China Jubilee

Just another WordPress.com weblog

It’s the little things February 6, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 6:42 am

It’s funny, but the things I miss from China these days are the little things.

The little tissue packets that you buy in bulk, 10 packets for about $2.  One packet fits well in a pocket or in the pouch in my purse that holds all the little things (gum, contact wetting drops, a few aspirin in a small tupperware…). The US packets, sold individually or in sets of 3, are both ridiculously expensive (because of course anything convenient must cost extra) and too big to fit neatly anywhere.

Gel pens with refill ink sticks, in packs of 10 each for maybe $3.  I left China just as I was finally getting to the stage where I valued those refills (I threw them out for years), and now I’m back where all I get are ballpoints that you have to scribble to get them to start writing and then in a few weeks they go dry. I actually have a pen cemetery on my end table because of all the pens that have special meaning and have died since I came back – the one I decorated to match my decorated prayer journal at the Women’s Conference last spring, the last one from IWU (I’ve gone through two or three of those actually), the one from the set from Singapore that I bought as souvenirs for my class but kept the one extra for myself, the one… Sigh. I can’t quite bring myself to throw them out.

Chopsticks. They take up half an aisle in Chinese grocery stores. Of COURSE they’ll be a few different sets in any grocery store in America. Right? Right? Nope, not even in the Asian/foreign food stores in town, can you believe it? Just disposables or nothing. I finally found some non-disposable ones at the thrift store last weekend and was thrilled, ugly plastic things though they are. (Hey, at least they were cheap!)

One thing I am grateful I knew enough to buy just before I left was a new, sturdy, conveniently-sized water bottle. I still have one old bottle here too that I left by mistake one summer, so between them I’m probably good for another year or so.  Usually the strap connecting the smaller lid to the neck is the first thing to go. Man, will I miss them when they give out!

If you’ve lived overseas and returned, what are the “little things” that you were surprised to find that you missed when you moved back?

Related to this: Culture shock. I’m doing a unit on the topic with one of my classes, and the video-lecture describes 4 stages: Excitement, Rejection, Acceptance, and Acculturation. I suddenly realized that I’m going through those stages with my new church! I had started to realize it even before this unit, and it helped with some of the things I was feeling confused or uncertain about, to peg them as “culture” rather than any sort of negative label. (Not theology, other stuff.) Having labels to put to it now made me happy – I can see where I’m starting to move past rejection to acceptance in some ways, though I still can’t imagine acculturating in the sense that it means taking on those “different culture” things – I’ve obviously got a ways to go to move totally out of the “rejection” phase!  To be super clear, they are not sinful or “bad” things as far as I know, not even huge things for that matter, they are just things that don’t “feel” right because they are not what I’m used to.  Since I work with international students all week, faculty meetings and church are the two times I really interact with the local culture with any sort of depth and regularity. The faculty meeting cultural differences mostly hit me last semester, but the ones at church took longer, probably because we spend more time side-by-side looking at the front than we do face-to-face. Now I’m going to Wednesday nights soup and Bible study time and it’s sinking in: This is a beautiful, loving body of believers, and they are different (from me).

My students and I talked today about how long the “Excitement” stage lasted after they arrived in the US. (It generally begins before you arrive in the host culture, according to the lecture.) None of them claimed times longer than 2 weeks. How about you? If you have spent long enough in another culture to feel anything other than excitement, or even moved to a different community in the same culture, how long did the Excitement stage last after you arrived?

 

Maps & Directions January 19, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 11:47 am

Originally written August 26, 2013 and titled “Directions,” I came across this set of recollections and a poem on my laptop tonight.  It’s unedited and unfinished, but I enjoyed sharing it at the completion of Writer’s Club that night and so I decided to share it here as well.

How did you learn your way around your hometown? Did you build a map in your head as you rode in the back seat of your parents’ car growing up? Did you learn it by road names and intersections, or by bus routes, or bike lanes? Is everything cataloged in relation to friends’ houses? Or is it organized in circles centered on school and rec center, library and church, Dad’s work and Chuck E. Cheese’s?

Do you know it by heart, or by head? In what may be a totally different question, can you give clear directions to someone from out of town? Or do you still find yourself unsure of the exit number from the highway, the number of stop lights before your road, the order of the intersections between the high school and the mall? If you were lost, would you keep going knowing that you would eventually hit a road that you know, turn down it, and find an intersection or landmark that would reorient you on your mental map? Or is “lost” a foreign concept, coming from a small Midwestern community with checkerboard roads in town and numbered routes beyond it, in which it takes a great deal of skill to actually lose your way?

