to me that my package from GTU probably doesn't include health insurance. And since the stipend - which is the best they can do, and I do appreciate it, but - is only a couple hundred a month, health insurance will pretty much take care of it. So I'm back to having a generous tuition-free offer, but still not sure how to actually pay for rent, food, etc. The baby complicates everything all the more - in a simpler time, perhaps J could have stayed down here where his jobs are and commuted up on weekends or something. But that won't work with me being a full-time student. Even him getting a job up there would be probably offset by the cost of childcare while we're both indisposed. So in addition to the huge factor of how we'd find a place to live that we could both afford and fit into, there's now the matter of finding insurance (hopefully the school has a plan I can glob on to, otherwise, I never qualify on my own b/c of my depression history) (fortuntely baby can be covered by Medi-Cal, at least she'll be OK) as well as J needing to find a job by January when our savings will run out, and there's the cost of moving. It's looking more and more like additional loans will be necessary. And I hate that. You know we are nearly $70,000 in debt already with student loans? That could buy a house in some parts of this country (no parts we will ever live in, probably, sadly). I don't think it's wise to go further into debt. And I have been advised not to join a PhD culture where students aren't fully funded (w/liveable stipend).

So I was mulling all this over on my way to church and getting increasingly frustrated. And then we heard a sermon about Adam and Eve and temptation. Temptation being that which draws you into self-reliance instead of God-reliance. Temptation is to choose a different perspective on the world than God's. Temptation is to desire to make judgments (good or bad?) on the world rather than accept the garden of delights laid before you (ie take life as it comes, trusting God to take care of you and send everything you need - actually kind of a Buddhist-tinged approach to life).

Yeah. I started to realize that my temptation is to stay in the security of my home city here. To stay where I know we'll have steady income (even though that means J never has time to finish his dissertation). To not jump into a new place where we'd have to start over socially, ecclesially, even sort of academically. It would be so much easier and safer to stay would allow us to rely on ourselves. Because we know we can take care of ourselves here in Pasadena. But we absolutely have to relinquish control to move to Berkeley.

I felt clearly that the message was for me to jump into God's arms. I mean, GTU was what I hoped for - it's what I prayed for. And they gave me the best they could. It's not the easiest option or even the "best" for us financially, security-wise. But in the long-term, it's way better for both of our careers. And I think it will be better for us spiritually as well.

After church I went to a guided meditation on entering the desert (it's Lent, you know), on purifying the heart so we can see God. And in picturing the desert and what I would be leaving behind to go there, I realized that entering a desert you must leave behind your security - your shelter, your comfort, even food and water. You leave behind everything that you can provide for yourself. And you step into a place where God, for whatever reason, has said God will meet you. But you have to let go of your own self-reliance, your own desire to judge what is best for yourself, even your knowledge of what's good and what's bad. It's about removing everything that you provide that sustains you so that only God can sustain you.

It's terrifying. And in a way, it's very exhilirating. Throughout this Lent I'm going to think on this. It might be that there is a garden of delight waiting for me if I step into this unknown. And the fact is, I can't know what's there until I go see. All I know from this side is that when I was there, it felt exactly right. And they want me, very much. And I prayed that exactly this would happen - that I would be offered the absolute most generous offer they could make. All of this happened. How can I not trust God to be there when I go?

Oh, and here's another thing: watch out how much Christology/soteriology systematic theology you read during Lent. I've been doing tons of reading on the cross, and I'm starting to get a glimmer of what it all means. It's finally falling into place. But what happens then is you're in church and it's time for Eucharist, and you start singing "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," and you really realize what that means. All the theology that your brain has soaked up explodes in this torrent of gratitide and awe at what God did for you. And then you cry a lot, and people look at you.

So I'm just warning you. This is what systematic theology can do.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Did your vote count? Mine didn't.

