Wednesday, November 26, 2008


One thing I missed while pregnant was tea. Among the many diet restrictions (sushi, lunch meat, alcohol, street drugs) is caffeine. I used to have at least a cup of tea every day and, though it's got far less caffeine than coffee, I cut it out while gestating. Drinking my cup of Lady Grey right now makes me feel at peace with the world.

Tea-drinking is not something to be taken lightly. Making it well is an art. There are ceremonies the world over involving it. And drinking it draws people together. You could make the argument that all beverages, when approached with a spirit of intention draw people together and you would not be wrong. In Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Haji Ali, village chief of Korphe in Pakistan says

Here (in Pakistan and Afganistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business: the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family, and for our family we are prepared to do anything--even die.

Three Cups of Tea is a phenomenal portrait of the varied peoples and complicated relationships of Pakistan and Afganistan. It's tempting in America to lump all the people in that area together--like those awful cubes of sugar. Whether you see all Arabs as terrorists or as radical Islamists or as victims, they're so much more than any label. Perhaps you read this and nod sagely and think, "Of course they are. We're all our own person," or similar. There's a difference between academic recognition and the story Mortenson has to tell. Some folk are indeed terrorists, pure and simple. Some are thugs. Some are protecting the land they've lived on for centuries from all comers--India, Russia, the US, even mild-mannered Mortenson. Some are victims. Some believe powerfully in Islam, but so, too, do many of us believe powerfully in Jesus. Some live and work and try to make do with what they have. And Mortenson met them all. He says

"I don't do what I'm doing to fight terror. I do it because I care about kids. Fighting terror is maybe seventh or eighth on my list of priorities. But working over there, I've learned a few things. I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afganistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death."

He failed his attempt to climb K2, one of the tallest and most dangerous mountains in the world. He barely made it down the mountain alive and made a wrong turn in his way back to the nearest town. What he found was a tiny village at the edge of the glacier which welcomed him in as a stranger and later as a brother. They fed him tea with rancid yak's butter (their cream and sugar) and nursed him back to health. While there, Mortenson discovered that the village had no school--something like 50 children of all ages met on a wind-swept rock to copy out their lessons on their own with no help from a regular teacher. The cost of a teacher is the equivalent of $1 a week but the Pakistani government refuses to pay it. The children don't even have a building to meet in, yet they meet day after day on the rock. As my friend Bob would tell you, it's the small things that make you feel human, that give you hope. For Bob, it was having his teeth fixed so he was no longer ashamed of his smile. For this village and hundreds like it, it was having the opportunity to learn. The people of Korphe offered Greg Mortenson tea and he offered them hope.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

baby blues

"Baby blues" is an interesting phenomenon. After a woman gives birth, she tends to be tearful and emotional--more so than during the pregnancy. It can go deeper and become postpartum depression or, in rare cases, postpartum psychosis. The stress of giving birth and the accompanying flood of hormones into the system are a shock.

I find myself crying over what my English-teacher husband calls "man's inhumanity to man." We watched Pan's Labyrinth the other night--and, by the way, not a kid's movie or a fun fantasy romp--and I couldn't watch large sections of it. It's violent, sure, but it was the anger and willingness to let another suffer that got to me. How could people act like this? Where is the good in the world? What kind of world have I brought my baby into? Just before I went into labor, we went to see the new James Bond flick Quantum of Solace with some friends. Fantastic movie. And all I could think about the entire time was, "These people are awful. Why are they so awful? I can't stand it." A moment near the end when our "hero" 007 leaves the villain in the desert almost made me sick to my stomach.

And I look at my sleeping baby's face and can't imagine how anyone could neglect or abuse a child. Besides the fact that she's so cute, she's a person with thoughts and feelings. How can folk stand to inflict pain on another?

I wonder if this emotional obsession isn't sublimated in the rest of my life? That normally I (and we) can ignore the details of man's inhumanity to man because we are busy with other things? That we have to ignore it to stay sane? The Good News is that Baby Connor is beautiful, healthy, and sweet. The Good News is that we won't be neglecting or beating her. The Good News is the blues will pass. But what becomes of all the hurt?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

something to remember

Purloined from The Rev. Roger Greene:

Regardless of who wins the presidential election today, in a few months, we will be living under a new administration. As Christians, we have been living under a new administration for 2000 years.

Monday, November 03, 2008

totally new theology?

My Loving Husband suggests this: God did Moses a favor by denying him access to the Promised Land.

His thinking is that anticipation is the best part of any situation--the moments before you eat a piece of pie when your mouth waters and you remember all the delicious pie that has gone before, the weeks leading up to a reunion/party/holiday/conversation in which you consider what will happen and how great it will all be, the increasingly pleasurable and painful heart palpitations as you look forward to something. The reality almost always disappoints--the pie isn't as tasty as you remember, the reunion/party/holiday/conversation doesn't go as expected, the thing you anticipated simply doesn't live up to expectations.

Thus, Moses had 40 years of anticipation (also 40 years of complaints from the Israelites, but that's another story) and, though he'd succeeded in getting the team to the Promised Land, it would inevitably disappoint. Instead of committing themselves whole-heartedly to God and resisting falling into old habits, the people would continue to live their flawed, human lives in the Promised Land, they'd pillage and murder, resent and frustrate. Moses gets to live up to the edge of his anticipation, not being let-down by reality.