Much Thanks

Since moving to DC more than 5 years ago, I have accepted that for the foreseeable future my life will be less settled than I would prefer. Over the last 5 years, I have moved four times and lived with six different groups of people. Rather than relocating closer to each other, my friends have continued to move father away. My previously stable church is going through a season of transition and my once-present roommates have added full-time coursework to their already full-time jobs. In the midst of this unrest, I have started a new job with a steep learning curve.

But on this National Day of Thanksgiving, I have returned to a place of constants. The traffic patterns, the landscape, the laughter and faces are all familiar and comforting. There is much to be thankful for in DC. Other days will tell of my enviable commute and the compassion of my roommates. But today is a day to be thankful for family – that great, unwavering constant.

Today, I pray that you would be with those who love you; that you would be full, and joyous, and thankful.

May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfaction of maturity…May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men…

The road to heaven does not run from the world, but through it…It is a place for men, not ghosts – for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His priesthood, He makes all things new. Our last Home will be home indeed.”

The Supper of the Lamb, Robert Capon

Non parlo l’Italiano

My brain is not wired for languages.

I mean, I do fine with English, but I attribute that to a love of reading the stories and thoughts of other people who are wired for language.

My dear friend Rachel graduates from seminary this week, having essentially mastered both Greek and Hebrew. Each of these languages comes with its own alphabet and tonal sounds not found in English. Now, she worked hard to master these languages, but in watching her write Hebrew – backwards – or listening as foreign sounds flowed easily from her tongue, it became so clear to me that this is just not something I would ever be good at. [See? Ending sentences with a preposition is a grammatical no-no, but it just feels so right!]

Somehow, my 6+ years of unproductive Spanish classes and hours of sitting in a mystified stupor as Rachel raced through Hebrew flashcards refused to counteract my romanticized dream of learning Italian. You see, my family has been planning a trip to Italy for about 6 months. As the days and months ticked by, my desire to flawlessly converse in this ancient language overpowered my better judgment. I am the owner of not one, but two Italian dictionaries and phrasebooks and have shamelessly checked out multiple “learn Italian” cds from the library.

Having been to Italy several years prior, I got an early confidence boost when words like “buongiorno!” and “ciao!” and “scuzi” sounded familiar. I worked through numbers 1-20 and was only slightly deterred when a middle school boy with an Italian father told me I was “ruining” the pronunciation of “dieci.” (Who needs the number 10 anyway?!)

But then, the trouble started. Extra syllables found their way into simple phrases like “would you like something to drink?” My tongue kept tripping every time I said “il restaurante” and it would come out as “il listaurante” instead. Just when I thought I had mastered the word “giriadestra” it turns out that it was three words all along (“giri a destra” – turn right).

But, my inability to master (or, lets be serious, even begin to understand) Italian may just prove to set me free. I will board a plane to Italy in a little more than 48 hours with, at best, the ability to communicate as well as a toddler. I will be relying on the generosity and sympathy of local Italians to guide me along the way. And perhaps in this way, a more truer Italy will emerge. And as we go, I will follow this beautiful language and dream of renown artists and fierce emperors and simple tradesman following the same routes that I am, and speaking in this language that for me, exists only in my imagination.

Unconditional

Although at best, it could only be considered a minor theme, woven throughout the Academy Award-winning “The King’s Speech” is a story of a father and a son. In this case, the father is an ailing king, and his son, a duke in line for the crown.

More than any other theme or detail in this beautifully told story, the gravity of this relationship is what has stuck with me. Even in a palace, with abundant resources, a son is still scarred by his father’s words, actions, and inactions.

I spend much of my professional life examining the impact of absent fathers on largely poor, urban youth who have added obstacles to overcome along with fathers who show up only when its convenient. The King’s Speech was a powerful reminder that even with the resources of a whole nation at your disposal, perceptions of how your father loves or disapproves of you can shape your future more than all the best intentions.

My grandfather passed away this month, and in the space and silence left behind, I’ve though about the legacy of fathers, even beyond their own children.

In a generation of stoic, emotionally distant fathers, my grandfather was involved, invested. He loved practical jokes, playing outside, and readily involved his children in his world, even when it meant the task at hand would take much longer to accomplish. He delighted in giving his daughter’s gifts, particularly around Christmas, and took pride in their accomplishments and triumphs. Neighborhood children would come to his door and ask if he could come out and play – even those outside of his family knew that this man was life-giving and longed to be in his presence. And thus, the standard was set for the next generation.

My dad and my uncle are both loving, involved, attentive fathers who take obvious delight in their children. They are extending a legacy and demonstrating to their own daughters that their love is not conditioned upon achievement, or ability, or even some ill-defined, unreachable standard. It is rooted in an unchanging identity as daughter, and that is enough.