I'm really peeved about LA's ballot SNAFU. I think my ballot was among those that weren't counted because my attention was not drawn to the extra bubble I was supposed to fill in (and I don't remember seeing that instruction on the ballot at all). If you haven't heard, LA's in deep doo doo because their independent ballots had an extra bubble that up to 98,000 people didn't know they were supposed to check. Want to guess who most of those independents probably voted for? Well I can tell you who I tried to vote for: Obama. And it didn't count. Or it won't, unless they decide to take the thing to court, and then they can determine "voter intent."

You see, if you didn't fill in the bubble that said you were voting Democrat, then you might have meant to vote American Independent (can you say confusing terminology) and the AI party had 3 candidates, the Dems 8, so if you filled in one of the top three bubbles - I'm pretty sure Obama was one - then they can't tell if you meant to vote for the Dem candidate or the AI one. Except that common sense would dictate that probably 97,999 of the people meant to vote for the Democrat. Who's even heard of the American Independent party? I don't see why they can't just assume we meant the Democrat.

My main annoyance is that I asked for a Democrat ballot and I took what they gave me assuming it was the Democrat ballot, when in fact it was this weirdo nonpartisan ballot that required telling them you wanted it to be Democrat. And then there's the terminology - I'm registered as "decline to state," apparently the bubble said "nonpartisan voters check this bubble," and one of the parties is "American Independent." How I was supposed to figure out that applied to me, without the poll worker alerting me to look for it, is beyond me. I got my ballot, filled in all the bubbles as per the little arrows, and it doesn't count. Boo!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Jim Wallis on The Daily Show


I like my new blog so much I'm just writing like crazy, aren't I? Well I don't know if these things go in stages, but this morning I'm out of the mild despair and sadness of last night and now I'm just grumpy. I'm grumpy because my arm hurts so bad I couldn't sleep, from the mega-exam. I'm grumpy that my choir expected me to give them 7 hours on a Sunday for free. I'm grumpy that I'll probably have to pay them for my dinner (but I would rather do that then go - if there's one thing yesterday taught me, it's that pushing my body past its limits has dire consequences right now). I'm grumpy that I can't take the medicines that would make my arm feel better. I'm grumpy that I can't type very much longer without aggravating the injury. And I'm grumpy that I have such heavy reading for systematics this week - it's HARD stuff, they don't have to assign 100 pages of it! Geez!

At least I'm back to bitching and not just moaning. That's why you love me, I know.

Oh, and what's wrong with the stupid Senate? Everybody's so greedy to get their little checks that we can't even let the poorest people have a break? No, only the middle class deserves kickbacks (well I guess it's an improvement over just the wealthy getting them). Seriously, what I don't get is why can't the two plans be combined: give everybody a couple hundred less, phase it out at $150,000 for marrieds (why the hell does a couple making $300,000 need $1200 anyway?? Is that actually going to help?), and then you can afford to include the seniors, veterans, lowest income, and unemployed and I would add my hobby horse the food stamps. I mean geez, people, it's not that hard. Oh, but that would require compromise, something that our government seems to be unable to figure out.

I'd happily give up my rebate if it could feed someone. Hmmm...that's probably actually a good use for it. That would stick it to 'em - if you won't give this money to poor people, I will! And not in the form of paying their sweatshop wages!!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


I feel crappy. I feel like I'm a big disappointment to people, I'm letting people down. I can't talk to my husband about this (he's not really big on the sympathy thing), so I have to whine on here. Which is probably letting you down, because you come on here for lively interesting topics, not depressed hormonal garbage. Sorry, it's all part of me package.