I come from a sprawl of a city that is home to over a million yet didn’t have any buildings over 10 stories besides the hotels along the ocean until a one-block “downtown” was manufactured a decade ago (the building of new condos there actually reaches 20 stories high but is much too far inland to have an ocean view). Growing up in a neighborhood with a map that approximates Mr. Peanut – not quite oval and criss-crossed with intersections – I first realized that the linear map in my head didn’t match the squiggly world I lived in in fourth grade. You’d think a fourth grade girl scout could draw a map of the neighborhood in which she’s lived almost constantly since she was two years old, wouldn’t you? I knew all the road names, I could find friends’ houses, and I’d even heard my parents describe our house as “just before you the road curves,” but the fact that Morgan Trail met my street TWICE as it curved through the neighborhood made my brain flash “Tilt! Tilt!” until I went home, opened the mapbook (yes we are a city with a mapbook, more on those later), and for the first time in my life considered that streets are not the straight lines I’d always seen them as.

This problem persisted growing up. I couldn’t draw a map of the three main roads in our area for a friend because they all met and I couldn’t force myself to draw a triangle when I was so sure all intersections were 90 degrees and all roads straight. My introduction to the world of Super Mario Brothers in the late 80’s introduced me to the concept of a “Warp Zone.” I quickly dubbed the street near my dad’s office as a Warp Zone, which relieved the stress in my brain but didn’t really provide clarity. I couldn’t figure out how it could turn off the main road right after an overpass, obviously thus becoming parallel to the highway, and end up somewhere nowhere near the highway – in fact, even thinking about it now, I’m not sure why once you go down that road you have to take three right turns, each separated by over a mile, to get back to a road that intersects the interstate.

The interstate itself confused the heck out of me when I started driving, forcing me to take my younger brother along as a navigator. Did I get on the ramp marked “Suffolk” or “Hampton”? Route 64 East, like a snake in that old TI calculator game, curves south and then back the way it came to avoid hitting the water, so there are no handy cardinal directions labeling it where I live. What was “East” is by then actually South and about to become West before morphing briefly into 664 and meeting back up with 64 in its previous life as a regular East-West roadway. I never understood though why the signs didn’t say “Chesapeake” and “Norfolk,” which were the actual cities next door and the only ones I ever drove to – Suffolk and Hampton didn’t have a place on my mental map till I was at least 20. About my only pleasant memory of the cloverleaf from that teenage era is of taking two ramps in a row to turn around when we realized we’d forgotten something on the way to youth group, and thinking how clever we were for thinking of that solution.

Ah, youth group, which was located in another warp zone and also a different school zone, which means my social life and my school life were to a large extent separate during high school, simply because I lived on the wrong side of Indian River Road. Still, there were fun times in the ol’ car after Bible Club, being as I was one of the few who drove to school and while I was allowed to take the technical capacity of the car – 6 people – I wasn’t allowed to have more than one passenger in the front seat with me. Fitting four growing teens in the back so we wouldn’t have to make two trips was good for laughs every time, and there would always be someone around to direct me.

One friend lived on a quiet road that couldn’t really be called a shortcut since, although it cut off a corner of the main roads, it was windy and had a speed limit of 25 rather than 45mph. Routes like those were the kind I could learn – defined by relationship, practiced when I was a new driver nervous at high speeds, and still as an adult more calming and comforting than the main roads if I have time for a more leisurely trip home. …

Ode to the mapbook
To a reader
who loves books,
and a logician
who can’t pass up a puzzle,
map books are
cake with frosting;
yarn and pattern, perfectly matched;
independence and intelligence
and something that says a place has arrived.

On my bottom shelf,
trace back through my history in the stack,
with folded maps (extra origami puzzles!)
stuffed in the leaves:

Baltimore (and outlying suburbia),
first job,
first apartment,
first independence,
first loss.
Finding new friends’ homes
and the theater for special Lord of the Rings showings
and the students’ soccer games
along beautiful fall roads
and the unemployment office
in bleak January
and Uhaul.

Triple A maps show the route home and back,
and home again;
visits to the Smithsonian,
and Uncle Don’s an hour away.