In a world where 41 percent of children are born to unmarried parents, and where more than a quarter of all children live with just one parent, it is no insignificant matter to have grown up with a father in my home, let alone one who is married to my mother. But to have a man who goes further and chooses to love, to delight…that is a rare gift that deserves to be celebrated, even into the next generation.

Practicing Community

I have just returned from a short stay at my beloved Camp Wa-Ma-Dee. While there, I read “The Cloister Walk” by Kathleen Norris. Among other things, its about corporate, community living in a Benedictine monastery. At first blush, it seemed to be the opposite of Camp – structured days filled with monastic intentionality do not seem like the best descriptors of lazy summer afternoons where the most pressing decisions are what type of dessert we will have after dinner. But when I step out of its pages and look around me, the similarities are astounding – isolation in community, living with others, contemplation.

Being alone at Camp is a strange exercise in community. If you are willing to see it, you are never alone at Camp. Generations that have lived within these walls never really leave. Their presence is felt in the recipe box, broken bows missing arrows, hand-sewn placemats, and yellowed labels on rickety drawers. Their voices come alive in the pages of old journals:

Their 8-year old self bragging about catching a fish in shaky handwriting and questionable spelling.

Their teenaged self restlessly summarizing an encounter with a bat.

As a 20-something, eager to be back in a place so familiar after a several-year absence.

As an older man sharing camp with his children and grandchildren, discovering the house anew in the eyes of a child.

They are all here, within these walls, rooted in the past, but shaping the future. All that I do and think about in this small bit of earth is connected to them, indebted to what has gone before.

Nothing ever really leaves Camp. Addition is the only math that Camp knows – furniture, paintings, candlesticks – all are added but nothing is removed. A few years ago, it was decided that new dishes were needed for Camp. The old ones were chipped and breaking at an alarming rate. Yet no one felt free to abandon the old ones. So the dinner, salad, and dessert plate that were in the best condition were immortalized and mounted on the wall, next to the dish hutch.

Sharing a house with over 30 people requires you to look after the others’ interests. It forces you out of a me-centered universe and allows you to ask “will others benefit?” and “will it bring others joy?” and “will someone be sad if I replace these dishes?”. In community, you go to bed earlier than you might like so as not to keep others awake. You take shorter showers so the hot water lasts. You inform others where you’re going, because someone else is bound to need something or want to tag along. And you don’t begrudge them that – it’s what’s expected.

And so, in the best possible way, Camp is good for my soul. It’s a chance to practice living in community with people I hardly know and rarely see, but who live in the same world as I do, if only in their memories. History and community root me to this place, reminding me where I come from, who I am today, and all that I have the potential to become within this gentle community.

dad

We’ve long ago given up the idea that marriage should be a prerequisite to pregnancy or that single motherhood is anything short of virtuous. Social scientists, meanwhile, have devoted considerable energy toward proving that fathers aren’t necessary, despite voluminous research demonstrating that fatherless children suffer a host of pathologies. Though some children do splendidly with just a mother or just a father or some other variation, the overwhelming evidence confirms what we know in our hearts: Fathers are kind of nice to have around. – Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, 6/20/10

Nearly all of my early childhood memories are of my father: My sister and I huddled near the lone air conditioning unit at the top of our stairs, listening to my dad read; My dad keeping me up at night when he was supposed to be praying with me and tucking me into bed; movie-trilogy marathons on weekends mom was away; Dad attempting to do my hair on Sunday mornings when mom was already at church; teaching me to ride a bike or to play basketball.

As I got older, sometimes to my embarrassment, my dad was always around. In middle school, I think he came to all but one of my volleyball games. (note: middle school girls volleyball is not an exciting sport. he was not there because of the riveting competition) He and my mom chaperoned a school dance. (note: they danced. completely unacceptable) He went with me on a 7th grade science field trip. All of this while working. A lot.

In high school, my parents were at every one of our football games, rain or shine, to see my sister and I perform at halftime. They didn’t miss a single band, orchestra or choir concert and usually showed up to all three nights to see us perform in the musical. They dropped us off and picked us up from Young Life camp, mission trips, and countless numbers of practices. They made fools of themselves at senior parents night, acting out the roles that we had filled in high school.

In college, my parents came to visit – getting to know the people in my life was genuinely important to them. Not to invade my life or cramp my freedom, but to truly know and love those who knew and loved me. When they visited, they spent time with me, but they also always spent time with the people in my life.

One summer during college, I interned at a homeless shelter for women and children in Cleveland. As part of the internship, I also lived in the shelter with the women, allowing me to enter into their lives more fully. One Friday, we were talking about our weekend plans and I mentioned that I was excited to go to the movies with my dad. The women around the table from me – all of them – remarked at how nice that was and asked how long it was since I had last seen him. I looked at them a little funny and told them that it hadn’t even been a week; that I saw him whenever I was home. The women – all of them – had grown up without their fathers; and in several cases never having met their fathers. The idea that spending time with your dad was a rare and monumental event had never even crossed my mind. My dad was just always there.