See I'm in this choir, and it's OK, it's not super duper fun but it's good enough and I get a tiny stipend for it so I stay with it. Well there's this big concert coming up with over 1000 singers, and we're part of it. And I was really excited about it, until this week, when I just found out that the time commitment expected of us for this thing is 7 hours in one day. Now with 1000 real singers, I figured maybe we'd have an hour of rehearsal or two and then an hour of concert, but it's actually like 4 hours of rehearsal, a break, then 2 hours of concert. It's big time. And I'm honestly just not sure I can stand up that long. This damn baby is getting heavier by the day. Not to mention that I get very sore if I can't move around a lot, change positions, etc. I need to get off my feet, too, or they will swell up. And of course there's the bathroom situation - I don't pee like the first trimester, but it's not infrequent either. I just had no idea it was going to be such a marathon. So I floated the idea of my missing it to the director, and I can tell he's peeved with me. He's not being mean about it (how can you tell a pregnant person she has to stand up for that long, esp. as a man?), but he's disappointed, and if there's one huge thing I hate, it's disappointing people in me. Even when it's really legit. But like I guess they paid for dinner for me and they asked me to commit and I shouldn't drop out this late. And I get that, I really do. But on the other hand, we were told over and over that there was a 400 person waiting list, so I didn't really get what the big deal would be if I let somebody else have my spot. I hate people to be upset with me. I hate it enough to go ahead and put myself through that concert, even though I think I really will not have a very good time. Not to mention I have a paper due the next day and Sundays are usually the day I try to get good rest.

I don't know, I'm also kind of sorry about my last post, because I don't want to be whiny and I don't want to get my prof in trouble or make her sound bad. She's not a bad person - in fact, she's quite personable and we have a pretty good time in class. She's just freaking terrifying, and she is on a whole different level of work than anybody else I've had. And at some times in my career I'd be up for that, it's just not my thing right now. But the exam was brutal, and anybody who's taken it will agree. It doesn't have to be the last word, I still have five papers in the next five weeks (hello, workload). But anyway please forgive me for venting and if I said anything offensive, let's blame the baby hormones, shall we?

OK, I really need some sleep. I should not read emails this late at night - I get extremely upset. The poor guy probably didn't even mean to sound like he was disappointed in me. I'm more disappointed in myself and that's why I'm projecting it on him (psych 101 rears its ugly head).

Really, this week started out so promisingly. But I guess I got a bit too big for my britches or something. Still I have to remember that this was the week I got into a doctoral program, and I've been feeling the baby nearly nonstop, and as much work as I've had to do I still am keeping it together. Plus I loved Jim Wallis last night and we had such a lovely Ash Weds service today. Yeah, things are still positive. Perspective needed.

Hell Test

OK, I have tried, I really have tried, to keep mum about this class I'm taking right now. Mostly because I know that if I open the floodgates, I'll say something I'll have to spend most of Lent repenting for. Too many people read this now - people who know people who are currently making my life miserable, and so it's hard to complain b/c of course you don't want to offend anyone and especially you don't want anything to get back to a prof who's currently grading you.

That said, I really have to just vent a tiny bit about the exam I took today. It was beyond the beyonds, as some would say. It took me for EVER. 2 hours was actual exam time, and then because of my carpal tunnel I got to take extra time to fill in the Hebrew terms in my typed essays (I was just transcribing - the actual work was done), which took another freaking hour because there was so much! And lemme tell you, my hand hurt like a mofo after that. The typing was useless - I handwrote more than I've had to in years. Ouch.

And you know, even with 2 hours, I had to skip a couple entire sections of the exam, because there was no way I could do it all. The prof even said that we wouldn't probably be able to finish it. What kind of pedagogical theory is that? Purposely set up students to fail? Gee, that feels good. And so I did like she suggested and I did the hard essay part first, but I was at a huge disadvantage. See, I had to take the exam in a whole other place and time, because of my "disability", and so I couldn't ask questions. So there were huge parts of the essays where I have no idea if I did the right thing. I might have done way more work than was called for. It was extremely confusing - the directions weren't clear and then when you got to the text itself, what we were exegeting, it was really hard to tell what parts of it we were supposed to be working on (they were just in a slightly larger font, but that's not exactly easy to tell - especially in Hebrew!).

