Monday, May 31, 2010

Vacation of Unbearable Cuteness (Part 1)

Imagine a cabin up in the hills: three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a sort of open-plan living room/kitchen/dining room. Imagine beautiful blonde wood floors, wood paneled walls, wood ceilings, and comfy furniture. Now add a family: four adults, an eight-month-old child, and a six-month old puppy. The result is, of course, chaos. Beautiful, frustrating, hilarious chaos. This is my vacation.

It's important to note the floors because I haven't had the time or funds to get Charlie groomed lately. This means that when he walks across the hardwood floors, he clicks. And when he runs and then tries to stop, he slides across the floor and smacks into walls. He can't even sit properly because his back paws slip on the floor and he ends up sliding backward or flopping on the floor. I know it has to be frustrating for him, but it's adorable to watch.

Until this trip, no one in my family had met Charlie yet. My mom is afraid of dogs, so introducing her to the puppy has been a bit of a challenge. But she has done her best to be brave, and Charlie is incredibly charming, so they've begun a tentative friendship. Dad loves dogs, and is willing to play with Charlie, so he has become Charlie's second-favorite person in the house. But the most amusing thing to watch has been the interaction between Charlie and Hannah, my eight-month-old niece. Hannah thinks Charlie is the greatest toy EVER. When he walks into the room, her face lights up and she laughs like a mad scientist. She kicks and waves her arms in excitement. The puppy is not sure what to make of Hannah, though. He likes to lick her hands, since she has usually managed to spill food on herself, but he can't understand why she's so loud all the time. When we hold Hannah down on the floor so that she can "stand", she's at eye-level with Charlie. It's an entertaining stand-off: the curious puppy vs. the loud and unafraid almost-toddler. The baby generally wins, which I take as a great sign of the puppy's maturity.

The other fascinating thing about this vacation is that Hannah sets the schedule and the tone for the day. When Hannah naps, Charlie has to go outside to play, and no one can shower or run the dishwasher or make much noise. Outings are scheduled around Hannah's nap and eating schedules, so they are limited and carefully coordinated. If Hannah is in a bad mood, her screaming tends to make everyone tense. This is why, at 12:40 in the afternoon, I have still not yet showered: I didn't get my shower in during Hannah's last awake-time, so I'm out of luck for de-stinkifying until after she wakes up from her current nap. That could be a while since, in the midst of her teething, convincing her to eat or sleep becomes an enormous challenge. IF we can get her to go to sleep, I MIGHT get to shower when she wakes up. It's a little frustrating to have your schedule entirely determined by a small and very grumpy baby. On the other hand, Hannah in some ways ensures are relaxing vacation. We can't be go-go-go all the time because she needs to nap and eat on schedule. We are assured of quiet times at least three times a day while she is napping. And there's a hammock in the woods for just such occasions.

This type of vacation is a bit of an adjustment for our family. We have always been the go-places-do-things vacationers, not the rent-a-house-and-sit-for-a-week vacationers. We would usually travel via plane or car, with excursions and activities each day. This time, though, we are stationary, with (theoretically, anyway) lots of time to talk, read, play games, and relax in one place. We'll have to see how this new vacation style works out when we evaluate at the end of the week.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Few Thoughts

In case you were worried, I'm not dead. My schedule has been a little crazy but, to tell you the truth, there's an even bigger reason that I haven't been writing. Since I started preaching every week, it's as though every single creative thought, every moment of writing inspiration, has been funneled into sermon preparation. Every time I feel like writing, I have to channel that energy into a sermon, otherwise I find myself in a panic on Saturday afternoon with nothing to say 24-hours later. So, I apologize for the long absence. I hope to achieve better balance soon. In the meantime, this is what I've been thinking about.

"Grace and Grimace"
I am a bit of a perfectionist. (Those of you who know me can now pick your jaws off the floor and climb back into your chairs now. Take a deep breath to get over the shock. OK, let's continue.) That makes preaching week in and week out, never having as much time as I'd like to prepare, a bit of a struggle. My hope to always prepare excellent sermons frequently runs up against a lack of time for exegesis, study, writing, editing, and practicing.

I preached a sermon a few weeks ago that I truly believe is my worst yet. It was a week when I had to prepare and preach two different sermons, and I just didn't have the time or focus to really polish it the way I wanted. It was still solid theology, it still made sense structurally, but it wasn't where I wanted it to be. But afterward, people gave really positive feedback. One person even said it was the best sermon he's heard me preach yet. I didn't really know how to respond. I wanted to grimace and apologize for the weakness of the sermon. But I refrained for the most part, and instead accepted the smiles and handshakes. Apparently God worked, once again, through even my weakest offering. It served as a powerful reminder for me that it really, really isn't about me or my abilities. Effective sermons are God's work, and I am just the instrument for delivery. God can speak grace even through words that make me grimace.

Gender and the City
I went to see Sex and the City 2 a few nights ago. It has gotten largely bad reviews and, I'll admit, I was not particularly impressed by the plotline either. On the other hand, while it lacked the plot development of the first movie and a lot of the juicy stuff from the TV show, it had some fascinating insights about gender. When these apparently liberated western women go to Abu Dhabi, they collide with very different gendered expectations. At first they dismiss the modest dress, head coverings, and veils of the women in Abu Dhabi. But when they find themselves in a jam, they discover that the women are finding ways to seek independence and self-expression in spite of the veils and the traditions that would seem to hold them back. The movie leaves room for all sorts of discussions of identity, cultural expectations based on gender, the power of tradition and the challenges of shifting gender roles. It's only a nod to those issues, as the movie continues the lighthearted vein of its predecessor, but I still appreciate that the representation of women who live behind the veil was not as flat as it might have been.