Now I know my dad’s not perfect. In fact, I could probably give you a fairly comprehensive list of his flaws. But in a society that increasingly lets men end their responsibility of fatherhood as soon as the child is born, my dad is truly exceptional. I want to honor a culture that encourages men to get back involved in the lives of their children; that holds them to standards higher than occasional phone calls and birthday cards. I want to see my generation take the role of parent as their highest calling and to set aside all other ambitions to forge relationships with the family we create. I believe that my generation will be those that reverse this trend. We will be those who stand up for injustice; who refuse to walk away when times are difficult; who reject the lie that we are sufficient on our own.

And let it begin with me.

Millenials

The Pew Research Center recently published their findings after a series of investigations on “Millenials”, those currently ages 18-29 (that’s me!). I had the opportunity to listen to their conference based on the findings from their report and came away with lots of thoughts about this generation that is just now entering adulthood.

I was pleased that the conference participants highlighted positive changes alongside the negative ones being demonstrated in our generation. For now, I want to bring your attention to some of the good news.

It seems like we have our priorities in line, a nice change from earlier generations. Fifty-two percent of respondents reported that being a good parent is one of the most important things in their lives, followed by 30% who report that having a successful marriage is the most important. All this in spite of only 6 in 10 (read that again: six in ten.) being raised by both parents. Another 21% say that helping others in need was the most important while only 15% of those in our generation say that having a high-paying career is what matters most. I was surprised and pleased by this turn of events. There were so many opportunities for us to default to cynicism and selfishness, and while I’m not so naive as to believe that our expressed priorities will translate into actual behaviors across the board, I still think it’s a good sign that we value these so highly. On the flip side, there’s some evidence that suggests that the higher rates of cohabitation and the increasingly delayed ages of marriage are indicative of the value our generation places on marriage and children. The value seems to become unreachable – we delay marriage and childbearing because we have fooled ourselves into believing that the problem with older generations is that they married too young and weren’t established enough when kids came along. The problem that we are walking into may be worse than the ones built by our parents. Serial monogamy and having your first child well into your thirties has profound implications for the family that are only beginning to be established.

Another change from earlier (especially recently earlier) generations is our view of those who came before us. A majority of us think that the older generation is superior to us in terms of moral values and work ethic. Think of our parents’ generation and how they viewed authority and their elders when they were our age. It is remarkable to think that in spite of significantly increased levels of parental oversight and involvement, we have yet to rebel against them in levels anywhere close to pervious generations. Also interestingly is the more than 60% of us who say that families have a responsibility to welcome an elderly parent into their homes to live if that parents want to. Fewer than 40% of our parents (those 60 and older) feel that way. Perhaps we are experiencing a back-lash of having to visit our own grandparents in sterile nursing homes. Perhaps we genuinely have better relationships with our parents. (Relatedly, one in eight millenials age 22 and older report that they have “boomeranged” back and have lived with their parents again, largely due to the recession). Again, it will be interesting to see if this translates to action as the decade move forward.

Other realms of life are slightly less encouraging. We are “the least overtly religious American generation in modern times.” The Pew report finds that fully one in four are unaffiliated with any religion. Only 15% of our generation reported that living a very religious life was one of the most important things in their life. All previous generations have experienced lower levels of religiosity in their teens and twenties and have returned to faith later in life. Nevertheless, we are starting from a lower baseline, so it will be interesting to see where we end up.

From where I stand, I’m excited to see where our generation takes the world.

(as an added bonus, you can go here and take a quiz to see how well you fit with this generation)

Home.

home.

The word means so many different things. Home is a sense of place; of familiarity and of belonging. I lived in the same town until I left for college. Nursery school, kindergarten, rec soccer, elementary school, ballet class, girl scouts, middle school, basketball, volleyball, piano lessons, confirmation, high school, marching band, young life, youth group; all lived within the same 7×3 mile town. Home is a place called Bay Village with families and Huntington beach and bay days and community prom pictures. I know this town. I know its streets and its culture and its secrets. But this town knows me. It shaped the first 18 years of my life and continues to affect me when I least expect it.

My parents have lived in the same house for the last 20 years. When I’m coming home, I’m returning to the past 20 years. A look around my bedroom reveals the child that once lived there and the woman who has returned. A doll in the closet, photos on the wall, a scribbled note passed in science class, dried corsages, college textbooks weave together to tell a still incomplete story of the girl who once danced and laughed and cried and lived within these four walls.

Stepping back into this place is a returning; a moving through all of the layers that have aligned to form my being. I feel a bit like Dorothy, leaving Oz and returning to Kansas. I leave behind the technicolor world of DC with its flashing lights and new adventures to return to the black-and-white heartland, known and home.