So by the time I went back to the easier stuff (relatively) at the beginning, I was already running very short on time. And I had to skip huge swaths of the test. But at least I could easily choose what not to do - anything where I had no earthly idea what was being asked for, I skipped. Yeah, unfortunately that was more than one section. I mean, I've never taken a test with such vague and confusing directions. And this is an ongoing problem: so far, I've understood almost none of the comments written on my papers either. It's just not English, at least, it's English words but not in an order that makes sense. And the funny thing is that I think she's critiquing my writing! (which makes her the first prof I've ever had to do that)

Yes, it's just overall an incredibly frustrating class. The prof is pretty much unavailable (won't do email, so for even a quick question you have to make an appt for office hours - and the one time I did that, she didn't show up). The feedback is completely confusing. The workload is insane - it's supposed to be about 8 hours outside class per week and I spend at least 20 or more. And I'm not even trying to get a good grade, just pass! It's kind of sad that my last class would be probably the worst I've had, but such is life. Weirdly, I am still learning, because I can at least think about how I'd preach all this stuff, and I've always kind of learned more from my own work than from the class itself. But boy howdy am I frustrated. And I can't say that there's going to be pretty feedback at the end of this quarter.

OK, there I'm done. Please don't be mad at me if you like my prof. Altho most people who do like her would probably also admit that these problems exist. For some they can be overlooked. For me, usually, they can. But today, I'm just tired. And I can't have any booze. And that just sucks.

new look

you found feminary - it's just finally updated after 4 years. snazzy, huh? turns out blogger's done all these upgrades that made editing templates way easy. who knew I could have had such a pretty site?

I feel a bit sheepish since I chose a template I know lots of other people use. But I don't care - it looks pretty with my stuff. And I think it's "green", and as you can see, the blog is going more green these days. I added the cool little Ideal Bite widgets so you can see a quick "how-to" every day on helping the planet. And undoubtedly, as I move into the next phase of my academic work, I will be reporting on more and more environmental and food stuff, so I figured, I'd find something that looked kind of "natural." Hope you like it. I sure do. And since it's mine, you can't really stop me.

Last night Jim Wallis was great. He's a preacher and as adept as a politician at zingy one-liners and strong closings. I really appreciated that he spoke directly to us as evangelicals, and as a unique seminary that includes a global presence in the student body. I don't think we got the standard book tour talk. Plus the question and answer time focused on how do pastors help with this stuff, and that was good. His new book, The Great Awakening, sounds wonderful and I plan to pick it up just as soon as I have some extra $$ (and of course time to read it). I asked a question about how do we apply what he's learned in secular politics to the rifts in church politics, and he said that his best training for working with churches came from mediating with gangs at war. Sad but true.

Anyway, I have a midterm today, and before that gotta get to Ash Weds chapel (they're doing it in the Episcopal/Anglican tradition! Yay! With Colin Brown presiding! Yay yay!). Midterms probably isn't the wisest time to attack your template, but hey, I woke up early, I get a little slack.

Oh, and I'm still happy to see that there's a race on for the nominees. I think I could live with Clinton, Obama, or McCain as president. That's really encouraging!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

What a week

This week is gonna be craaaazy. Not only do I have to figure out who to vote for by Tuesday (Obama's got the edge at this moment), but that evening Jim Wallis will be at Fuller for a very small gathering with students. Friday there's a panel discussion about "Islamaphobia" at Fuller too - not only a really interesting topic, but a good stretch for a Christian seminary. I wonder who'll show up...I hope it doesn't seem irrelevant to students. It's not exactly a topic that doesn't touch everybody's life these days, in one way or another.

Wednesday I have a midterm that will be extremely difficult, but in light of everything else going on, I'm kind of "meh" about it. My at-home class has actually gotten very demanding all of a sudden. But I'm not really that stressed about it. Want to know why?