Los Angeles
(just my part of it,
it can’t all fit in one book,
even a huge one like this),
beautiful and terrifying,
so many roads and hills winding,
so many high speed merges,
so many stars, parallel parked,
and so few left-turn lanes.

Plus the trip-tick, again Triple A,
for the cross-country journey,
southern route there,
central route back,
a jewel in time with my father,
talking and listening,
marveling at nature,
and realizing I WOULD miss
Indiana’s waving green fields of corn
as we stopped by one
to refill the radiator. Again.

Hampton Roads,
the seven cities of my youth,
first driver’s license,
with my brother as a navigator
because reading directions while driving
is a recipe for an accident.
(Ask me how I know.)

Even now when I return
I open the map book,
and it takes me back
even as it takes me forward.
As a child, learning to follow the pages.
As a teen, learning which roads are important to me.
As an adult, finding my way,
finding my way,
day by day and drive by drive.

It seems that all of life
should be mapped out in a book:
“Follow this route east,
Take that exit B,
Turn left at the light,
And continue to page 176.”

 

Frazier & Anderson’s Famous Buttercrunch December 21, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — missjubilee @ 2:46 am

This recipe was shared with my grandmother by a neighbor who swore her to secrecy. Dad took over making it when Grammie went on to glory, and he in turn shared it with me when I grew up. But now that Grammie’s 100th birthday has passed and Anna Mae Frazier is probably long gone, we are letting the secret out and sharing the recipe.

Frazier & Anderson’s Famous Butter Crunch

Recipe makes about 2 pounds of candy; it can be halved, but why would you?

Notes: The butter & margarine are in metric because I made this for years in China, where they came in 250g packages. For all-US measurements, use a cup each of butter and margarine (2 sticks, 225g), use the smaller water measurement, and leave out 1/4 cup of sugar.
It is best made on a dry day. Rain outside can make the candy inside less than crisp.

Ingredients:
250g butter, salted (or add ½ tsp salt)
250g margarine
2 1/4 cups white sugar (*this might also be good with brown sugar, but I haven’t tested it)
2-3 Tbsp drinking water
2 Tbsp corn syrup (*this helps the final consistency, but in a pinch you can leave it out)
1 1/2 to 2 cups finely-chopped walnuts or other unsalted nuts
4 x 80g bars of a chocolate that you like, 2 of them pre-chopped at least as small as chocolate chips
1 almond, if possible
A small dish of drinking water with an ice cube in it (I just use the 1/4 cup after I measure the sugar with it)

Tools:
2 large cookie sheets, or another washable heat-tolerant item with a large flat surface, such as a 9×13 baking pan. Whatever it is, turn it upside down so the rim won’t get in the way when you’re spreading and flipping things
Heavy-bottomed pot at least twice as big as the volume of the ingredients (they’ll boil up high)
A wooden spoon – I’ve found the candy seems to stick less to wood than metal
Offset spatula, or regular spatula, for spreading chocolate
Optional: Candy thermometer

Prepare the cookie sheets by covering them with buttered parchment paper or tin foil, or an un-buttered silicone baking sheet. As a last resort you can just butter the cookie sheet itself, but trust me, something removable and flexible makes life much simpler later.  Scatter about 1/2 cup of the chopped nuts over each sheet.

If you want to use a candy thermometer, position it on the pot so it doesn’t quite touch the bottom.  Begin to melt the butter and margarine over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pot at least twice as large as the ingredients.  As the oils begin to liquefy, add the sugar, water, and corn syrup.  As they melt together, stir often – or just sit down by the stove and stir pretty much constantly – but don’t stir quickly or with lots of splashing. The goal is to scrape the bottom & sides regularly, and if something gets sloshed on the side, to wipe it back down into the liquid. * General candy-making advice: Don’t let anything else drop into it once it’s started cooking, not even more sugar.

Continue cooking on medium or medium-low heat.  You will see the mixture foam up to double its volume as the water – both from the melted butter and the water that you added – begins to boil.  If you’re the sort to use a candy thermometer, you’ll feel impatient as the temperature plateaus around the boiling point of water, but that’s how it goes for this stage.  Keep the heat steady and not too high as the water cooks off.  If you’re daring, you can turn it up to hurry things, but this MAY cause complications later on, either from the oil possibly separating out from the candy or the candy burning once the water is gone if you’re not watching it like a hawk.