Well Saturday I got one of those magic envelopes, a letter with a return address from GTU. It was thin and small, which was worrisome (yes, I recently watched "Gilmore Girls"). Upon reading it, I did not see the words "We are pleased to inform..." or the words "We regret to inform..." (again Gilmore influence), so I was momentarily confused. But after getting to the end of the first paragraph, I figured out from the rather muddled language that they had, in fact, accepted me to the doctoral program. Wow! A doctorate in liturgical studies - and they actually think I can do it! I mean, I think I can, but I didn't really know if other people would agree. It's very affirming. Not to mention damn exciting. I mean, when I visited there, I felt so at home - it shot to the top of my choices. Since then I've been through lots of second-guessing, especially in light of impending mommyhood, but it's great to know that they felt the same about me that I did about them.

Of course my first thought was OK, how would I pay for this, because everybody knows GTU doesn't have much money and doesn't guarantee funding to doctoral students. The student I met while visiting was doing loans and working (a lot), and I just can't see doing more debt after we're already in the hole for both of our masters' (we're in the hole the amount of a house in the Midwest, people - it's not pretty). But then I read paragraph 2: they are giving me full tuition + stipend. 'Scuse me? I thought that didn't happen there! But yet, it's here in black and white, and I know because I've reread it about a hundred times. I guess they really want me. I guess God answers prayers. Because I'd told God that without full aid I couldn't go there, that it wouldn't even be in the equation. Equation is now altered.

I still have to wait for a final vetting from UC Berkeley, and I want to see where else I get in, if anywhere (although GTU could very well want my decision before I even hear from Fuller, seeing how they don't give decisions until April!). There's also the terrifying matter of finding a place to live in Berkeley or the surrounding area - and not just any place, but one close to campus (because I'm not doing a long commute with a newborn at home waiting for me - I won't do it), that takes cats, probably that has 2 bedrooms or at least has a pretty spacious one bedroom (since we're 5 in the family now), and God, as long as miracles are coming my way, a washer/dryer for cloth diapers/spitup rags would be pretty darn awesome, not to mention a dishwasher for bottles. And oh yeah, if I'm dreaming, room to actually cook and entertain again (I miss being a hostess so much), and a tub for me and to wash baby when she's bigger. I think that would probably cover my dream place to live. I don't think it sounds all that obnoxious, except when one considers where I'd be looking for such a palace. Still, the scholarship was such a gift, it makes it hard not to believe God could pull it off.

Last week I was thinking about what it would be like to be in a community of Episcopalians. To not be the odd person out but to actually live in a culture where I was the happy middle. Where I could fight people from my conservative viewpoints (yes, I have them!). Where prayers and worship, in our tradition, would happen without my having to organize them. I could just show up! And they'd be going on! I mean, Fuller has been really wonderful in a lot of ways: it's been challenging, and it's been rewarding. I have made friends across the theological spectrum, friends for life. I have been told that I've dramatically changed other people's viewpoints, and they have touched mine too. It's been fun to be a gadfly and a heretic.

But it's also tiring. And in some ways, to be around "my own" people - as tribalist as that sounds, it's probably not very PC - but in some ways it seems like it would be such a relief. Of course it would still be challenging, and I'm never giving up my gadfly status, or likely my heretic status. But still, it seems like it would be so nice. I so loved the community up there. And even outside the GTU - I mean, the Berkeley community, they were amazing too. It just seems like we'd be so happy and at home there. I really felt that way before. I didn't even want J to see it unless I got in, because I knew he'd love it so much.

Well anyway I mostly just wanted to share the news. Nothing's decided yet (on my end at least!), but it was awfully wonderful to open that magic envelope.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Only in LA

A topic on the Chowhound Los Angeles message boards:

"Planning a baby shower need Taco cart"

Pasadena Restaurant Review

I have to warn my Pasadena friends off the new Paseo Cantina in the Paseo Colorado Mall. Hearing they had homemade tortillas, and being depressed and wanting comfort food the other night, I got J to check it out with me.