Gradually the volume will sink back to where it began, and then the temperature will begin to rise and the candy to darken.  This is the time to be constantly, gently stirring, and watching it vigilantly.  If you turned the heat up before, turn it down to medium-low now.  The mixture will begin to seem curdled and lumpy, which is normal. However, if you see a lot of oil separating out, you may want to add more hot drinking water and go through the previous part of the process again – it will waste time, but your alternative is a greasy mess when you pour it out and candy with texture that’s not right, possibly even a whole batch of wasted ingredients. (A little separated oil won’t kill the texture, but take your pick on what to risk if you see it separating – the candy or your time!)

The goal now is 290F, with a color that matches the outside of an almond.  Check it visually by holding the almond over the pot; check it with your teeth by dropping a small bit into the ice water, giving it a few seconds to cool, then fishing it out and eating it. It should be crispy.  Some sources also say you’ll begin to smell a hint of burning sugar when it is perfectly done.  If you do, immediately remove it from the heat; once you get a strong whiff of burning sugar, you’ve probably gone too far and burned the candy!  If your kitchen faucet takes a long time to warm up, turn it on to super-hot now while you do the next step so it will be ready.

As soon as you take the candy off the heat, carefully pour it over the nuts on the prepared cookie sheets. Don’t just pour in the middle but drizzle it around as quickly as you can – it gets hard fast.  Once you’ve scraped out the pot with your stirring spoon, get your faucet running as hot as possible, and let it fill the pot while you go back to the candy and spread it as needed with the spoon – you want it to be relatively even, but don’t try to make it super thin or it will pull and leave holes.  Let the spoon soak in the water-filled pot for a few minutes while you keep working, and it will be clean as a whistle with just a few swipes of your soapy sponge later!

Yes, I said “keep working.”  Sprinkle the chopped chocolate over the still-piping-hot candy and let it soften for a minute or two.  Using an offset spatula (or regular spatula), spread the softened chocolate smoothly over the candy, then sprinkle on a little more than half of the remaining chopped nuts.  *Here is where using only buttered cookie sheets costs you – as it cools, you need to use a spatula to keep loosening the candy from the cookie sheet.  If you can get it to harden slightly-not-flat, it will be easier to turn over later; if you leave it alone as it hardens, it will suction to the cookie sheet and shatter as you try to get it up. Still yummy, but it’s hard to spread the second coat of chocolate to the edges of each piece.

If you have a cold, dry room (eg your porch), leave the cookie sheets there, being careful not to burn yourself as you carry them.  If not, you can use the fridge if the candy will fit, or just leave it at room temperature for much longer while you wait for both toffee and chocolate to harden.  Once it’s hard, carefully turn over the slab – don’t worry if it cracks a bit – and remove the parchment paper/foil/baking mat.  Melt the remaining chocolate in a small pot or the microwave, being careful not to burn it, and then repeat the earlier step: spread chocolate over candy, sprinkle on nuts quickly before the cold candy hardens the chocolate, and then give it all a few minutes somewhere cool and dry to finish hardening.

Break up the hardened candy and store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container.  Mix the nuts that fall off during the breaking process into your morning oatmeal, or over ice cream if you actually need more sugar in your life.  After a while the candy will start to soften, but if you take good care of it it should last a couple weeks – assuming you don’t eat it all first!

 

Finishing Feels Good December 18, 2014

Filed under: Craft,Life,Travel — missjubilee @ 12:06 am

Things I have finished recently (not quite in chronological order):

The fall semester at two different universities

Grading exams within an hour of the last exam ending (YES!) and writing up grade reports (that took a little longer)

Baking two kinds of Christmas cookies

A safe drive home for Christmas, with both cruise control and the CD player working most of the time after initially not working – praise the Lord

Sewing an apron, the hem on curtains that were too long, a stuffed animal I had un-stuffed to wash and then re-stuffed, 17 pair(!!!) of rice-filled hand-warmers for co-workers at one of the universities plus a few more for other friends and one for myself, and the binding on my largest-to-date quilted object. I am SO super happy to have this finished! (And can you tell I borrowed a sewing machine this week? Though the stuffed animal, the non-co-worker hand warmers, and the quilt binding were all hand-stitched.)

IMG_2913  IMG_2914
The base of the quilt was left-overs from the quilt-top-turned-duvet-cover I finished a year or two(?) ago. Hand-quilting takes an age but it was fun! The spirals, such as you see on the blue and floral fabrics in the close-up, were my favorite.

IMG_0901  IMG_0899
I love how the red zig-zag stitch looks on it. Pop!  And I had to hold the cat in one hand, the camera in the other, to get a photo of the whole thing spread out!

IMG_0896  IMG_0911
Ah, there’s the full apron! And other little details – the ties that came with the kit and took HOURS after I sewed the first one wrong; the white back lining I added. Makes me smile.

IMG_0902 See?

Knitting two small hats – one toddler size, one baby size – and two sets of fingerless “owl” gloves. Mostly they just needed ends woven in, glued, and trimmed, but the gloves also needed thumb cuffs knitted on before all the finishing touches.

IMG_2946  IMG_2948 

IMG_2945
The gloves are tied in pairs, ready to go – one pair in fact has already been gifted less than 12 hours after finishing! Can you see the faint owl outline on them? The baby & toddler hats have designated recipients, but I won’t see them till after Christmas.

Still to finish: A bit of Christmas shopping and some Christmas cards (though I’m happy to have a lot of that done).  And there’s plenty more to finish in the course of the rest of my life, I hope! For now, it’s nice to have these things done, especially SO MANY WIP’s checked off in the last week and a half!

I’ve linked up this post with Crazy Mom Quilts’ “Finish It Up Friday.

 

A Fresh Beginning December 16, 2014

Filed under: Craft — missjubilee @ 9:36 pm

Since I just finished a quilt, you’d think I’d take a break. But no, I quickly started on one I’ve been collecting fabric for since last … spring? Maybe even last winter.

20130908-184256.jpg

Hm, the date on that photo is last September! Wow, it’s been a while. Those navy-and-white prints in the foreground are the centerpiece of the project, while yellows and reds are thrown in for a little extra pop. I love the Chinese blue and white fabric prints, which for some reason feel like batik to me even though I’m pretty sure they’re just plain printed.  They’re a little heavier than quilting cotton, but I’m not too picky in my fabric weights – I’ll take what I can get after living in a place where quilting is unheard of and most cottons are pre-printed with huge 2-meter designs for bed sheets. :)

My stash for this quilt has grown quite a bit since the above photo – I probably have 30 “fat quarter” equivalents.  Equivalents?  Well, only dozen or fewer were actually produced as fat quarters in the West, while the rest were cut that size by yours truly after buying a half-meter in the fabric market in the East, or swapped with a quilting friend for the other halves of those half-meters, or cut off old blouses and a skirt just before I moved across an ocean,… Or just plain left over from past projects, though that is admittedly a smaller portion.  There are also another 15-20 or more pieces that aren’t fat quarters but have plenty of usable fabric. In other words, more than enough for one bed-sized quilt/duvet cover!

IMG_2924
The white square with embroidered butterfly and flower was once part of the front embellishment of a blouse that was super cute but totally un-fitted. You can’t add darts to something with a garden across the stomach, so eventually I stopped wearing it. More stories are hidden in these squares as well!

I cut out pieces for two quilt blocks following the Virtual Quilting Bee that Diary of a Quilter hosted a couple years ago, and the first one is now sewn up and ironed out. My first properly pieced block for a full-sized quilt top! (So far I’ve only pieced smaller quilted items, and used crazy-patch for the lap-sized and queen-sized quilt tops I’ve made.)

IMG_2929

I was impressed by the technique that Sherri from A Quilting Life documented in her photo-filled directions for the first square of the quilting bee – put the two squares of fabric together, draw a line down the middle of the top (lighter) one, and sew on both sides of that line (that is, parallel to it). Then just cut down the middle and you’ve got two sets of joined triangles, ready to iron!

IMG_2933
laying out the pieces – I did swap a few around before settling on this layout

IMG_2934
all sewn together and the seams ironed flat

IMG_2936
Ta da! First quilt square finished.

This post is shared on My Quilt Infatuation’s “Needle ‘n’ Thread Thursday.”

 

Home for Thanksgiving November 26, 2014

Filed under: Life — missjubilee @ 12:12 pm

Less than two hours ago I safely arrived home for Thanksgiving! As my mom was telling her co-workers, I’m here* for the first time in a decade (the last time was when I lived at home for a year back in 2004). Or as I was posting it on Twitter, I’m here* for only the third time since I graduated from high school in the spring of 1998.
*here for Thanksgiving, I mean – I’ve been here for several summers and the occasional Christmas!