The place is cavernous - they knocked out all the walls from the Border Grill and made it a big room with hundreds of little tables lined up in rows. J called it a "Vegas arrangement," meaning cram as many people as possible in and who cares if there's flow or it feels at all pleasant. It was empty, but then we eat very early. Still, it was depressing. In the corner there is a little stage and mics for their mariachi band (I've never heard a mariachi band that needed amplification - that's gotta be seriously headache-inducing). Thankfully we arrive before the music. The waitstaff are forced to wear those ridiculous costumes you see at Chi-Chi's in the Midwest, another bastion of fine cross-cultural dining. They were fairly attentive but overall seemed pretty green.

So they brought out the obligatory chips and salsa, which were fine, and actually there were a few stray pieces of quesadilla hiding in the chips. That was a fun discovery. The salsas are good enough, but don't taste homemade. The chips seemed fresh. I started off with a virgin margarita, but those are usually just awful. Margaritas (and turkey sandwiches) are something I miss most right now. Anyway I didn't like the "house" version so I ordered peach, which was on the rocks (with a virgin, that's not good - you need it blended to mask how pathetic it is), and basically peach juice and 7-up I think. Whatever, I can't judge them for that. Margaritas aren't meant to be sans tequila.

Next the waiter wanted to entice us to buy soup, so he brought out a sample of their vegetable soup. It was cold. Not very enticing. And it was also fairly sad, just some potatoes and celery floating in greenish broth. We both tried one sip and didn't bother with more. I mean, why bring someone a sample of cold soup? (Oh, and it wasn't meant to be cold, I'm pretty sure - it was kind of tepid)

I ordered a cactus (nopales) salad to start. I wish I'd gotten the spinach, which had mangoes and avocado, but it cost a lot more and I've liked cactus in the past. Now whenever I've gotten cactus, at nicer places, it's been fresh - kind of tangy and crunchy, a lot like jicama. Well this cactus was pickled. And it was mixed up with pickled jalepeno and carrots (that mix you can get at Costco, you know, that they put on nachos at the movie theater). And there were some tomatoes in there that might have been fresh. And some cotija cheese. But the pickled cactus was really disappointing. Plus, they brought this giant pile of it - and it was more like a condiment, and I didn't need several pounds of it. I ate as much as I could, and I even was a trooper and brought some home and ate a bit of it (it's supposed to be rich in iron, so I figured it was good for me), but eventually the pickledness turned me off. I couldn't enjoy it for long. Again, mostly a condiment, seemed to be from a can.

J had some shrimp enchiladas for dinner, which he said were similar to what he'd expect from a Baja Fresh or a Rubio's (but at $18.95, not worth it). I had chicken with green/sour cream sauce, usually a favorite. However, the chicken was sweetened, and didn't go well with the sauce. I ate two bites and couldn't stomach any more. We both got a scoop of rice (yes, in the shape of a scoop - classy), which was no better than rice-a-roni, and I had beans which, kid you not, were worse than Rosarita brand from the grocery store (no flavor at all and a sickly color). Noticing I ate only a couple bits, the waiter asked about it, and I said I didn't care for it. He asked if I wanted to try something else. Well at that point I'd decided the food was going to be crap no matter what, so I said no. Then he asked if I wanted a box to take the crap home! Ha ha! I said no, I really didn't like it and didn't want to try it at home. He took it away, and J finished while I sat there bored. He charged me for it - $14.50 - for my two bites. I thought that was really tacky. It was clear that I didn't like it. But whatever, I wasn't expecting much at this point.

We got the check - $65 with tip - which was so painful that I just couldn't think about it. It's probably the most expensive meal we'll eat this month, definitely more than anything we've had in a couple months, and I mostly filled up on chips and hated the food. That's what most offends me about places - when they serve you bad food. What is UP with that? And don't charge me $65 if I barely touch it! But more than the cost, it's just a crime against good cuisine, and as a food snob, that's the worst of it for me.

Oh, I should say that they brought us 3 of those advertised tortillas, and they were good enough. Not as good as El Torito Grill's, or even Chevy's "El Machino," but certainly fresh. I used them to choke down the pickled cactus.

I don't see a bright future for this place (although I'm depressed to see it has fans on Chowhound - but then, from what I can tell, Pasadena Chowhound people are a little weird anyway). It made me miss Border Grill terribly. And you know, I heard the reason BG closed was that they wouldn't let them have a door on the side of the restaurant facing the elevators/escalators, so people had to walk all the way around it to find the entrance (and in that place, you'd just think it was closed - it's a weirdly designed mall). Well guess where this craphole's door it? Right off the escalator. How nice for them. I want my Mary Sue and Susan. Wah.

Seeing Red about Being Green

I just spent a half hour trying to figure out how to recycle my newspaper. I hate that I throw away 4 newspapers a week. I suppose the easiest and greenest thing to do would be to cancel my subscription and read online only, but I really like having the paper copy, I like supporting the institution of newspapers, and after a week of school I'm usually sick of looking at a computer screen.

So I keep getting the paper, Thurs - Sun, and at the end of every weekend I have a pile anywhere from 4-8 inches thick (depending how giant the Sunday paper is). I figured, I live in California, a supposedly progressive state. I live in Pasadena, a beautiful city. Surely they want me not to throw this recyclable material in the trash bin. So I looked - I looked on our city website, I googled, I read through a bunch of sites listing dozens of places to recycle cans and bottles.

I finally found the closest place that recycles newspaper (thanks to South Pas's website), which is in Monrovia, which is a few towns down the freeway. Not exactly a place a person like me (sans car) can get to easily. I might be able to make a trip once a month, say, with a big pile of paper. But then, where do I keep a big pile of paper? Probably due to the pregnancy hormones, I sat here and cried when I realized that I can't keep a pile of newspaper in my 400 square foot apartment because there is absolutely literally nowhere except the middle of the living room floor, and that needs to be reserved for the baby's crib.

(just kidding - the kid gets no crib. Duh! Like we have room for that kind of luxury)

So I'm really sad but I guess I'm forced to keep throwing away. Ugh, I hate that. Especially after all my preaching about being green - I'm such a freaking hypocrite. But I tried I really did.

If I were a residential person (instead of "commercial" which my apt building is considered), I'd have a nice bin for my recyclables including the newspaper. But the city just wants commercial customers to "contact your waste management" people and pay whatever "reasonable fee" they require to provide recycling. At least they are required to provide it by law. But I can't decide for my apt mgmt that they should pay these fees. I know they won't - so far the approach to recycling has been to put out a trash can which we all fill with bottles and cans and the homeless come pick it up. Which works out fine for everybody involved, but it's no guarantee of where that stuff is winding up. And I don't think they'll take the newspaper and cardboard (I think the manager would throw it in the trash anyway, like he's done with other items I've tried to recycle and, oh yeah, some of my personal possessions as well). None of the local supermarket recycling places take newspaper, which seems completely nuts. And so the homeless won't pick it up b/c they won't get anything for it (unless they can get to Monrovia), and I don't blame them.

I guess probably my best choice would be to talk a resident with a bin into taking my newspaper, but I don't feel like I know anybody with a home well enough to ask such a favor. I think it actually would benefit them (I believe they pay less in trash fees the more they recycle), but I don't know how to hook up with anybody, and they'd have to live close enough that I could walk the pile to them every week. Yet another reason I'm dying to have a house. I bet somebody from our old church would have done it, but sadly, those days are gone, we're no longer local churchgoers. I wonder if I could haul it over to Fuller and put it somewhere - they have paper recycling bins (mixed with cans, bottles, etc. - I wish they would have separate bins), but I don't know if they want my newspaper or not.

It's so frustrating to try to be green sometimes. The system still really works against you. At least I'm finding lots of nice organic/sustainable stuff to put the baby in. I'll try to get it gifted to me, buy what I need to, and then hopefully a majority of what baby encounters will be greenified. And then hopefully we'll move to Berkeley and they'll be more proactive about such things.