I’m in a confused state of mind now. For one thing, I drove instead of flying, the first time I’ve driven home from living elsewhere since the holidays of 2003. For another, it’s usually Christmas when I arrive here in the short-days, long-nights time of year. Since there’s only one more week of classes after this and then exams, it does kind of feel like the end of the semester, so why isn’t it Christmas? Adding another layer of weirdness is the fact that I saw two of my three family members twice in the last few weeks, first Dad and Brother in Charlottesville two and a half weeks ago, then Dad and Mom visiting my own place barely ten days ago. That certainly hasn’t happened much in the last decade!

I’ll bet if I sat down with paper and pencil, I could tell you where I was and who I was with for each of those Thanksgivings since high school. Indeed, if you’re in the mood for a story or several, just get me started. (Or, I found after posting this, you can also read this post from three years ago!) For a few of the China ones I might have to cheat and look at my old photo files, but aside from one or two I’m confident I could give a good accounting.

So arriving here for this rare family Thanksgiving is causing me to reflect again on how my perspective on the holidays has changed since I became first the “outsider” and then the “fellow expat.”

As humans, we all like routine and tradition to varying degrees. As a child, I was strongly attached to our family traditions, and I resented pretty much anyone who was added into our family celebrations. I still relax best on my own turf and without guests (and after all, the holidays are times we expect to enjoy ourselves, right?), but having been in the outsider myself during my college years, by God’s grace I have a more open attitude now. Indeed, I wish I could go back and give my younger self a glimpse. Those families – and it was a different family each year – graciously included me in their traditions when I had nowhere else to go, some at the last minute. Having now been in international communities where Thanksgiving is celebrated en masse and the party includes people who are not even American, I realize that it doesn’t have to be nuclear-family centered or even culturally exclusive. (Chalk up one more reason I hope any children I raise grow up “among worlds” and not mono-cultural.)

I could do more reflecting. For example, on Luke 14:12-14, which is the basis for the short story “By Invitation of Jesus” and of a John Piper sermon I listened to recently. Or on the process of turning my eyes outward from myself to pay more attention to others (something I stink at – example A could be this blog post that’s all about me!). Or on imperfectly searching for and acting on opportunities to share grace. But for the moment I’m just reflecting on how good it feels to be home, and on how it’s possible to be this tired after a 4-hour drive instead of a 24-hour air journey! Good night and Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate this holiday.

 

Letter II September 16, 2014

Filed under: Faith,Life — missjubilee @ 9:19 am

Since moving here, I’ve been looking for “a church home.”  I think the phrase “spoiled for choice” could very easily apply to the American church situation, and I want to find the balance between looking for one that matches what I would like and holding out for an ideal that does not exist.  I also want to listen to the Spirit’s promptings in this!

In the title of this post, I’m reflecting on C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a fictional set of letters from one demon to another, offering advice on how to keep a new believer from growing into an effective Christian – and thus showing the reader by contrast exactly what DOES help a believer avoid temptation and grow in the Lord.  The second letter focuses on the church.  Screwtape the demon writes to his nephew, “One of our great allies at present is the Church itself.  Do not misunderstand me.  I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners.  That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. …When he gets to his pew,… make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew. … Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. … I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course, if they do – if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge player or the man with the squeaky boots is a mister and an extortioner – then your task is so much the easier.  All you have to do is to keep out of his mind the question, ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?'” (pages 22-24)

All that is in the back of my mind as I type and proofread what I’ve written.

So far, I’ve visited 5 different churches in my 6 Sundays here (wow, have I only been here five+ weeks?!).  I keep thinking, “If only I could check out Sunday services every day of the week, how much faster this would be!”  But that is not so, of course.  There have been various things I enjoyed about each church, and various others I found off-putting in some way.

Among the good: The Mennonite churches both had lovely harmonized hymn singing, some live musical instruments, and one was quite welcoming and with a Sunday School class I’d like to keep going back to attend if the scheduling works out! (That’s the one I visited twice.)  The Presbyterian church was going through Job, which struck me as a good Bible-centered way to focus a sermon series, and they were attempting to reach out to the local college students.  The two more non-denominational sort of churches I’ve been to so far had some nice modern contemporary songs and were also very welcoming.

At one place I visited, the sermon on forgiveness combined the Word of God with the speaker’s own testimony in such a powerful way that “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” came to mind!  The people of that small church showed such love and support for the speaker as well.  Having listened to so much John Piper in the past few years, that one came the closest to what I’m most searching for in preaching: a place where the pastor opens up the Word of God in a way that leads us to love God more and apply it to our lives.  I get turned off when the message is thematic and just uses scripture to prove the speaker’s point – shouldn’t it be the other way around?  And yet I’ve heard two such sermons so far (along with one quite nice “Missions Sunday” that didn’t give me anything to judge by).  Even worse than the scripture-as-proof-of-my-wisdom approach: if the message’s theme is focused on people who have young children (ie “family” in the mainstream sense) to the exclusion of others in the Body, or if the pastor asserts something I don’t believe is scriptural without making any attempt to show it from the scripture – such as the idea that physical families are the basic building block of the New Testament church (um, no, I believe you’re thinking of the Old Covenant; unlike the nation of Israel, under Christ, we are adopted rather than born into God’s family).  Not that I’ve heard a sermon like that or anything… *ahem*

I’m also really hoping for a place that uses music to worship God in a way similar to those that are easiest for me to enter into.  This is where it gets a little tricky for a couple reasons: tricky because I love BOTH traditional hymns and modern worship music, and tricky because I know that worship is not supposed to be about ME. Still, I’d rather find a place where I can focus my effort on God and not on ignoring how much I dislike the music.  Interestingly on the topic of music, one church was so small that it used videos for the music portion (words on animated backgrounds accompanying the MP3), which got me both ways – it reminded me a lot of our home fellowship in Zhengzhou (yay), while also distracting me with those blasted backgrounds and the quality of drum-and-electric-guitar-heavy MP3’s over a poor speaker system (sigh)… Anyway, a part of me has the idea that I can’t hold out for a perfect place this side of heaven, despite the “ideal” I found in college (a church with a traditional service, a good Sunday School, and a contemporary service – I’d come for the first service and stay through the worship of the second), but with so many possibilities around here I feel like I can’t “settle” without trying a good-sized sampling of them.

And then there’s the body, the ACTUAL church – are there a mix of people at different stages of life?  Or is it mostly families? Are the kids taken care of in some way that doesn’t distract everyone else during the sermon?  Are there ways to interact with people outside of age-and-status pigeonholes?  Are the people welcoming or clique-ish? Do I perhaps already have a friend there, or a co-worker or a friend of a friend, to help with my slow introverted attempts at getting to know others, which really don’t combine well with once-a-week sitting-in-pews-together to build relationships at any sort of livable pace?

And then there’s a theological issue, beyond the sermon issues mentioned above: My understanding of the New Testament’s teaching on pastors being men.  It’s not something I’m a huge fan of in my own wisdom, but I accept it as God’s prescribed path for the church. *pause for effect*  So far two of the four sermons I’ve heard were given by women. *blink blink* Where am I again?  Cue more of that culture shock of returning to (Christian organizations in) the US after almost a decade abroad.  I’ve heard women teach, but this is the first time I’ve attended a church with a female lead pastor. (The other incident involved “just” an associate pastor filling in while the lead pastor was unexpectedly out of town.)  And yet, do I deny their calling, say they and their congregations heard God wrong?  I don’t know.  I know it’s not the only bit of theology that Christendom doesn’t have consensus on.  Am I comfortable being part of a church in which the leaders believe differently than me on an issue like that?  Again, I don’t know.  I’m not a big fan of “denominations” in general, so this would be a good time to live out the idea that we should function as one body rather than get picky about things less central than the actual Gospel message.  Going with this tangent, I do realize it’s important for local churches to belong to a larger body of some sort that can help make sure their theology isn’t getting too far off, and denominational bodies are helpful for that, but that’s about all the good I’ve seen in them till now. Are they also good at helping us find “a place that fits”? Too bad then that the places I’ve fit best didn’t fit any denominations (except that college one, but there aren’t any United Brethren churches in this state… *Google*… SNAP, there are! Even in this city! Hm, with an average attendance of 14 rather than 400 or even 40. Well, it’s still worth a try!)

I don’t know if I have a good conclusion to this post yet.  I suppose it’s just one of those stressors that go with moving to a new position in life that take awhile to settle into any sense of “normal.”  And it’s also just one of those areas that I can respond to God with thanksgiving – for the fellowship he’s provided for me in the past, for his presence and comfort and guidance, and for the answer when it arrives in his timing.

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.